Student-athlete challenges herself with Army ROTC training


Jordan Redinger, Contributor

MOON TOWNSHIP– Abrielle McCartney is a senior on the softball team at Robert Morris University. She is also majoring in criminal justice, computer forensics, and psychology.

What sets McCartney apart from other student-athletes on campus, is that she will be enlisting in the United States Army now that she has graduated.

“I always wanted to be in the military. It was just a matter of, I guess, when,” said McCartney of her long-time goal.

“I was fortunate enough to get a softball scholarship, so, if I wouldn’t have, I would have just gone and enlisted after high school,” said McCartney. “I wanted to take advantage of that, and I knew the military was still something I wanted to do.”

Military life is a huge part of McCartney’s family. She has had family members in every branch of the service.

“My pap was my biggest inspiration for me,” said McCartney of her grandfather, who was in the Army.

For her, the decision was made her junior year of college when she joined RMU’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps or ROTC. Most students join the ROTC as freshmen, which put McCartney behind everyone else.

The RMU ROTC, according to RMU’s website, is an extension of the Three Rivers Battalion ROTC Program based at the University of Pittsburgh.

“I took basic training last summer so I could kind of catch-up on that year I missed since I started late,” said McCartney. Most students join the ROTC as a freshman.

Being a student-athlete and a member of ROTC has not been easy for McCartney, however. Between practices for softball, classes, and ROTC training, she is kept busy.

“Practices are usually run for about two hours, two and a half at most, and then they have a lift twice a week during the season on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” said Jexx Varner, interim head coach of the RMU softball team.

For McCartney, however, practice is just the end of a long day.

“Some days I wake up at four or five and after practice today we have lifting. So, I won’t get done until about 7:30 this evening,” said McCartney.

She owes her early mornings to physical training (PT) for ROTC which is every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the early morning.

“We do ruck marches and platoon runs,” said McCartney of some of the training exercises. “A ruck march is when we have a rucksack on our backs, about 35-45 pounds, full uniform, and boots.”

They go on these marches for distances anywhere from 6 to 12 miles.

“We did 12 miles yesterday. I’m very sore,” said McCartney with a laugh.

Due to her practice and ROTC schedule, McCartney must also attend individual classes for her major.

She takes these individual studies with Major Steven Lucas who is an assistant professor of Military Science at the University of Pittsburgh.

“A freshman would have to do a one-hour class per semester. When they become sophomores its two hours, and then four hours for the seniors,” said Lucas.

McCartney is required to meet a GPA standard as well in order to remain in the ROTC.

“The academic requirement for us is 2.5, which is relatively low, but our battalion is very competitive. If people have anything less than a 3.5 G.P.A. they’re probably not going be ranked high,” said Lucas.

The Three Rivers Battalion includes thirteen schools, and it is one of the most competitive battalions in the country, according to Lucas.

Three times a semester, ROTC students are also driven to Fort Dawson, West Virginia for what are called Labs.

“It’s usually a weekend-long event where we test out all of the Army training, we’ve given them in the classroom,” said Lucas.

This training includes anything from land navigation to a raid and ambush.

“We’ll put them out in the woods with a compass and a map and give them points to go find,” said Lucas. The labs are essential for cadets to prove that they have learned their training properly.

For McCartney, platoon tactics have been the hardest subject for her to learn.

“I feel like I’m behind this year because I’m on my own. I’m not able to attend class with my other cadets,” said McCartney.

“Everything in their training is meant to culminate in them going down to Fort Knox, Kentucky for Advance Camp, which is summer training,” said Lucas. “They put them in as real world as we can get scenarios to see if they know how to do everything that we’ve taught them.”

If the cadets to well, they are placed high on a merit list which will enable them to have a better chance of choosing where they will go in the Army after graduation.

“If she does well at summer camp and her grades and her PT are all good, she’ll be high on the merit list and will hopefully be an MP, Military Police, when it’s all said and done,” said Lucas of McCartney.

Although McCartney is subjected to long days and a lot of physically and mentally exhausting challenges, those around her feel that she has juggled academics, athletics, and military training very well.

“Just the fact that people make it to their sophomore year like she has, especially playing softball, is a testament to her grit and character,” said Lucas.

Working with her as an athlete, Coach Varner has also seen some changes in McCartney since she joined ROTC.

“It’s really important for any student, especially a student-athlete, to keep pushing themselves to see what she can do, and she’s really put extra stuff on her plate and been able to succeed at all of it,” said Varner. “She’s pushing her limits and finding that she can be successful in the classroom, on the field, and with her ROTC.”