1968 marked a turbulent period in US history: the war in Vietnam was escalating and protests at home were intensifying. The country was divided, as was support for those serving in our armed forces. However, the leadership at St. John’s University believed the need for well-trained officers was never more crucial, and responded by founding a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) battalion on the Queens, NY, campus.
Since that time, the Red Storm Battalion at St. John’s has commissioned more than 700 officers who have proudly served in the United States Army during every armed conflict since the Vietnam War, as well as in many peacekeeping and humanitarian missions throughout the world.
Cadets who enroll in ROTC receive a scholarship, and commit to serve in the military after graduation. Two-, three-, and four-year scholarships are available, depending on what level of college has been completed. Each scholarship comes with a four-year commitment. Following their commission, these officers may choose to serve full time in the US Army, or part time in the US Army Reserve or National Guard, while pursuing a civilian career.
ROTC color guards also serve at Red Storm basketball games, contests between local sports teams, and at the annual naturalization ceremony at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Support Center in Jamaica, Queens.
Graduates recently discussed their experiences at St. John’s ROTC and how it helped mold them. “For me, it started with this intense feeling that I had to serve my country,” observed Robert Cruz ’96SVC. Mr. Cruz is Director of Field Operations for the Starr Companies and a member of the University’s Board of Governors.
Mr. Cruz enrolled in St. John’s ROTC program concurrently with his enrollment at Nassau Community College. After two years there, he came to St. John’s to continue his studies. “The lessons I learned in St. John’s ROTC program prepared me for success in the military, but also in my civilian career,” he stressed.
Immediately after graduation, Mr. Cruz went on active duty. “The deployment that stands out in my mind is Afghanistan in 2002,” he observed, adding that “it was the most professionally and personally rewarding job I had in my life. To have responsibility for 182 soldiers, complete your mission, and return with everyone safely was the biggest thing for me.” For his service there, Mr. Cruz received the Bronze Star Medal, which is given to a soldier who has distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service.
New York Army National Guard Capt. Jean Kratzer ’10C, ’11G enlisted in the Army when she was 18, following a long-standing family tradition of service. Her grandfather, a World War II veteran, spent 47 years in the US Air Force, and her great-grandfather served in World War I. Her aunt served as a nurse in the US Army Reserve.
As a civilian, Capt. Kratzer serves as Command Information Officer for the New York Army National Guard. Last July, she took command of the Headquarters Support Company of the 42nd Infantry Division in Troy, NY, which provides maintenance, medical, and food service support to the division's headquarters personnel.
She enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2007, and served for two years before joining St. John’s ROTC, receiving her commission in 2010. She deployed twice to Kuwait, in 2013–14 and 2016–17. “(Serving) always interested me,” she noted. “I was the youngest child in my family, and my grandfather always wanted a grandchild who served, so I wanted to honor that,” she said. Capt. Kratzer’s military career has focused primarily on public affairs and counseling work.
“When I first became an officer my training was enhanced by what I learned in ROTC, and the instructors I had at St. John’s were outstanding.”
St. John’s University’s ROTC alumni also include two brigadier generals, who both served their country with distinction. “I am so very fortunate I went to St. John’s,” observed Brigadier General Bertram Providence ’87C. Brig. Gen. Providence, an orthopedic surgeon, recently stepped down as Commanding General of the Regional Health Command-Pacific, headquartered in Hawaii, after 27 years of service.
“Being a part of ROTC fulfilled my need to be part of a team.” Brig. Gen. Providence stressed. He added that at St. John’s, he was exposed to “quality, high-caliber officers,” who served as mentors to him. “They put an emphasis on presence. It is not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.”
Brigadier General Thomas Principe ’69C, ’73L earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from St. John’s and was accepted to the University’s School of Law, then one of the few schools that had an ROTC program open to law school students.
During his time at St. John’s, Brig. Gen. Principe wrote for and edited the ROTC newsletter and ran the ROTC Military Ball, in addition to his class work and physical training. After graduation, he transferred to the National Guard and become an officer for the Judge Advocate General (JAG), essentially a military attorney. “When I became a JAG officer, my military career path became clear,” he stressed.
“There are so many people who went through our program who are doing fantastic things for our country and got their start at St. John’s ROTC,” Brig. Gen. Providence observed. Brig. Gen. Principe said, “It all started for me with ROTC. I am glad it is thriving at St. John’s after 50 years.”
For more information about the St. John’s University ROTC program, visit here.