Sources: Scott Bridegam, 785-532-6754, bridegam@k-state.edu;
Will Cordes, bravo60@k-state.edu; and Ryan Gardner, gardner1@k-state.edu
Hometown connection: Leavenworth and Manhattan, Kan.; and Whitehall, Wis.
News release prepared by: Beth Bohn, 785-532-2535, bbohn@k-state.edu

Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011

Ready to serve: Army ROTC cadets say troop withdrawals won't change their plans for military careers

MANHATTAN -- As the U.S. withdrawals troops from Iraq, Army ROTC cadets with Kansas State University's Wildcat Battalion say they aren't worried that the move will affect their futures, whether through reductions in force or limiting opportunities for quick advancement.

"I believe that the withdrawals in Iraq are on the minds of Kansas State's Army ROTC cadets as they consider the current operating environment in which they will likely lead soldiers in the near future," said Lt. Col. R. Scott Bridegam, head of the department of military science. "Our cadets constantly seek to learn as much as they can about the areas of the world where they will likely be sent to lead our soldiers in support of our nation's strategic objectives. With troop withdrawals in Iraq, more focus has been placed on the Afghanistan region and other areas in the world where they may find themselves in the future."

Bridegam said the Army wants competitive leaders -- those who strive to be the best at their profession and who develop their soldiers to be the best.

"As the Army considers its force structure for the future with a decreased presence in different parts of the world, that competitive nature will serve to ensure that we advance and retain our very best and brightest leaders," he said. "Kansas State cadets are developed and prepared to meet that demand for competition and will likely find that their time at Kansas State University gives them a competitive edge."

Sept. 11, which led to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was not the motivating factor for Will Cordes and Ryan Gardner, both Wildcat Battalion members, for seeking careers in the Army.

Cordes, a senior in secondary education, Leavenworth, is from a military family; his father is a retired military colonel. He said he made the decision to join Army ROTC when he entered high school in 2004. Cordes thinks the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan will enhance his career opportunities.

"The Army goes through constant cycles of being overmanned in personnel and then in a dire need. This is just part of that cycle," he said. "Actually, I think the troop withdrawal will help my career. I think this will shift the Army back to a heavy training emphasis, which will benefit the Army as a whole."

Cordes wants to be a member of the infantry when he takes up his commission as a second lieutenant after graduating in December 2012. If he doesn't get into the infantry, he would like field artillery.

"We still have to train soldiers to do their jobs -- troop withdrawals won't affect this," Cordes said. "While the number of soldiers may decrease, the Army still needs leaders. I will strive to improve and better myself so I remain a useful asset to the United States Army."

Gardner, senior in family studies and human services, Manhattan, entered military service after graduating high school in 2003.

"I did not join the military to specifically go to war, as some do; but if going to war is how I could best serve my country, then I welcome it," he said. Gardner did deploy in 2004 to Iraq, serving as a mechanic with the 1st Infantry Division, 1st Brigade, 101st Forward Support Battalion. Originally from Whitehall, Wis., Gardner finished his active duty contract in 2008 at Fort Riley. He wanted to go to college, so he and wife decided to stay in Kansas and attend Kansas State University.

"A few semesters into college I felt a part of me still had never left the Army, so I joined ROTC because I know I wanted to make the Army a part of my future; the camaraderie is something that I have found nowhere else," he said.

Gardner would like to be involved with Army aviation after he graduates in December 2012. His long-term plan is to earn a dual master's in family studies and divinity so he can become a chaplain later in his career.

"The troop withdrawals aren't affecting my plans yet," he said. "I think it does create an environment that will become increasingly competitive due to proposed cutbacks in our military size and budget. I think the competition is a healthy endeavor for the Army because the concept of the 'profession of arms' is something that every individual who serves must consider and commit to. In order for our Army to be the best, it requires its volunteers to treat it not as a 9-to-5 job, but as a lifestyle, where you carry its values everywhere."

Bridegam thinks ROTC programs will be an attractive option for the troops returning from active duty.

"I don’t anticipate that troop withdrawals in Iraq will have a significant impact on ROTC enrollment at Kansas State one way or another, other than the possible increases in veterans using their post 9-11 G.I. Bill to pursue higher education goals and as a route to becoming an officer in the Army," he said. "Kansas State University’s military inclusive and supportive environment is an attractive option for veterans to use those benefits and we have seen many veterans come to the university because of that, so it tends to reason that the possibility exists that many will want to also pursue ROTC as an option."

The cadets and Bridegam agree that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped Americans have a greater appreciation of the service and sacrifices of military members.

"Some of our countrymen may have expressed concern over the policies of war to me, but most have had little issue separating their support for the troops from their concern/disagreement over those policies," Gardner said. "Support has been largely high, even though the American people have been asked to endure a conflict spread out over the last nine, almost 10 years. That is a credit to the resolve and perseverance of the people of our nation."

"There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of Americans value our military members' service and sacrifice and firmly believe that they think of the military profession as an honorable, selfless, worthy endeavor," Bridegam said. "The veterans of the Vietnam era have played a big part in the way today's generation of Americans feel and their commitment to that end has truly influenced how our nation views its military today."