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Members of Rutgers Air Force ROTC discuss program, training experience

Captain Paul Calvello, a Rutgers and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) alumnus, said that regardless of whether they are virtual or in-person, they expect the best out of those involved in the program because they know the country is relying on them. – Photo by Courtesy of AFROTC

With the decision from Rutgers to keep most classes online this semester, Rutgers Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AFROTC) continues to have cadets train remotely from home.

AFROTC Detachment 485, located on the College Avenue campus, is part of a program offered at more than 1,100 colleges and universities in the United States to train aspiring Air Force and Space Force officers while they earn their degree. AFROTC moved all of its in-person training online in March, said Captain Paul Calvello, a Rutgers and AFROTC alumnus.

“This new environment has definitely been challenging for our cadet wing,” Calvello said. “(But), we have some of the best cadets in the enterprise who have shown amazing innovation and adaptability. Our cadets continue to overcome these new obstacles and produce quality training.”

Cadet training includes a weekly Aerospace Studies course, physical training twice a week and Leadership Laboratory (LLAB) weekly, said AFROTC cadets. They are now using a self-reporting system for physical training. Weekly live calisthenics, LLAB and Aerospace Studies (AS) are held on Zoom, said cadet Lt. Colonel Yousef Aljallad, a School of Engineering senior.

“In my opinion, there were changes made to virtually every aspect of the program, from PT (physical training) to LLAB to AS class, everything is different now,” said cadet third-class Noora Rehman, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore. “We are still able to learn and do training virtually, it just is a lot different than when we were in person.”

One of AFROTC’s largest advancements is in the creation of a gym in the detachment’s garage, said cadet Major Srikant Devarajan, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. The gym will allow cadets to improve their fitness in the uncertainty of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, he said.

“Whether it is having them send in videos of their attempts and drill and ceremonies while we provide feedback or creating interactive training sessions so that they can learn the specific knowledge required, we have found a way to innovate and move past any wrench COVID-19 has placed in our plans,” Devarajan said.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, cadets describe their experience in AFROTC as highly positive. Cadet Second Lt. Connor O’Leary, a School of Engineering junior, said joining the program has easily been the best decision he has made.

“I have never been somewhere that I felt so at home and where I fit in so well,” he said. “I have been offered so many great opportunities throughout this program, one being an experience over the summer called Ops Air Force where I got to live on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, for two and a half weeks. There I got to experience both the enlisted and officer active duty life from flying in a KC-135 during an actual air refueling to being tased, we got to do it all. It was such an amazing experience that I will never forget.”

AFROTC opportunities include foreign language programs, Air Force Academy programs and United States Air Force installation visits, Calvello said. Benefits include scholarships, monthly stipends and a guaranteed career after college.

Cadets said their favorite part of the program was the people, though.

“I have met some of the best people in my life through this program and shared so many cherished memories with them,” Aljallad said. “The camaraderie in this program is unlike anything you will find during your time in college and is one of the biggest highlights of the AFROTC program.”

Calvello said his favorite part of AFROTC is that the program is cadet-run. Cadets take leadership roles from freshman year to graduation, he said.

“Whether virtual or in-person, we expect the best out of ourselves and our people,” Calvello said. “We hold ourselves to a high standard because that’s what our nation deserves. Our country is relying on all of us each and every day. We must strive to be the best we can and constantly uphold the Air Force core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do.”

AFROTC is accepting students for the spring semester, Aljallad said. Qualifications include U.S. citizenship or pursuit of it, a 2.0 GPA, full-time college student status and three or more remaining years of college enrollment. Interested students can sign up for an informational session online, Calvello said.

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