NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- Every spring since 1930, Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) midshipmen graduate from college and become Navy and Marine Corps officers in ceremonies steeped in tradition.
This spring, commissioning ceremonies are being held at 83 colleges and universities, from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fla., to the University of Washington in Seattle.
The season of commissioning began April 30 and ends June 21, and by the time this year's NROTC commissioning season is finished, more than 900 new Navy ensigns will have been commissioned and more than 400 Marine second lieutenants will have joined the ranks of the United States Marine Corps.
"Unlike the service academies that hold one large commissioning ceremony each spring, we conduct nearly 100 NROTC commissioning ceremonies across the country," said Rear Adm. Clifford Sharpe, commander, Naval Service Training Command (NSTC), which oversees the NROTC program from its headquarters at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill.
"Facilitating so many commissioning ceremonies is no small task, and I am proud of the teamwork and effort the NROTC unit and NSTC headquarters personnel put into making each ceremony a memorable event for our newly-commissioned naval officers," said Sharpe.
Sharpe, who will be the commissioning NROTC officer this spring at Virginia Tech and in a joint ROTC ceremony at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, is among many officials to serve as commissioning officers.
Already this Spring, President Barack Obama has commissioned officers at the University of Michigan, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead has commissioned officers at Florida A&M University. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, will preside over commissionings at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in June.
The NROTC program was established in 1926 to provide a broad base of citizens knowledgeable in the arts and sciences of naval warfare. The program provided an opportunity for young men to undertake careers in the naval profession. In the beginning, there were six NROTC units located at the University of California at Berkeley, Georgia Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, University of Washington, and Harvard and Yale Universities. In June of 1930, 126 midshipmen graduated from college and received commissions in the United States Navy. At least three of the graduates went on to obtain flag rank.
The Marine Corps entered the NROTC program in 1932, offering qualified NROTC graduates commissions in the United States Marine Corps.
In 1968, Prairie View A&M University (Texas) became the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to host the program. Today, there are now eight HBCUs that host NROTC units with Prairie View A&M (Texas), Savannah State (Ga.) and Southern University and A&M College (La.) joining the program in 1971; Florida A&M University in 1972; Hampton University (Va.) and Norfolk State University (Va.) in 1982; and Morehouse College (Ga.) 1987. This year, Tuskegee University (Ala.) became the eighth HBCU to host an NROTC unit.
"Partnering with the finest universities and colleges in the country, the program enjoys a tradition of constant assessment and modifies the course of instruction and requirements to ensure it remains true to its legacy of service and produces the very finest officers," Sharpe said.
In 1972, the secretary of the Navy authorized 16 women to enroll in the program and attend school at one of four colleges. In 1990, the NROTC scholarship program was expanded to include applicants pursuing a four-year degree in Nursing, leading to a commission in the Navy Nurse Corps. Women now regularly participate in the program while attending any NROTC-affiliated college or university.
This Spring includes another historic step for women in the program as the first female NROTC midshipmen were selected to serve aboard submarines. These midshipmen will be commissioned as ensigns during various commissioning ceremonies across the country through June. The first two will be commissioned at North Carolina State University May 15.
Today, the NROTC program continues to develop midshipmen mentally, morally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, loyalty and Navy core values. The program enables qualified young men and women to attain a college education leading to a commission in the Navy or Marine Corps, and offers scholarship and non-scholarship opportunities for future Navy and Marine Corps officers.
According to Dr. Jill Stein, NROTC program manager at NSTC's Officer Development (OD) directorate in Pensacola, Fla., NROTC today reflects the nation.
"The commissionings involve Americans from all walks of life, all states, all economic groups," Stein said.
"Our graduates are America.
"Our universities provide the highest quality of education, an educational setting that is rich in diversity and thought, and an opportunity to these future officers to grow and develop in all areas of life: mental, physical, character and spiritual."
Although the numbers of new NROTC midshipmen commissioned each year has remained relatively the same for the past three years, OD officials said the number of former enlisted Sailors and Marines commissioned through the Navy's Seaman to Admiral Program and Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program (MECEP) has steadily risen in numbers. In the last three years, more than 600 enlisted Sailors and more than 400 enlisted Marines have graduated from college as part of NROTC units and been commissioned.
For many of the former enlisted Sailors and Marines, NROTC provides an opportunity to achieve academic and professional goals which might not have been a possibility otherwise.
"I challenge any enlisted Marine to look into the MECEP program and become a member of NROTC," said Marine 2nd Lt. Anthony Gantt Jr. from Miami, who was commissioned at Florida A&M. "This program taught me a lot of humility. It also taught me to be a better leader, to communicate better and to think before making rash decisions."
Gantt served as an enlisted Marine for six years, including a tour in Afghanistan that led to him being awarded a Bronze Star. He attended Florida A&M University through MECEP and hoped to take the experiences and training he learned as an enlisted Marine and apply it to his continuing career as a Marine officer.
The NROTC program has never been more popular. According to Capt. Glenn Doyle, deputy NROTC program manager at NSTC's OD directorate, more than 26,000 applications were started this year, generating more than 6,500 complete, fully-eligible applications for the four-year national scholarship. This was an increase of 1,100 eligible applications over last year.
For more information on the NROTC program and the universities and colleges that host NROTC units, visit the NROTC Web site at https://www.nrotc.navy.mil.
For more news from Naval Service Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/greatlakes/.