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Friday December 15th 2017

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Student balances college and ROTC

army-uniformby Claire DeRoin– Gage Thackston, a junior mass communications major, knows exactly what he is going to do once he graduates. That’s more than can be said for some seniors.

Thackston is currently enrolled in ROTC: Reserve Officer Training Corps. ROTC is a program that allows students to complete military training and classes at the same time as their regular college courses. It’s a four-year program, and at the time of college graduation, the program is complete and the student is then an officer of the United States military.

“After college I will be commissioned into the U.S. Army either as a National Guard officer or as an active duty officer, whichever will best benefit the military,” Thackston said. He has a little say in where he ends up, but not much. ROTC offers a wish list in which students can pick whether they’d be active duty or reserve officers, but nothing is guaranteed.

Once commissioned into the United States Army, Thackston would like to be a helicopter pilot. “My Dad was in the Army, and that’s pretty much the whole life I’ve known. I really enjoyed it.”

“It’s a big relief knowing that you just have to get through college and you’ll have a job waiting for you,” Thackston said.

He has training one weekend a month. Training isn’t just push-ups and target practice, though. What was the most exciting thing he’s done in training? A man of few words, Thackston shrugged, grinned, and said, “Jumping out of airplanes.”

In addition to monthly training, Thackston drives up to USD for a military science class once a week.

“Teachers and advisors here are really supportive,” Thackston said. That makes it easier to balance Morningside classes, ROTC classes, and his soccer schedule.

Other than the ROTC program, Thackston considers himself a normal student. Morningside students consider him one of them, too, for the most part. On days when he has class at USD for ROTC, he wears his ASU’s, Army service uniform. “At USD, they see more soldiers on campus, so they treat you with more respect.”

Stacie Hays, Morningside’s career counselor, said Morningside does arrange for recruiters to come set up a table campus and talk to students about military careers and opportunities. These events are generally held in the Olsen student center. Occasionally, she added, recruiters will swing through campus informally. That’s not a surprise, since Morningside participates in the ROTC program.

As for advice for students looking to join the military after college, Hays said that it depended on which job in the military a student was looking for. “The military often offers pretty occupational-specific training once you enlist. It’s important to start making contacts with people,” Hays said. “Once you have those contacts, you’ll have more information available to you.” Hays also mentioned that graduating with a flexible, well-rounded liberal arts degree is a benefit to the ROTC program.

Given the option between deploying and staying stateside, Thackston would deploy. “It’s always good to have peace, but deep down, you train for it. You want to see if you can actually do it; put your skills to the test.”

This summer, Thackston will head to South Korea for training. The escalating nuclear situation in North Korea may worry some Americans, but Thackston doesn’t mind. “They [the military] wouldn’t put me in harm’s way,” he said.