Proceedings Vol. 54, June 1928, No. 304

In World War I, regular naval officers were supplemented by those given direct commissions and graduates of the midshipmen schools of “90-day wonder” fame. Both sources left much to be desired. Neither properly indoctrinated candidates about naval customs, traditions, and standards, nor provided a sound professional foundation. Screening of direct commission candidates left much to be desired. The midshipmen schools had similar screening problems and the grave defect of being far too expensive in the austere 1920s.

A study revealed that the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps concept could be modified to meet the Navy’s requirement. In a modern-day irony, a pilot program was undertaken at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, in September 1924, to test the scheme for the Navy. The initial program was successful and so resulted in the establishment of the full-scale Captain Nimitz describes in his article.

In 1928 Captain Nimitz predicted that NROTC students, such as those who served under his command at the University of California, would prove a sound investment. During the 1930s, the NROTC was greatly expanded as it showed its potential; by the end of the decade, it had become firmly established as the peacetime source of most of the Navy’s non-aeronautical reserve officers. Called to the colors with the Naval Reserve, NROTC officers served with distinction throughout World War II and more than justified Captain Nimitz’s high hopes.

Tom Wilkerson
Major General, USMC (Ret.)
U. S. Naval Institute CEO

The Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps
By Captain C. W. Nimitz, U. S. Navy

Vo. 54 June 1928 No. 304

On 4 March 1925, with the approval of House Resolution 2688, the President put another strong prop under national defense by authorizing the establishment of a Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, the total personnel of which was to exceed 1,200.

First Uniforms UC Class of 1930

Naval Reserve Freshmen, Class of 1930, University of California

In the Act, the term “naval” included both the Navy and the Marine Corps. It was planned to allot four-fifths of the total numbers to the Navy and one-fifth to the Marines, but as yet the Marine Corps has not decided to establish separate units, so that for now, all training is to produce efficient naval reserve officers.

Members of the Naval ROTC are known officially as Naval Reserve Students and the various undergraduate classes are termed Naval Reserve Freshman, Naval Reserve Sophomores, and so forth.

In the words of the Navy Department:

“The primary object of the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is to provide systematic instruction and training at civil educational institutions, which will qualify selected students of such institutions for appointment as officers in the Naval Reserve. The Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps will be expected to supply sufficient junior officers to the Naval Reserve and thus assist in meeting the demands for increased commissioned personnel in wartime.

“The secondary object of the Naval ROTC is to further acquaint the college authorities and the student bodies with the Navy and what it means to the nation. The present influence on American public opinion of colleges and universities and the future influence of present day students make this secondary object of considerable importance to the Navy,”

Funds in the amount of $40,000 were available on 1 July 1926. With this modest sum, naval units were inaugurated at the University of California, University of Washington, Harvard, Yale, Georgia School of Technology, and the Northwestern University. The administration of these units is conducted by the training division of the Bureau of Navigation. The total allowed personnel is equitably distributed between the six institutions and is to be further divided into four undergraduate classes.

The Inspection Party: Adm. L.R. de Steiguer (left), US Navy, commander-in-chief, Battle Fleet, with his chief of staff, Rear Admiral Harris Laning, US Navy, and Capt. W.D. Puleston, assistant chief of staff, inspect the Naval ROTC unit of the University of California, which is under the charge of Captain C.W. Nimitz (right)

 Two naval officers and several enlisted men were detailed to each institution to meet the fall opening of 1926. Sixty freshmen from the class of 1930 at each school began their naval experiences simultaneously with their college careers. Units will not reach their authorized strength until 1929 and will not produce officers until 1930.

At each institution a four-year course in naval science and tactics, including both theoretical and practical work, has been added to the list of courses offered. The basic course is the first two years; the advanced course the second two years. A cruise of 15 days is offered each summer with the emphasis on practical work in seamanship, signals, engineering, and the like. One such cruise is compulsory during the advanced course. All other cruises are voluntary since it is recognized that many students must work their own way through college.

The object of the course in naval science is to supplement the other course taken so that graduates will posses a good education; sufficient nautical knowledge to fit them as junior naval reserve officers; a disciplined mind and body; and self-reliant leadership qualities.

First NROTC unit, Univeristy of California 1926

The basic course requires three hours per week and the advanced five. The subjects taught in the basic course are navigation, ordnance, and seamanship, with engineering being added to form the advanced course. Naval officers of considerable service are assigned as instructors.
Students are selected from those who apply with regard to their physical condition, latent qualities of leadership, the probability of their attending the university continuously for four years, and other courses taken at the university.

Membership in the naval unit costs almost nothing as uniforms and books are government-furnished. The uniforms are similar to those worn by midshipmen at the Naval Academy. Advanced course students are paid a subsistence allowance of about $210. In addition, students are paid 70 cents a day while on cruises and are allowed transportation to and from ports of embarkation and debarkation.

Students who successfully complete the course upon their application will, with the recommendation of the professor of naval science, be given a commission in the Volunteer Naval Reserve. From this status they may become associated with Fleet Reserve and by attending drills they will receive two months’ active duty pay yearly.

Yale Naval Reserve Officer's Training Corps paraded before Yale Memorial at Second Annual Inspection March 13, 1928

From the student’s point of view, the program is advantageous because it enables him to meet the military training requirements required at Land Grant institutions, he receives a well-fitting uniform for wear to social functions as well as drills, and he may make interesting summer cruises. Also he receives, as has been mentioned, over 200 dollars for commuted rations and a commission in the Reserve. The latter should provide a source of satisfaction in that he can serve immediately in times of emergency and meanwhile will receive drill pay if with the Fleet Reserve.

From the government’s standpoint, it cost approximately $700 per graduate and, while the cost may be approximated, the value to the government of each graduate is more intangible. In addition to this value as a naval reserve officer is his increased value as a citizen. We can expect him to be a firm supporter of law and order and of any movement to keep the armed forces in a “reasonably defensive posture.” Moreover, the Navy may be sure that, in his mingling with his business associates, he will preach the gospel of a Navy second to none.

Has the government made a wise investment in the establishment of the Naval ROTC? We think that in the passage of time this question will be answered in the affirmative.




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  • http://www.jimdolbow.blogspot.com Jim Dolbow

    Great article! Thanks for sharing!

  • jwithington

    Johnnies as NROTC guinea pigs certainly is interesting. More interesting is that two of the inaugural units (Harvard and Yale) have dropped their support for ROTC. Different times…

  • Mike M.

    Notice the next-to-last paragraph. Nimitz had his eye on the long game…that an NROTC student was not simply a reserve officer, but an advocate for the Navy in the civilian world.

    Cunning. Very cunning.

  • tyler owens

    the navy rocks

  • Mark Woolley

    As CO of an NROTC unit, it was great to see this article describing our heritage. We now have 59 units at 72 universities. Admiral Nimitz did have some valuable insight especially regarding NROTC students and faculty being advocates for the Navy on our campuses. When I am invited to speak on campus and the community I like to explain why NROTC is a “Win-Win-Win” situation. It is a win for our students who receive a quality liberal education at some of the most respected institutions in our country. It is a win for the universities which have the opportunity to influence these future leaders. The university communities also have the opportunity to observe our students develop and put into practice our military ethos…our values of courage, honor commitment, loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, integrity, and excellence in all we do. And finally it is a win for our country in that it allows us to have an officer corps large enough to protect our nation and national interests.

    NROTC has really grown…at NROTC San Diego we have 285 students. Besides hosting the NROTC program we also have active duty sailors who are participating as officer candidates in the Seaman to Admiral 21 (STA-21) program and active during Marines participating in the Marine Enlisted College Education Program (MECEP).

    Great article I plan to reference some of it in future speeches and assign it as reading for all our midshipmen as it is important for them to know their heritage.

  • Mark Woolley

    As CO of an NROTC unit, it was great to see this article describing our heritage. We now have 59 units at 72 universities. Admiral Nimitz did have some valuable insight especially regarding NROTC students and faculty being advocates for the Navy on our campuses. When I am invited to speak on campus and the community I like to explain why NROTC is a “Win-Win-Win” situation. It is a win for our students who receive a quality liberal education at some of the most respected institutions in our country. NROTC is a win for the universities which have the opportunity to influence these future leaders. The university communities also have the opportunity to observe our students develop and put into practice our military ethos…our values of courage, honor commitment, loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, integrity, and excellence in all we do. And, finally it is a win for our country in that it allows us to have an officer corps large enough to protect our nation and national interests.

    NROTC has really grown…at NROTC San Diego we have 285 students. Besides hosting the NROTC program we also have active duty sailors who are participating as officer candidates in the Seaman to Admiral 21 (STA-21) program and active during Marines participating in the Marine Enlisted College Education Program (MECEP).

    Great article I plan to reference some of it in future speeches and assign it as reading for all our midshipmen as it is important for them to know their heritage.

  • William P. Carter, Jr.

    I received my Navy commission through what was then known as the NROTC Regular Program upon graduation from Georgia Tech (one of the first six schools selected for NROTC units)in 1963. The training I received at Georgia Tech and in the fleet on summer cruises prepared me well for active duty and for life in general.

    As a young man from a small town in Georgia, the relationships I developed with people from all parts of this great country, both during my midshipman training on summer cruises and on active and reserve duty have served me well all of my life. Learning to work with and understand different points of view is a very valuable life skill.

    Most of my active duty was spent with the amphibious forces and in Vietnam supporting Marine operations in I Corps where I developed a tremendous respect for the special relationship between the Navy and the Marine Corps. For me,service in the Navy
    has developed a common bond with both veterans and active duty members of the sea services that I will always treasure.

    The role of NROTC units in our colleges and universities is perhaps even more important today given that with a volunteer military fewer of the so called “elite” universities contribute to the defense of our country. I am very proud that Georgia Tech is still very supportive of our Navy ROTC program and is bucking the “politically correct” trend that is so pervasive at other institutions.

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