Clarkson University Army ROTC: My Experience

In today’s post I want to talk about my experience at Clarkson University Army ROTC.

My name is Chuck Holmes. I was a cadet there for three semesters from January 1999 to May 2000. I graduated and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps in May 2000. The reason I was only there for three semester is because I was selected for the Army’s Green to Gold Program, and I already had an associate’s degree.

Clarkson University Army ROTC

Prior to Clarkson University Army ROTC

I enlisted in the Army Reserve in June 1995 as a 71L (Administrative Specialist). In January 1996, I attended Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. After returning home from AIT, I decided I wanted to transition from the Army Reserve to the Active Duty Army.

My first duty assignment was with the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard). During my time there, I got the inspiration to become an Army Officer. I credit much of that decision to several of my officer mentors at that time (CPT Hughes, CPT Agee, CPT Goins, and CPT Dickey). They were incredible officers and leaders and I wanted to be like them.

At the time, I had been taking night and weekend classes at the local community college: Northern Virginia Community College. I completed my two year Associate’s Degree in about a year because I took about 50+ credits worth of CLEP courses. My degree was in General Studies.

Once I decided to become a commissioned officer, I sat down with my Company Commander, got a letter of recommendation, and drafted up my Green to Gold packet.

Of course, I had to pick a university, so I went to the education center at Fort Myer and talked with one of the education counselors. I asked her about ROTC programs and she gave me a book, which had a list of every Army ROTC program in the United States (pre-internet days).

Now, you probably won’t believe what I’m about to tell you, but it is the truth. I opened up the book to a random page and put my finger down. My finger landed on Clarkson University.

Up until that time, I had never heard of Clarkson University or their Army ROTC program. I never even researched it. I didn’t know where it was or what it was like. I simply decided that I would attend the Clarkson University Army ROTC program, and that was it. I applied to the program and got accepted. I didn’t apply to any other schools.

To clarify, I was not a student at Clarkson University. They are known as an engineering school and I was a liberal arts major. Therefore, I attended one of the local colleges (SUNY Potsdam in Potsdam, NY) and would complete my ROTC training at Clarkson University.

In December 1998, I was discharged from the Active Duty Army and made my transition up to Potsdam, NY to start my classes for the Spring 1999 semester.

I share my story to give you perspective. I was not the typical freshman right out of high school.

Clarkson University Army ROTC testimonial

My Experience at Clarkson University Army ROTC

I arrived in Potsdam in late December 1998 and found a nice apartment to stay in. I started my classes at SUNY Potsdam and also decided to pledge a fraternity (Sigma Pi). My first semester in college was a bit rough, as I made my transition from full-time soldier to full-time student. I still got good grades (above a 3.0) but I was partying a lot and just being irresponsible. I hate to say that, but it is the truth.

I was impressed with the Clarkson University Army ROTC program, right from the beginning. They had great resources, superb training, and awesome instructors. It was obvious they cared about their students.

The Professor of Military Science (LTC Gregory) was top notch. The other instructors also went above and beyond to develop the cadets and provided tough, realistic training. We had a demanding physical fitness program in the morning and had “lab” once or twice a week. This is where we trained for the Ranger Challenge and did our basic leadership training.

After my first semester (Spring 1999) I attended the ROTC Leadership Camp at Fort Lewis, Washington. I barely made it through that training because of my bad attitude, but I did make it. When I returned home from summer camp my instructors told me that I would need to “man up” and take my studies and ROTC responsibilities more seriously if I wanted to graduate. Fortunately, I listened.

During my senior year, my grades improved and I became a better student and cadet. Looking back, I was easily the worst cadet in the program. We had some great cadets who were much more responsible, mature, and were much better leaders than I was. I was just a late bloomer and going through a difficult time in my life. Plus, I was more focused on women and partying. Fortunately, the ROTC cadre saw my potential and worked with me to the best of their ability.

In May 2000, I earned my commission as a brand new Second Lieutenant in the Army Quartermaster Corps. That was one of the proudest moments of my life! My parents attended my graduation and pinned my gold bars on. My First Sergeant (from my local Army National Guard unit) got my first salute. From there I shipped off and served my time honorably in the Active-Duty Army.

Choosing My Officer Branch

Prior to being commissioned, we were told to PICK three potential officer branches that we wanted to serve in. Our choices would be sent to the Department of the Army for them to review. My first choice was the Quartermaster Corps, mainly because of Major James Soos. He was one of my instructors (cadre) in the ROTC program. I admired and respected him. MAJ Soos was a Quartermaster officer and he shared many stories of his experiences. Plus, he went out of his way to help me shape up and grow up.

A weird thing happened during this branch selection process. Many of my counterparts, who were much better cadets than me, did not receive their first choice for their officer branch. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I was one of the few cadets who selected Quartermaster Corps. Or maybe God works in mysterious ways!

Upon graduating in May 2000, I left college and reported to Fort Lee, Virginia for my Quartermaster Officer Basic Course.

army simultaneous membership program

SMP Program

I’d like to chime in and say that during my Clarkson University Army ROTC experience, I participated in the Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP), where I got paid as an E-5 and got to drill as a cadet with a local National Guard unit. Many of my cadet peers did not do this!

I was fortunate to get to serve with the 2/108th Infantry Battalion in Ogdensburg and Plattsburg, NY, respectively. I was fortunate to serve as a Company XO and get some real-world experience. That experience was just as important (and good) as my ROTC experience. If you are given the option to participate in the SMP Program, do it!

About Clarkson University

Clarkson University is located in Potsdam, New York. The school has approximately 3,000 students and 50 academic programs. They are best known for their engineering programs. The school was founded in 1896. Their ROTC program was founded in 1936 and includes students from SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Canton, St. Lawrence University and Clarkson University.

Clarkson University is a private research university with its main campus in Potsdam, New York, and additional graduate program and research facilities in the New York Capital Region and Beacon, New York. It was founded in 1896 and has an enrollment of about 4,300 students studying toward bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in each of its schools or institutes: the Institute for a Sustainable Environment, the School of Arts & Sciences, the David D. Reh School of Business, the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering, and the Earl R. and Barbara D. Lewis School of Health Sciences. It is classified among “R2: Doctoral Universities – High research activity. ~ Wikipedia

Reasons to Consider Clarkson University Army ROTC

There are many reasons to attend this ROTC program, but I will focus on two that stand out to me:

Small, Respectable School

Clarkson University is a highly respected university. More importantly, it’s a SMALL university. The ROTC program is significantly smaller than many other ROTC programs in the country. I think this is a huge benefit, because it allows the cadre to be more hands on. You get the one-on-one attention you need and deserve. Everyone knows you by name. You don’t feel like a number or get lost in a program with hundreds of cadets.

Beautiful Location

Potsdam, New York is beautiful. Yes, the winters are cold, brutally cold. But there is nothing like upstate New York. The people are friendly. The scenery is beautiful. Plus, the university is well kept and nice.

Here’s what the university’s website says about the ROTC program:

We were ranked in the Top 5 nationwide by Washington Monthly for the percentage of students that participate in ROTC over the past 5 years. Our battalion is relatively large for the size of our school. The small-school feel of Clarkson, along with the strong military presence on campus, makes it a comfortable and supportive place to train in becoming an Army leader.

In the North Country of New York, environmental training opportunities are abundant. The Adirondack Mountains are just minutes away with their trails and nature preserves. Also, Clarkson is located near Fort Drum, which allows close contact with one of the most deployed divisions in the Army, the 10th Mountain Division.

There are also outreach opportunities. Every year, we team up with campus clubs to send care packages to deployed soldiers who will spend their holidays overseas. Come be a part of something special with the Clarkson Army ROTC cadets. ~ Clarkson University

About Army ROTC

The Army Reserve Officer Training Program, also known as ROTC, is designed to develop future Army officers. There are currently more than 20,000 cadets at 273 campuses in the United States. The program commissioned its first class in 1920. The motto is “Leadership Excellence” and their headquarters is at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Army ROTC pays for your tuition while you go to college and train to become an Army Officer. Offered at more than 1,000 colleges and universities, you can get the college experience along with a guaranteed career after graduation as a highly respected second lieutenant in the Army, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard. ~ Go

About Potsdam, New York

Potsdam, New York is one of the nicest places I’ve lived. It is small town America. Potsdam is also the coldest place I’ve ever been. The winters were brutal, but the summers, fall, and spring were exceptional. The town has a population of approximately 17,000 people and is the home of SUNY Potsdam and Clarkson University. It is located in upstate New York, between Watertown and Plattsburgh.

The End of the Story

Upon graduating from SUNY Potsdam in May 2000, I served 11-years as an Army officer, in both the Active Duty Army and Maryland Army National Guard. I eventually resigned my commission as a Major. I was fortunate to travel the world, earn a Master’s Degree, meet plenty of amazing people, serve in combat, and command troops. What I learned as an officer has shaped me into the man I am today. It was definitely an important chapter in my life. I am now a successful entrepreneur.

I’d also like to add in that I became a great officer, even though I was a horrible cadet. We all mature at different times. I was a late bloomer. So if you’re not the best cadet in the world, there’s still hope for you.

Final Thoughts

In summary, my experience with the Clarkson University Army ROTC program was fantastic. The facilities were top notch, the training was superb, and the instructors were second to none. I consider myself fortunate to graduate from their program and serve my country. For anyone considering joining their Army ROTC program, I would highly recommend it.

What about you? Have you attended the Clarkson University Army ROTC program? If so, did you enjoy it? Leave a comment below to share your story. I look forward to hearing from you.

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chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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2 thoughts on “Clarkson University Army ROTC: My Experience”

  1. No idea that you attended Clarkson, Chuck. I almost went there while I was searching for schools. The out of state tuition and love of Penn State stopped that, but I hear many good things about the school.

    1. It is a great school. I attended their ROTC program, but went to SUNY Potsdam (in the same town). Many of my fraternity brothers attended Clarkson University and they really loved it. It is a bit pricey, but the school does have a great engineering program: one of the best in the country I believe.

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