“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” President John F. Kennedy said.
But why not ask both?
Matthew Harley discovered he could serve his country and receive benefits in return when he joined the Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship program. As the third generation to join the Navy, Harley followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Harley had to go through a rigorous application process throughout high school to receive the scholarship. “I had to maintain a good grade point average, stay out of trouble and have no disciplinary problems,” Harley explained. “I registered for the scholarship online, which then consisted of filling out a long application, including five essays.” He then had to go through a two-round interview process to be approved.
Once approved, Harley was able to reap the benefits of having college paid for while also learning self-discipline through the program. “My scholarship covered all tuition and fees. It also included a stipend that paid me bimonthly for some living expenses and a book stipend,” he said.
Along with the scholarship, students are committed to preparation for military service. Harley described some of the responsibilities:
“We had drill twice a week from 6:30 to 7:45 a.m., which consisted of marching, classroom instruction and various things to help adapt to Navy lifestyle. We also had physical training on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6 a.m., consisting of running approximately three miles, doing push-ups, sit-ups and other aerobic exercises.”
In addition, ROTC members have to maintain a 2.5 GPA with 30 hours of Naval ROTC classes.
But all of this commitment did not prevent Harley from enjoying his time at college. “I had plenty of time to do other things,” he said. “I was in a social fraternity on campus and then also had downtime to just be a normal college student. There’s time to have fun.”
There is also a lot to learn from the ROTC program besides military tactics. “The best things I learned were probably how to be more assertive, better time management skills and to always have a plan,“ Harley said.
Harley graduated from Auburn University in 2012 with a degree in Materials Engineering. He commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy and is stationed at NAS Pensacola for flight school.
When accepting an ROTC scholarship, students must commit a certain amount of time to the United States Military following graduation. “My commitment begins once I leave flight school and get my wings. Then I have to serve eight years,” Harley said. “Right now, I’m happy with the job commitment.”
Harley’s advice to any students considering applying for the ROTC scholarship is to do their research. “Talk to people who have done it. Talk to a recruiter; if you have someone in your town, call them up and talk to them. The best thing you can do is get as much information as you can because it is a big commitment, but overall I think it is very satisfying.”
“Regardless of whether you want to pursue the military as lifelong career, ROTC teaches leadership skills and organizational skills that are important no matter what you choose to do.” - Major Joel Jackson, scholarship officer and recruiting operations officer for Army ROTC at AUM and Central Alabama