I suppose I should first lay my biases on the table. I am a proud military spouse and a former Supply Officer in the Navy. I am also a doctoral student working on my dissertation in public administration. Because discussions about ROTC on college campuses, at least in the last few months, seem to pit academics against military supporters, I figure I should make clear that I have a foot in both camps.

There is a lot of discussion in both military and civilian spheres right now on the increasing distance between the military and the civilian population in our society. In fact, Bob Woodward termed it “an epidemic of disconnection” on Oprah last month. Mr. Woodward is correct in his assertion of a gulf between our nation’s military families and the larger civilian community. The 2010 Military Family Lifestyle survey by Blue Star Families, where I am the director of research and policy, found that 92% of respondents agreed with the statement, “The general public does not truly understand or appreciate the sacrifices made by service members and their families.” This statistic has been quoted by many of our nation’s leaders in their own speeches about the dangers we face, as a nation, when our military and civilian populations don’t recognize each other and therefore, can’t understand or trust each other.

Just one percent, one percent of our nation, is bearing the burden of this war. With such a small percent serving in the military, it is easy to see how the sense of shared sacrifice, which was present in earlier conflicts such as World War II, decreases and gives way to gaps in understanding, and eventually alienation. As a student of public administration, I can also trace the encouragement “to go shopping” as was suggested by one public leader as a way to support our nation at the outset of the war, to the very same mentality present in market-led reforms, based on self-interest. When one equates the public interest as individuals doing well independently, but not as something created from individuals working together for a common goal or a public good, it probably seems like a good idea to encourage spending money all the mall as an adequate way in which to support our service members and their families during a time of war.

However, this sentiment only adds to the alienation as a military family member thinks, “My spouse is risking their life…over and over and over again…and everyone else is at the mall?” It actually becomes offensive, to reduce the idea of support to such minimal personal input. Instead of yellow ribbon bumper sticker mentality, the display of support of service members, of the very concept to service to our country whether military or through a variety of other means like the Peace Corps or Teach For America, should be through an individual’s own service. Through making a difference in our own communities in our own ways. Honor service with service. It makes our nation stronger because volunteerism and civic engagement and the diverse interaction they provide, allows us all to focus on our commonalities, which far outweigh our differences.

It is against this backdrop that I see the national conversation of ROTC being played out. You have academics writing pieces in campus papers which say, “In the military, an individual is turned into a tool, a machine that obeys the chain of command.” This kind of attitude, clearly, in its ignorance, highlights a disconnect from the military experience. However, the responses from ardent pro-military supporters of, “you’re (sic) just regurgitating typical hyper-left bias…” and “….isolated from the real world thought of many academic types, that have little experience with every day America,” is just as unfounded and unrealistic. Neither, of course, represent the vast experiences of either service members or academics and only comes from the ignorance stemming from limited knowledge and understanding of either.

This mutual ignorance is exactly why ROTC is such a valuable tool in the strategy of reacquainting these two spheres of our society. Exposure can only grow empathy, understanding, and respect towards the other, knowing and accepting that neither is perfect as an institution. I won’t defend the military as perfect – the treatment of homosexuals and the use of private contractors in war zones are two areas that, again, as a student of public administration, cause me great concern because of threats to the legitimacy, credibility, and integrity of our military and our government.

However, don’t our institutions of higher learning also face challenges to their legitimacy and credibility as defenders of free thought, if they don’t allow even the idea of service to one’s country through the military as an option for their students? I understand the rationale of those who cited Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and discrimination against homosexuals as their justification for keeping ROTC off their campuses as a threat to their institutional integrity. Recognition of the threat to the personal integrity of our service members is also what Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, cited in his support for a repeal of the regulation. However, that is a far different issue than assuming, as many of those who support keeping ROTC units off campus do, that military service is the antithesis of the goal of higher education. A far different issue indeed.

In the end, the military plays a vital and important role in our society, and I believe, an honorable one. Many join out of a sense of patriotism, attraction to the esprit de corps and chance to make a difference, and yes, out of a hope for a better life. Many students choose majors and careers for the same purposes. What better way to enhance both institutions than by providing each with exposure to a plethora of ideas, ideologies, and experiences so that our future leaders have the most opportunities for public service available to them as possible? The benefit of well-rounded, diverse, critical thinkers who possess sociological imagination to the public sector and our society as a whole cannot be overstated. To be so parochial, so sophomoric, as to refuse to allow our students to understand, study and yes, even suggest changes within the military, reflects poorly on our nation’s universities.

Photo of Vivian Greentree
Vivian Greentree is the director of research and policy for Blue Star Families and is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Administration. She is married to a Naval Flight Officer and they have two little boys who enjoy peanut butter, trucks, air shows, and “hummer noise.”



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Published on Mar. 10, 2011

Estimated reading time is 5.6 min.

Views to date: 79


  1. Davis Newman April 2, 2011 at 4:31 am

    Do the academics realize that if there are not enough volunteers, we might have to go back to a draft? Which IMO would be a good idea. Not supporting ROTC is “cutting off your nose to spite your face”.

  2. Sally Caspers March 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm


    I enjoyed this post so much. As a ROTC grad, former AF officer, military spouse and now, higher education employee, this spoke right to my heart. I tend to think of the gap between these two great institutions as one of language. We have yet to find much common ground because our languages, and the cultures they represent, are very different. I like to think of ROTC grads and veterans in higher education as the linguists who can help to overcome this challenge. Some the greatest, most creative thinkers I’ve met have been the people who have had a “foot in both worlds.” So much good can come of our collaboration. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    -Sally Caspers
    UNLV Rebel VETS Program Coordinator

  3. William March 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Doing some more research I suspect that the number came from the idea that there about 3 million in the service while the nation’s population is 300 million. So the number works.

  4. William March 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    The “Just one percent is bearing the burden of this war” line has been floating around for a while and has become part of the general parlace. Could you tell me where you came up with the number?

    Is that 1% of the total population? 1% of those eligible to serve? Between what ages? Does this exclude family and friends of those who have served? What about those who served in previous wars? I dare say their burden is just as great.

    I personally, don’t buy the number. Additionlly, if you used such an unsubstantiated number as a primary claim in a professional journal, it would never pass peer review.

    • Alex Horton March 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm

      I think it’s applied to one percent of the total population. You make some good points, but it’s meant to illustrate a very small number carrying the burden for a much larger number. It shouldn’t exclude anyone; those currently serving protect those who do not. Previous military experience or age or disqualified segments of the population don’t matter. Once someone becomes a Veteran, then they cease defending the country. I once was part of the one percent but am no longer. Does that make sense?

      • William March 16, 2011 at 10:11 am

        I understand how it is being used and I don’t disagree that it makes a nice turn of phrase and is less awkward than something like “only 15% of age-eligible citizens have served.” However, it still remains a head scratcher. Thus the problems of quoting uncited statistics.

        No matter.

  5. Fred Nace March 11, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    I will never forget sitting down at a church function in Clarksville, TN. The congregation had a very large number of academics and employees from Austin Peah State University and I was an officer from Ft Campbell at the time.

    The lady across from me was a retired professor and noticed that I had a Phi Beta Kappa pin as my tie tack that day. She wanted to know what I did at the University. She was aghast to learn that a PBK was in the Army.

  6. Grumpy March 11, 2011 at 12:07 am

    Ms. Vivian Greentree,

    You start your posts which totally petrifies most of the people. Why aren’t they petrified? Well, you start with a clean buffet table and then lay your cards out, on both sides. Most people believe they have an unbiased opinion and that they are approaching it from an absolutely neutral point of view. You on the other hand, lay out the basis for your views. If you will, you are using a “Legal Reasons and Basis Process”.

    I noticed at the end of your name, the PhD, I have a different look at academic credentials. My brother with a high school dropout, went into the military, did his four years, enlistment, for a start. He then began his career with certain branch of our “US Government”. This high school dropout had assistants with mostly PhD’s in his office. Of course, this would drive his superiors in management, absolutely crazy.

    As to your point, the colleges and universities need to understand the fact that these young people coming back will need advanced training. This is an advantage, if we allow it, for all of us. This would include Junior colleges, colleges and universities on both ends, pre-military and post military. As we look at today’s ever changing world, our young people may not have the freedom of choice as their parents. Am I looking for a reinstatement of the dreaded draft? This is the tough question that we all must answer. I would hope our young people, their parents and other significant people in our young people’s lives would begin to rethink their roles in this whole process. Is everything here just about the military? I am just asking young people and their support to at lease consider all of the options. There are no easy choices. All of you can find some way to help this Great Nation.

    To close the circle, we come back to universities, colleges and institutions of higher learning, where do you fit? What is your role? What kind of cream to your school offer that would help us in a time of war? In your minds eye, go back to 911 where would your school students be on that horrible day? What have you prepared for them to do? Schools, I don’t want every body in the military, they can be in the infinite number of places were like first responders, this is really why I have written.

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