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Corps of Cadets Changing with Times

By Nigel Hatton, University Relations intern

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 16 - January 19, 1995

The Virginia Tech Corp of Cadets (VTCC) has undergone many changes since its inception in the last century. Today, the organization continues to offer students the opportunity for leadership skills, discipline and a quality education.

"The biggest change we've made is in the way we train," said Ret. Major General Stanton R. Musser, commandant of the Corp of Cadets. "We now use positive reinforcement-taking what they have, what they've learned from their background and building on that- rather than tearing them down and building them in our own image."

When Tech-then the all-male Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College-first opened its doors, every able-bodied student was a member of the Corps.

Participation in the Corps became voluntary in the fall of 1964, dropping enrollment in the program immensely. Women were admitted to the Corps in the fall of 1973 as a separate unit called Squadron L. In February 1979, women were fully integrated into the program.

Tech and Texas A&M University are the only two schools in the nation that couple a full-time Corps of Cadets with a large civilian student body.

Musser said many land-grant universities started out with Corps of Cadet programs similar to Tech's. "Others finally decided it was too much to keep going. Their universities were growing," he said. "There wasn't that pride and ownership of their Corps like Tech and Texas A&M have."

While Musser is pleased with the VTCC's ability to endure over time, he continues to reach for new heights. "One of them is to build the Corps back up to 1,000 cadets by the year 2000," he said. This fall, the VTCC began with 136 new cadets and a total enrollment of 417. An incoming class of 400 cadets is needed each year to maintain a VTCC of 1,000 cadets, he said. Factors such as scholarships and alumni support make the idea of a 1,000-member VTCC an attainable goal, Musser said.

"The Corps Alumni Association is strong and they want to see this continue," he said. "And so does our administration- President Torgersen and Dr. Goodale are strong supporters of the Corps. If you lose the backing of your administration, it's hard to maintain a Corps of Cadets."

Not even budget cuts worry Musser. "We've taken the same budget cuts everyone else has, but my budget has been very small. The Corps Alumni Association has really picked up the ball with a $5-million endowment goal for scholarships for freshman," he said. "The budget cuts we've taken from the state, the alumni association has supplemented."

R.B. Pamplin Sr. and R.B. Pamplin Jr. have pledged to match each of the next million dollars pledged towards the $5-million goal, Musser said. "If it's matched by other alumni, we'll be up to $4 million of the $5 million we're trying to get."

Although money and alumni support can help bring new cadets to the university, another philosophy is necessary to keep the students in uniform. Corps life requires 7-11 p.m. study halls, wearing a uniform every day, and proper time management. "It's probably the hardest Corps to stay in," Musser said. "You're going to class with people in jeans and shirts. "At VMI or the Air Force Academy-you quit there and you have to quit the university or the school," he said. "Here it takes a sort of fortitude."

Musser said new cadets have the option to leave the program after six weeks. "This is the best year for retention since I've been here," he said. "Normally we lose 25 percent of the freshman the first semester. Right now, we've lost less than 15 percent. That's really good."

Musser said the benefits for remaining in the VTCC are endless. "Every person who graduates from this Corps of Cadets gets a job," Musser said. "They have had some experience in leadership."

Most of cadets in the VTCC are enrolled in ROTC programs with either the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. They are on track to become either active-duty or reserve officers in the military, Musser said. "Some stay for a career," he said. Others honor their commitments and return to civilian life. "Each of the ROTC's differ on commitments, some four years, some five," he said. Twenty-five percent of Corps members are not enrolled in the ROTC, according to Musser. Tech is the only institution that allows a non-ROTC student to enroll in the Corps. Musser said the students do it for the leadership training. He and the ROTC's eventually want to establish a leadership-development minor at the university. It would be awarded to students enrolled in the Corps. "The Corps experience itself is a part of it," he said. "If you graduate from here with a minor in leadership, that's going to look tremendous on a resume."

Musser hopes to make the Corps an entire leadership program, he said. When new cadets arrive as freshman in the fall, Musser said they become "total followers." As sophomores, they are given additional responsibility and opportunities to lead, he said. By the junior year, cadets are non commissioned officers-"sergeants who end up being squad leaders and actual trainers of new cadets. Senior year, as an officer, you run an entire regiment with guidance from myself and deputy commandants," he said.

Although Corps life is very time consuming, Musser said cadets are urged to participate in other organizations throughout the university. He wants civilian students to become aware of the Corps and its importance to the university, he said. "We're pushing involvement in sororities, frats, SGA, and other social things," he said. "Cadets are resident advisors. Three years ago we made an attempt to get in the RA business so we'd intermingle with other students."

One aspect of the Corps students are already familiar with is the Highty Tighties. The band is the largest of the Corps' nine companies. It consists of 75-80 members, while other companies have about 50 cadets, Musser said. The Highty Tighties date back to 1883 and have played in parades and band festivals around the country. In April the group participated in the Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington, D.C., and the Azalea Festival in Norfolk. "It's a great recruiting tool," he said.

Musser said he is satisfied with all the positives happening for the Corps these days. His theme of leadership has been well received, and recruiting efforts are on the rise.