What the Russia-Ukraine war means for CSU ROTC students


Collegian | Luke Bourland

The Military Science Building is located on the northeast side of Colorado State University’s campus near The Oval.

Portia Cook, News Reporter

On Feb. 24, the world watched as Russian military forces invaded their bordering country, Ukraine. 

According to NPR, the recent invasion of Ukraine by President Vladimir Putin of Russia comes as he aims to prevent the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military alliance from expanding eastward. 


As two of the founding members of the former Soviet Union continue to battle, many wonder what the recent developments potentially mean for Colorado State University’s ROTC military students. 

Lt. Col. Matthew Tillman, CSU professor of military science and department head of Army ROTC, said the developments between Russia and Ukraine have no impact on CSU’s ROTC students in terms of the potential of being deployed. 

Tillman said one of the stipulations of the ROTC program is that students “will not be called to active duty while they’re in school.”

According to CSU’s Army ROTC FAQ page, “The Army requires a degree for commissioning as an officer; therefore, education comes first.” 

“We need to make officers,” Tillman said. “We don’t need to pull college students out of school and send them right away.”

Tillman went on to say the only person who can call on ROTC students for duty is “the president of the United States during a declared time of war,” which hasn’t been done “since 1863 in (U.S. Military Academy) West Point.” 

Furthermore, Tillman said cadets sign a clause within their contract that states they cannot be deployed during school. 

While a handful of senior Army ROTC students will commission and be pinned as second lieutenants of the U.S. Army upon graduation, they will first go to additional required training needed to lead soldiers, Tillman said. 

John Penland, a senior international studies student with Latin American studies and global studies concentrations, is one of a handful of senior students set to graduate from CSU and the ROTC program in May.


Penland, who is the cadet battalion commander, the highest-ranking cadet in the Army ROTC program, contracted into the U.S. Army through the ROTC program in the fall of his junior year.

“It was a big commitment and the next step in my progression towards commissioning and becoming an Army officer,” Penland said. 

Post-graduation, Penland will move to active duty while branching into military intelligence and detailed infantry. He will then go to Fort Benning, Georgia, to continue his military training and career.

Penland, along with other graduating Army ROTC seniors, will subsequently go on to infantry bullock — the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course — designed to “train and develop second lieutenants to become competent and adaptive infantry officers imbued with the warrior ethos and prepared to lead infantry platoons in combat,” according to the U.S. Army website. 

Penland said he hopes to attend U.S. Army airborne and ranger school in addition to infantry bullock before receiving his first military assignment. 

Kaylin McBride, a senior biological science major concentrating in pre-veterinary, is also set to graduate from CSU and the ROTC program in May. 

As a scholarship recipient, McBride said she contracted into the U.S. Army through the ROTC program during the second semester of her freshman year.

“It was amazing,” McBride said. “I felt so connected to my country and felt very proud to serve.”

During the fall 2021 semester, McBride was the counterpart of Penland as command sergeant major on the intelligence side.

In her current and last semester in the ROTC program, she holds the observer trainer mentor position, in which she grades the third-year ROTC students in training camp. 

After graduation, McBride will go into the Army Reserve, where she will also go to infantry bullock. 

McBride hopes to join the Health Professions Scholarship Program, which offers medical and dental students paid education in exchange for what McBride said will be a six- to ten-year military service commitment as a commissioned medical department officer, although the SHPEP website says recipients work one year for each year they received the scholarship. 

Now that Penland and McBride are set to graduate and are moving forward in their military careers, along with today’s current political climate, the possibility of deployment is a thought never far from their minds. 

“There’s always the chance, but I believe the ROTC program has made me feel confident in myself as a leader, so if I ever do get called out, I would feel OK with going,” McBride said. 

Penland said, “It’s important for people to continue to do their duty in peacetime and wartime, so I’ll do whatever my county asks of me.” 

Both Penland and McBride said their time in the ROTC program has been an amazing experience that greatly impacted who they are as leaders today.

CSU’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps includes Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC Detachment 90

CSU’s AFROTC at Detachment 90 was named the best in the country, winning both the 2019 Right of Line Award and #1 ROTC University Partner Award by the US Secretary of Defense in 2021.

Both ROTC programs were established in 1916. However, CSU’s military instruction has a long lineage and dates much further back in CSU’s history, Tillman said. 

“It’s a deeply ingrained piece of the DNA of this University,” Tillman said. 

Reach Portia Cook at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @csucollegian.