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ROTC and IWP: A perspective from Robert Bankowski

Robert (second from right) with fellow Hoya Battalion cadets.
Robert (second from right) with fellow Hoya Battalion cadets.

IWP M.A. students can participate in Army ROTC through Georgetown University’s Hoya Battalion. Here, IWP student Robert Bankowski shares why he chose IWP and the Hoya Battalion and what he has learned from the experience.

How did you become interested in national security and the military? 

During my undergraduate studies at the University of California Davis, I studied international relations and economics. I became interested in national security law and thought about going to law school.  

I had a childhood dream of serving in the military and learned I could do ROTC in graduate school.  

For anyone who is not familiar, the ROTC program prepares civilians interested in pursuing education and service in the military. It is a pathway to becoming a commissioned Army officer in the Reserve, National Guard, or active duty.  

ROTC seemed like a perfect opportunity to pursue higher education and fulfill my dream of military service.  

I looked for graduate programs in Washington, D.C., that had a relationship with the Army ROTC Program. This was one of the motivating factors that led me to come to IWP.  

Robert is training with an Armor unit at the National Training Center in Ft. Irwin, CA.
Robert is training with an Armor unit at the National Training Center in Ft. Irwin, CA.

Why else did you choose IWP? 

I liked IWP for a variety of other reasons. I liked that there were practitioners on the faculty with backgrounds in national security affairs. I thought the classroom sizes and experience would be more rewarding in terms of professors providing real-life examples in close-knit group discussions. After coming to IWP, this all came true. I have learned a lot in my various classes at IWP.  

How does it work to participate in ROTC as a graduate student? 

The ROTC program is designed to be a four-year program for undergraduate students, but there are options in which you can do an accelerated two- or three-year program. I am in the two-year accelerated ROTC program for graduate students, which corresponds with being a full-time student, in a two-year M.A. program at IWP. I will be eligible for commissioning once I receive my M.A. from IWP.  

While joining the ROTC Program, I received a GRFD Minuteman Scholarship through the U.S. Army Reserves and got contracted as a cadet. This scholarship offers tuition assistance and the opportunity to begin drilling in an Army Reserve or National Guard unit while completing your training and studies as a cadet. 

What will duty in the Reserve look like after graduation?  

When I graduate, I will have a regular civilian job and part-time military service. This will involve one weekend per month of drills, plus an annual two-week training event for exercises that help prepare soldiers before they are deployed on missions overseas. On the civilian side, I plan to pursue a career in the public or private sector pertaining to national security and intelligence work.  

Regardless of whether you are commissioned into Active Duty, National Guard, or Reserve service, every cadet that gets commissioned will be expected to fulfill an eight-year contract.  

Robert is seen on one of the several Field Training Exercises (FTX’s) that the ROTC program conducts during the academic year.
Robert is on one of the several Field Training Exercises (FTX’s) that the ROTC program conducts during the academic year.

What was the application process like? Do you apply to graduate school or ROTC first? 

You apply to graduate school programs, and at the same time, you reach out to ROTC programs at the host school(s). For IWP, I contacted Georgetown University to apply for the ROTC program, given their established relationship. They connect you with a civilian contractor who helps you with everything that goes into a standard application process for the military, including personal documents, background checks, medical examinations, etc. This process helps discover if you are eligible for military service.  

What happens when you begin ROTC as a graduate student?  

After completing a supplemental summer training event at Fort Knox, KY, graduate students in the two-year accelerated program enter ROTC in their MS3 year of the regular four-year program.  

Two-year graduate students do a supplemental course for about a month over the summer to get you up to speed on many things you would have learned as a first- and second-year cadet.  

Was this course difficult?  

It was a little challenging. Going into ROTC, there were many things I didn’t have experience with. In addition to learning all the technical military terms, I had never been camping before and never fired a weapon. So, there were a lot of first-time experiences that really helped me grow into taking on the role of a future leader of soldiers. 

After completing this course, I felt I had all the tools necessary to succeed going into my MS3 year. It was a very enriching experience, and I can’t imagine starting the third year without that knowledge!  

IWP Cadets at a Georgetown Football Game showing their ROTC spirit.
IWP Cadets at a Georgetown Football Game showing their ROTC spirit.

What do you do in the ROTC program?  

We have physical training (PT) sessions in the early mornings a couple of times a week. On weekends, we have overnight labs in the woods, which involve field training exercises. We practice formulating OPORDS, mission planning, land navigation, marksmanship skills, and more.  

Usually, after your junior year, you go through an event called Advanced Camp, where you are graded on your knowledge of fundamental Army skills and tradecraft that you should know before becoming a commissioned officer. The results of your performance at camp impact what branches of the Army you get after selecting your top preferences.  

We also have other training events, such as CWST, ACFTs, and Ruck Marches, which each cadet must pass as a commissioning requirement. Your physical fitness is determined by various factors such as height, weight, age, gender, etc. These tests involve deadlifts, the ball throw, a two-mile run, and more. The exercises are designed to correlate with situations that may come up in the field during your military career, like carrying a wounded soldier.  

Robert (left) with other Student Government Association (SGA) officers. Robert is serving as the Director of Finance on SGA.
Robert (left) with other Student Government Association (SGA) officers. Robert is serving as the Director of Finance on SGA.

Are there other opportunities within the Hoya Battalion? 

You can join clubs within ROTC, such as the Maneuver Warfare Club, which deals with OPORD briefs, operational graphics, and wargaming. There is the color guard team, where you can go to major events in the DC area, including sporting events and drills conducted in front of the general public. There are a variety of other clubs that help with soldierly skills, military doctrine, and physical fitness. 

Are there other IWP students in the Hoya Battalion with you? 

Currently, there is one other IWP cadet in the Hoya Battalion. Last year, I overlapped with two other IWP students who were fourth-year cadets. Sierra Alwine was my ROTC mentor at the time. She was responsible for counseling me on concepts that I would be tested on through my cadet experience and helping to make sure I was on track with fulfilling my commissioning requirements. 

Robert, with fellow Hoya Battalion cadets from IWP.
Robert with fellow Hoya Battalion cadets from IWP.

What are your favorite things about ROTC? 

It’s the people. You can join many clubs or fraternities in undergraduate and graduate schools, but a particular character or personality trait draws people to the ROTC program. I’ve been in many extracurricular programs, though none compare to the close-knit community I’ve experienced in ROTC.  

The difficulty of the training helps build character, and you become closer to your fellow cadets than you would with your friends in a civilian setting. The mindset is that you are all a team and in this together.  

The program is also great for improving your teamwork and leadership skills. You learn a lot about yourself when you are in a leadership position. This training is helpful for both civilian and military careers.  

Have you found any complementarity between ROTC and IWP’s curriculum? 

There are times when the two intertwine. At IWP, one common core course is a military strategy class. I felt my ROTC experience helped prepare me for the concepts in this class and some of our other national security classes at IWP. Getting that foundational knowledge of the Army helps understand the national security policy process and national security threats and concerns.  

What is it like to do graduate school and ROTC simultaneously?  

Being a full-time student in both programs requires strong time management skills. It prepares you for any dual responsibilities you may have in a civilian job in the future as well.  

At IWP especially, many people with full-time or part-time positions juggle other responsibilities with the school. You shouldn’t be discouraged about how much time fulfilling both obligations takes because it’s a great challenge to hone your professional skills and become a more responsible person.  

There are many beneficial factors to doing both ROTC and Grad School, especially when you have a public service mindset. You will meet many other individuals with a similar mindset and develop close bonds with them.  You will also build bonds that will potentially last a lifetime in both your professional and personal life. 

Robert at IWP’s Gala at the International Spy Museum with Amb. Aldona Woś, Louis DeJoy, and other recipients of the Louis DeJoy and Aldona Z. Woś Family Foundation Scholarship.
Robert at IWP’s Gala at the International Spy Museum with Amb. Aldona Woś, Louis DeJoy, and other recipients of the Louis DeJoy and Aldona Z. Woś Family Foundation Scholarship.