Before I graduated high school, I had no interest in joining the military. It wasn’t until orientation at George Mason University that I decided to explore the possibility so I checked out the ROTC booth. Not expecting much when I first sat down in the ROTC presentation, I left it feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Could ROTC be the right path for me? The presentation didn’t sound like a sales pitch. Rather, I got the impression the speakers were there to help me by providing information about another option and opportunity that I didn’t know was on the table. They simply encouraged us to “try it out and see if we like it.”
I entered college like many clueless freshman—not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. However, joining ROTC proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made. In my first year, the content covered in ROTC training surprised me, as most of it focused on instilling leadership values. My career goals then became clear through that very leadership training, and I decided to make health, fitness and recreation resources my major.
Over time, my involvement in ROTC provided me with increasingly more opportunities to grow and lead. Unlike my non-ROTC friends, I had the opportunity to take part in many professional development and leadership trainings during summer breaks. I worked as a counselor at the West Point Leadership and Ethics Conference, taught ethical decision-making to high school students, participated in the Sachkhere Mountain Training School in the Republic of Georgia for a month and attended Air Assault School at Fort Benning in Georgia. I truly believe that all of those opportunities greatly enhanced my college experience in ways that would not have been possible without ROTC. Not to mention, the Army made the investment for me to participate in those activities.
Second Lieutenant Andrew Giller (second from right) at the 2014 U.S. Army Strengthening America’s Youth committee meeting, where he spoke with leaders of national organizations about his college and ROTC experience.
In addition to being in ROTC in college, I had a part time job, attended all of my other classes and enjoyed a typical college social life. I even started an ultimate Frisbee club! As I progressed through college, ROTC demanded more of my time, but I do not feel like it took away from my college experience in any way. As a matter of fact, it made it better. I developed lifelong friendships through ROTC, connected with upperclassmen and participated in extensive career networking. I still stay in touch with a mentor from my freshman year of college who influenced my decision to join ROTC. That relationship is irreplaceable.
Now, less than a year after graduation, I just started my career in field artillery and have chosen to make the Army my career. I am currently in training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and will soon be stationed for three years at Fort Drum in New York, where I’ll be training and working with the leaders in my field. Next, after I fulfill my four year post-ROTC obligation, I plan to pursue a master’s degree in sports management with the Army. Looking down the road 20 years from now, I still see myself in the Army, but I could also see myself as an athletic director at a college or in a profession along those lines.
The three pieces of advice I give to students heading to college is to keep your options open—don’t close any doors, don’t be intimidated and try a little bit of everything. When you find something you love—like when I found ROTC—put everything you have into it.
Second Lieutenant Andrew Giller is a recent graduate of George Mason University who participated in ROTC. He encourages others to keep an open mind and keep all options on the table when it comes to education, professional development and personal fulfillment.