Yale celebrates return of ROTC a year after DADT repeal

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Yale University welcomed the Air Force and Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps detachments last week to campus, a return after a decades-long absence that was hailed as a historic development that would help groom leaders at a prestigious university.

Yale brought the ROTC units back to campus this fall after Congress voted to allow gays to serve openly in the military. ROTC hasn’t had a presence at Yale since the Vietnam War era.

“It’s a historic event for our militaries and it’s an historic event for our nation,” said David S. Fadok, commander and president of Air University, an umbrella of Air Force leadership training programs.

The ceremony was held on Sept. 21 on Yale’s Hewitt Quadrangle, in front of the cenotaph honoring Yale servicemen who gave their lives in World War I. Students in crisp uniforms marched into as a commander shouted “one, two, three” and a military band performed.

The Naval ROTC unit has 12 Yale midshipmen enrolled, while the Air Force has eight Yale cadets and 30 cadets from other Connecticut colleges who will train at Yale.

Juan M. Garcia, assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, said the program would prepare future leaders for everything from wars to the ongoing fight against piracy to humanitarian missions that help prevent wars.

Yale President Richard Levin said Garcia recognized the symbolic importance of establishing a Naval ROTC unit on at least one Ivy League campus. “We’re glad it’s ours,” Levin said.

“It is truly a distinct pleasure to welcome you to this celebration of the arrival of Naval and Air Force ROTC units to the Yale campus,” Levin said.

Two other Ivy League universities, Harvard and Columbia, also signed agreements last year to bring back ROTC.

ROTC programs left the campuses of several prominent universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the fervor of student protests against the Vietnam War. ROTC was kept away more recently because of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which banned gays from serving openly in the armed services. The universities said the policy violated nondiscrimination rules for campus organizations.

The return of the ROTC renews a long military tradition at Yale. The inventor David Bushnell is credited with creating the first submarine ever used in combat while studying at Yale in 1775, and one of the original six Naval ROTC units was established at the university in 1926.

Students enrolled in the ROTC program receive scholarship money in return for agreeing to military service after graduation.

Students participating in ROTC say they have been welcomed at the campus.

“So far it’s been very well received here,” said Matt Smith, an 18-year-old Yale freshman participating in the Naval ROTC. “It’s something that is hopefully here to stay.”