PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With goals to excel as leaders in public service, the law and cybersecurity, three incoming students at Brown University are making history this fall as the first at the University since 1969 to serve their country through Naval and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs.
On Sept. 16 at Brown’s Sayles Hall, first-year students Ben Chiacchia, Luc Langlois and Melia Okura joined University President Christina Paxson, Franklin R. Parker, assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, and Steven Garland, brigadier general of the Air Force, in formally restoring Brown’s participation in the service branches’ ROTC programs.
In 1969, in the context of the Vietnam War, Brown’s faculty voted to limit the role of the military instruction on campus, ultimately resulting in the closing of campus-based programs with the Navy, the Marines and the Air Force. In the decades since, the University has periodically assessed whether to revive the programs. Ultimately, the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the military’s more inclusive approach to service became a precipitating factor in the new expansion of ROTC.
Brown did retain ties to Army ROTC, hosted at Providence College, and six students currently participate in that program. The new agreements with the Navy, the Marines and the Air Force are consistent with providing Brown students every opportunity to serve their country, Paxson said, and with everything the University does to prepare students to lead consequential lives.
“Without question, what all Brown men and women who have served, are serving and will serve in the United States Armed Forces share is a deep desire to make this country — and by extension, the world — a safer, more secure place for all of us,” Paxson said in marking the renewed relationships. “As the first Air Force cadets and Navy midshipmen since the Vietnam War begin their studies on College Hill, I could not be prouder of the strengthened ties between Brown University and the Armed Forces.”
Brown Navy and Marine Corps ROTC midshipmen will join the Naval ROTC unit at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and Brown Air Force ROTC cadets will join Detachment 340 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Secretary Parker said the new agreement will benefit both the Navy and Brown.
“This is a great partnership for the Department of the Navy and for Brown University,” Parker said. “The Naval ROTC program will enrich the Brown experience, and the gifted students from Brown’s ROTC program will make our military and nation stronger.”
Gen. Garland said the agreement allows the Air Force to expand the diversity of the intellectual contributions in its ranks.
"ROTC ties at Brown give the Air Force the opportunity to connect with our youngest and brightest minds," he said. "The Air force and the nation need the contribution that the ROTC cadets provide."
Officers in training
Chiacchia, Langlois and Okura are the first embodiments of these renewed relationships.
A Lincoln, R.I., native, Chiacchia enrolled at Brown this fall with a strong sense that he wants to engage in a career in public service. With a father who served in the Navy and the Marines, he believes a part of doing so should include military experience, whatever specific public role might await him in the future.
“Considering the environment that the United States finds itself in right now, if I were going to be going into a situation where lives were at stake, I feel that it is important that I contribute to the defense of the country in some manner before taking up a leadership position,” he said.
Chiacchia said he became interested in Navy ROTC in high school — both because of his desire to serve and given the substantial financial support the program can provide for college. Simultaneously he was interested in coming to Brown for its programs in political science, international affairs and economics. It was not until his senior year that the two goals became compatible when Brown renewed the opportunity for students to pursue ROTC. When he reached out to schools with ROTC programs, Karen McNeil, program director in Brown’s Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs, was the first to get back to him.
“I had the interest and the desire to come to Brown but [ROTC becoming an option] put it over the top and made my decision that much easier,” he said.
For Langlois, Brown’s re-engagement with Air Force ROTC provides him the opportunity to pursue three dreams: to study history at Brown, to pursue a law degree and then to potentially serve in the Air Force in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps. The Toledo, Ohio, native said he is also looking forward to the “second-to-none” leadership education that comes with ROTC instruction.
His step-grandfather, who served in the Air Force, inspired his interest in the branch, and Langlois credits his father, a detective, as an influence of his interest in the legal system. His enthusiasm for Brown emerged when he found out about the University’s distinctive Open Curriculum.
Langlois had applied first for the Air Force ROTC scholarship, though, so the re-emergence of the program at Brown made it possible to turn his enthusiasm for the University into reality.
“If Brown had not had an ROTC program, there’s no way I could have initiated the scholarship,” he said. “Without ROTC, Brown would not have even been on my list of possible institutions.”
Okura, from Hanapepe, Hawaii, has a different career in mind, but shares Chiacchia’s and Langlois’ desire to contribute to the nation’s defense. With interests in software engineering and cybersecurity, and inspiration from her uncles who had served in the Army, Okura said that at one point in high school she was strongly inclined to apply to the U.S. Air Force Academy. Instead, she decided to apply to Brown on the strength of its computer science programs and the appeal of the Open Curriculum.
With Air Force ROTC available at Brown, she said, she has the best of both worlds.
“What I like about doing the ROTC program as opposed to the academy is that I can enjoy the awesome experience of going to Brown University while at the same time getting a very solid start to a military career,” Okura said. “Cybersecurity is an increasingly relevant problem in the world today, especially when it comes to national security. Thus, joining the Air Force to help protect our country from cyber attacks seemed like an awesome career to have.”
For all three students, attending Brown and participating in ROTC is a renewed opportunity to both give back to their country and to move forward with their goals.