This article was posted in the Burlington Free Press Local News on March 25, 2003.

Nation's oldest military college watching war

By Wilson Ring
The Associated Press

NORTHFIELD -- It's less than two months to graduation at Norwich University and many of the senior ROTC students will be in uniform within days of graduation.

Some could be in Iraq by the end of the summer.

The images of war dominating the television and newspapers focus the students' attention as they watch American men and women in the desert fighting for their country and their lives.

"Being in the corps of cadets, the idea of carrying an M-16 and being in the desert is not foreign to us," said Cadet Col. Jacob Sotiriadis, 22, of Hampstead, N.H., who will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force soon after graduation in May. "But there is no way for us to understand war until we are in the shoes of the people really doing it right now in Iraq."

The war on Iraq is dominating life at Norwich, the nation's oldest private military college. Students have been jamming into the rooms of those students who have cable television to watch the latest news reports.

"Since September 11, (2001) there has been a very serious mood on this campus," Norwich President Richard Schneider said. "That really brought home to our students the importance of their educations and their military training."

Twenty undergraduate and 12 graduate students have had to leave school because they were called to active duty in the National Guard or reserves.

"They are pumped; they are excited; they do it without hesitation; and they will come back far better students for going," Schneider said.

More than 100 members of the senior class are expected to be commissioned officers after graduation in May. How quickly they could be deployed depends on their military specialty and how much additional training they will need.

College officials don't have a figure of how many alumni are in Iraq or are serving elsewhere in the war on terrorism.

It's certain they are out there. Over time the word will come in. Schneider said there was a long-standing tradition that Norwich graduates share with the campus stories from overseas.

"In the grand scheme of things, they don't think about this until later," Schneider said.

To a one, the ROTC students, like generations of Norwich graduates before them, say they are ready to serve.

"It makes you take everything you learn much more seriously," said Blake Jackson, 19, a sophomore from Rahway, N.J., who will join the Marine Corps after graduation.

The war in Iraq and the broader war on terrorism has a special meaning for cadet Siraj Alyami, 21, an Arab-American whose father is Saudi Arabian. He will become an Army infantry officer after graduation.

"The September 11 attacks created a lot of skepticism toward Arabs," he said. "I had a lot of trepidation. (But) within the corps itself ... I was supported."

Schneider said all the Norwich students who were called to active duty for the first Persian Gulf war returned to campus to finish their educations.

"We just pray that's the case this time as well," he said.

pubrel@norwich.edu, March 2003

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