Molding the Future of the Military

The Reserve Officers’ and Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps
Participants in the U.S. Army ROTC Challenge

Participants in the U.S. Army ROTC Challenge

Sarah Windmueller/U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs

As part of a series on military service academies, the American Battlefield Trust looks at the  programs that prepare young people of careers in the military.

The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), commonly called “Rotsee” and “J-Rotsee,” respectively, are educational programs sponsored by the United States Armed Forces at universities, colleges, high schools and some middle schools to prepare young people for careers in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

ROTC programs are offered at more than 1,700 colleges and universities in the United States. Participants commit to serve in the armed forces after graduation in exchange for a paid college education and a commission as an officer. More than half of all newly commissioned military officers in the U.S. in 2020 were in the ROTC.

The genesis for the ROTC came during the Civil War with the Morrill Act of 1862, which established land-grant colleges and stipulated that they include military instruction. The ROTC was formally established by Congress in 1916 as part of the National Defense Act. ROTC enrollees attend college like other students, but also receive basic military training and participate in regular military drills.

The U.S. Army ROTC is the largest branch of the program, with more than 20,000 enrollees, known as cadets, and more than 270 courses of instruction. Army ROTC courses are held in both classrooms and in the field and are complemented by a student’s other academic studies.

The U.S. Naval and Marine Corps ROTC is the navy’s single largest source of navy officers. The NROTC program was created in 1926, and the Marine Corps was added to the program in 1932; those seeking to become Marine Corps officers participate in the NROTC. NROTC students, known as midshipmen, are commissioned as naval officers upon graduation and can choose a career in surface warfare, naval aviation, submarine warfare or special warfare.

Air Force ROTC students, known as cadets, enroll in four-year or three-year programs that include a mix of college classes and an Air Force ROTC curriculum led by active-duty officers.

The Junior ROTC program, also established in 1916, is at high schools and some middle schools across the country and at U.S. military bases around the world. There are more than 3,270 JROTC units covering the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, with the majority — 1,600 — affiliated with the army.

The JROTC programs emphasize military discipline and the study of military science and military history. Cadets and midshipmen who successfully complete JROTC programs and one to three years of classes are usually able to enlist at an advanced rank. JROTC participants are not required to join the military, but 30 percent or more either join one of the services or continue with ROTC in college.

As mandated by federal law, each branch of the military must have a JROTC program to “instill in students in United States secondary education institutions the values of citizenship, service to the United States and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment.”