While many freshmen students are still deciding which major to pursue, Ryan Sullivan had already made one big decision affecting his Vanderbilt career before setting foot on campus in August: he joined the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program on scholarship.
“I wanted to be in the army for a long time and I thought that being an officer would be the right move,” said Sullivan, a San Francisco Bay area native. “Also, the assistance with tuition is pretty big.”
Sullivan says that the Army ROTC program has taught him how to do several interesting tasks like shooting, rappelling off of Stevenson and military tactics. During a typical week, he has to be ready for physical training — involving circuit training, body weights and other exercises — on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m. On Thursdays he is in uniform because the program does a two-hour lab involving situational tactical exercises.
“ROTC is pretty good at doing physical stuff that helps your confidence,” he explained. “(Two weekends ago), we were up in Wendell Ford Training Center in Kentucky and had four days of stick lanes, platoon operations, and then on the last day we did a confidence course, which is basically an Army confidence course (obstacle course).”
Sullivan has also been able to be a team leader in the Army ROTC program, held accountable for three other cadets. Despite the time commitment required, Sullivan says that so far he’s been able to balance his other responsibilities and activities with Army ROTC.
For instance, in addition to Army ROTC, Sullivan is a brother in Sigma Nu and is philanthropically involved.
“I run a small non-profit called Village to Village where we build small houses in Southeast Asia,” Sullivan said. “I’ve been to Southeast Asia many times throughout high school, and (Village to Village) is pretty small, but I do it with a friend who is Thai who lives in a small village and basically we build houses. We’ve built two houses in a little town in Thailand and right now we are building a sewage system for a school in Laos.”
In addition to his community service, Sullivan hopes to have other experiences abroad through his work with the Army.
“I think it would be cool being stationed in Hawaii or something — one of those cool places,” he said. “I love to travel, so I am excited about hopefully getting the opportunity to do that. I am going to Africa this summer through (an Army ROTC) program called CULP, which is Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Program. I am going to Senegal and I think I am probably teaching English there. They put you on active duty and you get paid and you get to travel, so it is a win-win.”
Not only has Army ROTC given Sullivan the opportunity to build tactical and leadership skills he will use later in the Army, but his involvement has also helped him with his academic career at Vanderbilt.
“It’s definitely made me more organized and it’s definitely kept me balanced and kept my priorities in line, just because it is this commitment I can’t break,” Sullivan explained. “So it kept me grounded during my first year in college, and beyond that it is a great opportunity to serve in the military.”
While Sullivan is still only in his first year at Vanderbilt, he already has ideas of what he hopes to do one day in the Army.
“I’m hoping I will get commissioned on active duty,” Sullivan said. “I’ve wanted to do infantry for a really long time, but that’s really competitive so we will see what happens. Maybe something like aviation or armor would be cool too.”
But for Sullivan, the Army ROTC program gives more than just physical training or vocational training.
“At the end of the day, it’s a pretty cool feeling realizing that you will be an officer in the army,” he said. “It makes you feel pretty good.”