Part Two of a Three-Part Series
While Colorado Springs hosts 35,000 active duty military service members at various military installations around the Pikes Peak region, Colorado College is home to very few students planning on joining those ranks.
Just two CC students, senior Isaac Becker and sophomore Otis Hatfield, are contractually committed to joining the armed forces after graduation. An additional few students have plans or have seriously considered joining the armed services.
In order to properly investigate CC’s relationship with the military, the internal dynamics of the college-to-military pipeline at CC must be explored in addition to the external relationships with the broader community.
Hatfield and Becker were both curious about the military from an early age. “I have wanted to be an officer in the Army since I was 12,” said Hatfield. His early interest persisted despite coming from an admittedly different background from the stereotypical military upbringing. “My mother is a private art dealer and my father runs an arts nonprofit,” said Hatfield. “I’m from downtown Manhattan. I am as far from a military family as you can get.”
Becker echoed Hatfield’s early interest. “I’ve been interested in the military…for a long time,” said Becker. “That largely stems from my interest in aviation.” He recalls spending time with his father, a pilot, and every time a plane would fly overhead his father would look skyward.
Despite their similar early motivations, the two have taken unique paths to their respective military endeavors. Hatfield has taken perhaps the more traditional route: Army ROTC during undergraduate education. CC suited Hatfield’s ambitions. “The reason I came to CC is because it is a small liberal arts school with a close associated ROTC program,” said Hatfield.
However, Hatfield did not know he was going to be the only ROTC student when he came to CC. The Pikes Peak region ROTC program has roughly 130 members, yet Hatfield is the only one from CC. But that hasn’t made Hatfield regret his choice. “I wouldn’t say it’s a negative,” said Hatfield. Plus, at University of Colorado Colorado Springs “we are the seventh ranked ROTC program in the country out of about 250.” He also had to recognize that at CC he would not “get credit for doing ROTC…; it’s just not what we do.”
Becker, on the other hand, did not take the ROTC route. Instead, he attended Officer Candidate School (OCS) for the Marine Corps this past summer. He characterized it as “the most fun I never want to have again.” Because of his interest in flying, Becker had considered the Air Force Academy. However—in addition to explaining the amount of paperwork and recommendations necessary to apply—Becker said, “I became very convinced that I didn’t want an education geared towards a military experience. I knew that I wanted my normal college experience and to go study something I wanted.”
The different paths have resulted in varying influences from, and perspectives of, the military culture in Colorado Springs. For Hatfield, the multitude of military installations was an important benefit, hence his choice to take the ROTC route. He credits the high ranking of the UCCS ROTC program to the fact that “Fort Carson is within spitting distance, so our instructors are unbelievably fantastic. I attribute a lot of my positive experiences in ROTC with the way that the instructors at UCCS have run that program.”
Becker on the other hand has a different experience with the OCS route. The Colorado Springs military presence “hasn’t been an effect because, despite me being an anomaly within this [CC] bubble, I still exist within this bubble,” said Becker. In contrast to the fact that Hatfield is grateful for the military presence as it provides high-quality instruction, Becker is thankful that his experience has not included heavy interaction with the outside community. “If there was an overbearing military presence on campus then my college experience wouldn’t have been what I was looking for in the first place,” said Becker.
There are other CC students in addition to Becker and Hatfield that have thought about pursuing a military career, although they are not as far along in the process. “I came from a military family,” said first-year Tim Olson on why he considered getting involved. “Both my parents were in the military…From the time I was six to the time halfway through my junior year I wanted to go to West Point.”
Olson’s political stances complicated that trajectory. “My family is really conservative, and I was conservative up through most of high school,” said Olson. When Olson developed a more liberal political outlook he reconsidered his feelings. “It kind of pushed me away from going to a school like West Point because it is just such a conservative environment,” Olsen admitted.
However, Olson has completed what he calls his “dialectical shift” and has renewed interest in the military. “ROTC is something that, more recently, I have been interested in because…I have gone from the super conservative to the super liberal and now back to a moderate, left-leaning approach,” he said.
Since Olson is not yet in the ROTC program nor has he signed any contract with the military, he has a wider ability to talk politics. Hatfield and Becker, on the other hand, must tread carefully when it comes to politics due to their current status. “I think the reason that the United States’ military is the greatest military on earth is first and foremost that it is an apolitical organization,” said Hatfield. “I would never say a political opinion in this conversation…because it’s against regulations.”
Despite the avoidance of politics as a service member, decisions in Washington obviously can affect lives of military members. Professor Michael Sawyer, who attended the Naval Academy and subsequently served in the Navy said that, during his time in the military, “there was really no expectation of going to war because the Cold War was specifically designed to avoid it.” In contrast, “students who make that decision now are doing it under the context of an actual hot war,” said Sawyer.
Becker and Hatfield both face the possibility of hot war. “It’s hard not to think about it,” said Becker. “I certainly don’t blame anyone who does…when you make this decision, I would hope that you do it with the understanding that this is a reality and that you might go and that people will die and that your decision to do it one way of the other is not influenced by how likely you are to get into conflict.” Hatfield concurred: “when you sign up, you sign up with that mentality that it is likely you will deploy.”
All three students expressed a feeling that the CC community has been “generally very respectful” of prospective service members, as Hatfield put it. “I think the anticipation from most people when they ask me this question [how are you treated?] would be that there is just vile callousness and threats and scornful looks when it’s actually been, not the opposite, but genuine interest,” said Becker.
Becker welcomes that interest. “I do wish that people at CC understood more about the military and how it operates and what it does,” he said. “We are at this academic institution that sort of prides itself on being informed… I am able to give back a little bit in that I play a sort of educational role.” Olson echoed that sentiment: “I think it would be productive if people would directly engage with military members, both active and retired.”
The scarcity of students considering a military future combined with a lack of knowledge about the military sometimes translates into a feeling of remoteness. “People do talk to me a little bit like I’m an oddity,” said Hatfield. Because Becker did OCS rather than ROTC, Hatfield is the only student who must wear a uniform some days on campus.
Come May, Becker will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps and will attend six months of infantry school before heading off to flight school. This coming summer is the only summer off Hatfield will have during college. Next summer, he will go to Fort Knox, Ky. to continue ROTC training. His eventual goal is to pass Army Ranger school.
For Olson, he has some time before he must decide his exact path. Regardless of which path he chooses, it appears he will continue the trend of being one of just a few CC students aiming for a military future.