Tallying close to 50 cadets, Mercer University's Army ROTC Program is small compared with other university ROTC units, which often have as many as 200 cadets. But size isn't everything. Mercer ROTC students are making big entrances into the military world.
Two Mercer ROTC cadets have been sought out to participate in highly selective programs. And they say it's the combination of the specialized attention they've garnered by being a part of Mercer's small, but elite ROTC program, coupled with the diversified education they've received at Mercer that led them to these opportunities.
Isaiah Davis, who was commissioned as a second lieutenant when he graduated from Mercer in May, is one of only a handful of ROTC students in the nation selected to go directly into the U.S. Army Finance Corps out of college.
The Army Finance Corps is an extremely selective military branch. While the numbers aren't yet out for this year, only 11 ROTC graduates in the country were selected last year to go directly into this branch field after college.
The Finance Corps performs all Army finance and accounting functions. And the Corps boasts the highest GPA of all of the branches.
For Davis, a 22-year-old finance major from Macon, the Finance Corps seemed like the perfect fit. "I'm not completely sure I want to serve in the military for my entire career. So I wanted to get some skills that would be transferable in the civilian world."
As a part of his ROTC scholarship, Davis is required to serve 8 years in the military—four years of active duty and four years in the Army Reserve or the Army National Guard.
Last summer when Davis was asked to fill out paperwork listing his top three choices of branches he'd like to enter after college, he made sure the Finance Corps was at the top of the list. With a 3.56 GPA, Isaiah knew he was qualified to enter the branch. But he didn't set his hopes too high. "I knew it was a really selective field."
The Mercer senior was elated to learn he got his #1 pick. And not only did he get his top choice, he also was selected to enter the Finance Corps right away. Often, ROTC cadets are accepted to the Finance Corps, but they then are required to do two years of work in a separate field before they actually serve in the Finance Corps.
"For a brand new second lieutenant to be picked up right out of college is really a testament to the quality of his education and leadership ability," said Allan Pitchford, assistant director of admissions, Army ROTC liaison at Mercer and a 24-year veteran of the United States Army.
Davis credits Mercer for his success. He said the education he's received at the University has taught him to "think outside of the box" and "read between the lines," and that will equip him to serve as a quality military leader.
Mercer sophomore Keith Pilgrim is another ROTC student who is rising quickly in the military thanks to his experience as a cadet at the University.
Pilgrim, 20, was one of 15 ROTC cadets in the nation chosen to participate in an internship at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center in Fort Bragg, N. C. This is the first year Special Forces, commonly known as the "Green Berets," has offered such an internship.
The program is meant for ROTC juniors. But many of the juniors who applied for the internship failed the physical requirements, leaving slots open for eligible ROTC sophomores. Pilgrim met all of the requirements his older counterparts couldn't, and, in August, he will get a glimpse of the intensity of the Special Forces qualification course soldiers must complete before earning the coveted Green Beret. The Mercer history major hopes to commission as a second lieutenant with a combat arms career branch assignment and to later join Army Special Forces Command.
Through his internship, Pilgrim will work with Special Operations personnel to replicate a hostile environment that a Special Forces team may encounter while advising and training host government forces.
The ROTC cadet hopes this will help him better understand foreigners' perspectives of the U.S. military. This is an important skill to have if he chooses to go into this highly specialized career branch field. Officers in this branch have to be especially sensitive to the diplomatic ramifications of their operations.
The Special Forces qualification course Pilgrim will experience is part of rigorous training most soldiers don't have the opportunity to experience until they have completed at least five years of military service. Being an intern with the Special Forces will undoubtedly put Pilgrim at an advantage later when he is actually going through training. "I'll be able to see what works and what doesn't work."
In addition to his internship, Pilgrim will also attend the United States Army Airborne School in Fort Benning, Ga., this summer.
The Alvarado, Texas native believes his experience as a Mercer ROTC cadet is what afforded him these opportunities. He said the relative small size of Mercer's ROTC has put him at an advantage as he prepares to enter the Military. "The cadets get personal attention unmatched in other larger ROTC programs."