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Revisiting ROTC

/ 12:06 AM August 11, 2014

First of all, we take great pride in the recent appointment of US Navy Captain Ronald Ravelo as commander of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln. His father, Ben Ravelo, served as a storekeeper in the US Navy. Ronald himself graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in industrial and systems engineering through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program. He also attended the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

His professional background indicates that he was entrusted to develop strategic directions and to orchestrate the operations of a 650-foot amphibious warship comprised of some 750 sailors and marines. During this assignment, he managed a multimillion-dollar operating budget and provided executive oversight of a $130-million midlife ship upgrade that was executed by four prime contractors and numerous subcontractors. Upon completion of this complex maintenance period, he was responsible for every aspect of training and readiness leading up to the ship’s deployment as part of an amphibious readiness group.

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Prior to his assignment with the Abraham Lincoln, he was executive officer of the USS Ronald Reagan. In this position, he was responsible for the daily operations and management of 4,500 sailors assigned to one of 18 departments. He was second-in-command of a Navy capital ship with two nuclear reactors for power requirements, an airport with aircraft servicing and repair facilities, fire department and police departments, full medical and dental facilities, full living services to include laundry, restaurant, radio and telephone communication services, IT infrastructure, and full-service on-ship/off-ship logistics.

This gives us an idea of the experience and responsibilities that go with the command of a capital ship like an aircraft carrier. Let me mention that Captain Ravelo is not a graduate of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, but is a product of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program.

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Somehow, I am reminded of the days when Filipino applicants entered the US Navy, mainly through Subic and Sangley Point recruitment offices when the US fleet still had ships operating from these ports.

My cousin  Henry Nivera, like many other young Filipinos who joined the US Navy after World War II when enlistment was still possible, was allowed to work in certain limited career areas. That was the custom and tradition of the times, and the US Navy was more restrictive than the other services in the utilization of minority groups.  Gradually however, more opportunities were opened up and he eventually became one of the first minority members allowed to serve with the submarine fleet.

Of course, we are all familiar with the story of (Rear Admiral) Dr. Connie Mariano, the daughter of a Filipino US Navy steward, who rose to the rank of Fleet admiral, and in the process became the first woman in the US military to become the White House physician.

In her book, “The White House Doctor: My Patients Were Presidents—A Memoir,” she described her work at the White House as similar to “practicing battlefield medicine.” Her colleagues—she supervised a staff of 24—were drawn from a variety of specialties. They were responsible not just for the president and his family, but also for the vice president and even guests at State functions. While Secret Service agents were on the lookout for bullets and bombs, Mariano writes “I looked for bugs and bad environmental conditions.”

My recollection of a story on Doctor Mariano had to do with her entry and exit to the White House. Many of the Navy stewards who served at the White House mess were Filipino servicemen, and when she would visit with them they would be required to pass through doors reserved for the lower-level staff. One of the proudest moments of her life was when President Bill Clinton pinned on her shoulders the stars of a flag officer of the US Navy. In her remarks, she mentioned that she always used the backdoor to enter the White House, but today for the first time she used the front door. Many in the audience were her own countrymen and the sight of one of their own reaching such a high rank made them feel that they were part of her success and achievement.

Of course, the heavy work schedule would eventually take a toll on her marriage. Now retired from the Navy, she is in private medical practice in Scottsdale, Arizona. Perhaps, in a few years we shall also witness the promotion or a Filipino-American to the rank of admiral in an operational command in the 7th Fleet in the Pacific.

The experience of Captain Ravelo is a good example of the benefits of a ROTC program, that should be revisited in our military organization if we are to increase preparedness for any emergency.

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In the Declaration of Principles of the 1935 Constitution, Section 2 provides that “the defense of the State is a prime duty of the government and in the fulfillment of this duty, all citizens may be required to render personal military or civil service.”

Based on this provision, the Commonwealth government came up with the National Defense Act calling for the establishment of a citizens’ army, composed of a core of regular military personnel responsible for training young men and women, to form a large reservoir of manpower which could be mobilized in the event of an emergency. At that time, dark clouds of conflict were already hovering over the horizon and military preparedness was a priority issue. As a result, the ROTC program came into being along with the upgrading of the Philippine Military Academy from a three-year to a four-year institution of learning.

When World War II broke out in December 1941, many of the young men who served as junior officers in Bataan and Corregidor were products of the ROTC and they served with great distinction on the battlefields and, later, in the guerilla war that followed the formal surrender of Usaffe (United States Armed Forces in the Far East) units in the country.

The ROTC program was actually the source of many officers of the Armed Forces. The graduating classes of the PMA then were quite small, and so those with reserve commissions from civilian colleges were pressed into service. The shortage of officers was such that even noncommissioned officers were sent to a School for Reserve Commission (SRC) to prepare them for higher responsibilities.

It is time to revive the ROTC program. As has been pointed out, “the main point in resurrecting the program is to increase the trained pool of people who would be available to serve the country in time of great emergency. Making ROTC mandatory does not mean that the student would be required to join the military organization.”

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