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Academics prepare cadets for thoughtful service

By Megan Haley
When Pauline Kaurin guest lectures in PLU’s Reserve Officer Training Corps’ senior military science course, she doesn’t discuss individual ethical values. Instead, she addresses the ethics behind combat situations many cadets will likely face after graduation.

Kaurin is a visiting philosophy professor with an academic specialty in military ethics, and she regularly lectures in the ROTC courses.

The ROTC is an elective curriculum that students take along with their required college courses, and the students major in any discipline they choose. Taught by current Army officers, the program includes military science courses that develop leadership skills and teach military tactics, military training exercises at Fort Lewis and regular physical training sessions. Students in the program are referred to as cadets.

More than 80 students are currently involved in PLU’s ROTC program. When the cadets graduate, they are commissioned into the Army as second lieutenants, the lowest ranking officer position. They are required to serve eight years in exchange for their degree.

A key concern of cadets is how to differentiate between enemy fighters and civilians on the battlefield, a major issue in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Kaurin said. And if it’s unclear who the enemy is, cadets wonder how soldiers protect themselves and do their job while adhering to international and domestic laws governing warfare – especially when the enemy blatantly violates those laws.

Kaurin doesn’t have all the answers.

“A lot of what I talk to them about is how are you going to figure out these things and how are you going to figure out what to do,” Kaurin said.

The academic structure and mission of PLU gives ROTC cadets the foundation to analyze complex military problems and find answers, she said. The university’s general education requirements cover a variety of disciplines that expose cadets to a wide range of perspectives, like philosophy and religion courses that tackle ethics and questions about the deeper meaning of life.

“The broader the education they have, the better equipped they are to deal with people in different situations,” Kaurin said.

This becomes especially important overseas, where the success of a mission can hinge on understanding the customs and beliefs of a different culture, Kaurin said. At PLU, all students are exposed to a variety of perspectives, beliefs and cultures, so they are more aware of the nuances and able to respond accordingly.

According to Lt. Col. Gillian Boice, director of the ROTC program at PLU, “The PLU education structure, and what it values as far as a lifetime of thoughtful inquiry, but also vocation, global awareness and cultural diversity, that’s huge for someone who is going to be in any profession, but especially in the military because our students are going to interact with a lot of people from diverse cultures.”

All commissioned Army officers must have a bachelor’s degree. It ensures the officers are well-rounded individuals and able to adapt to solve both human and tactical problems, Boice explained.

Cadet Renee McElroy ’08 is majoring in political science.

“A well-rounded education is more important now because warfare is more unconventional,” McElroy said. “You have to be able to solve problems outside of the box, and with a well-rounded education, you’re better able to solve those problems.”

PLU’s cadets hail from a variety of backgrounds. Some are active duty soldiers and Iraq war veterans, others are fresh out of high school, and still others are part of a reserve unit. This range of experience can lead to interesting class discussions, especially between cadets and non-cadets.

“As a group, (ROTC cadets) are more focused on current matters and what it means, based on personal experience and their career choice … they know they need to pay attention to world affairs more than others,” said political science professor Sid Olufs. Cadets made up one-third of his J-Term course called “Politics of the War in Iraq.”

In her “Military Ethics” course, Kaurin has seen the differing perspectives between cadets and non-cadets as well, and the discussions are often fruitful.

“In most classes, I think it tends to be a very creative tension because people who don’t have military experience can hear from people who have been there or who will be there,” she said.

On the flip side, ROTC cadets also have the opportunity to hear the perspectives of those outside the military. It’s beneficial for the cadets to learn, especially because the military serves the civilian society, Kaurin said.

When cadets are commissioned into the Army as second lieutenants, their duties mirror those of a “mini-CEO,” Boice said. In that position, the cadets will be in charge of leading, coordinating and motivating a platoon of 30 soldiers and roughly $1 million worth of equipment.

“Most college graduates don’t step into that role – a leadership role – right away,” Boice said.

In general, cadets don’t choose a major that will directly relate to their job with the Army, said cadet Michael Harper ’07. Harper is pursuing a degree in geosciences but will be trained as a helicopter pilot when he’s commissioned this May.

However, his academic experience at PLU has cultivated his time management and communication skills, which will directly transfer to both his military and civilian careers.

In addition to his ROTC commitments, Harper is juggling an academic course load and personal life. It takes a lot of self-discipline to get everything done because much of his after school time is spent on ROTC-related tasks, he explained.

Harper added that giving class presentations has proved beneficial by honing his research, presentation and communication skills. Refining these skills will make him be a better officer.

“As a lieutenant in charge of 20 to 40 people, you have to coordinate their life issues,” he said. “You’re the one that stands behind them when they’re in trouble, and you’re there to pat them on the back when they do well.”

Photo top: Sophomore philosophy major Marshall Hughes, an ROTC cadet, sits in Pauline Kaurin’s military ethics course. Kaurin said having both cadets and non-cadets in class leads to interesting discussions.