Days drag on in an armored tank. The oppression of heat, fatigue, and heavy gear compound feelings of loneliness and uncertainty. Quiet, uneventful hours on patrols compete with bursts of adrenaline in combat. Soldiers often sit alone for hours with their thoughts, including memories of the past and hopes for the future. Embedded in these circumstances are many opportunities for the Christ-following graduates of Azusa Pacific’s Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program to speak words of faith into the lives of their fellow service men and women.
Christ-followers in the Field
“I call it turret evangelism,” said Major Mark Goeller, assistant professor of military science at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) and APU’s Army ROTC cadre leader. As a former tank platoon leader and armored cavalry officer, Goeller knows how young soldiers relate to someone who lives what they say. “There is a lot of down time in the field, which gives you the chance to talk about God. And when soldiers get homesick, lonely, or scared, you find that you’re the first person they seek out. Why not send as many Christ-followers as we can into that environment?”
APU’s Army ROTC represents an extension of the formal program offered at CMC. Just three years ago, only seven APU students enrolled in the program. Now, more than 50 participate. Goeller attributes much of the growth to generous scholarships provided by the U.S. Department of Defense. Ninety percent of APU’s cadets receive scholarships, which pays tuition for four years, $600 each semester for books, and a monthly stipend. As an additional benefit, APU covers the room and board fees for each cadet. “Offering cadets room and board represents an important investment in these future leaders. It allows them to attend APU virtually without cost and ensures that they can be an active part of our community,” said Diane Guido, Ph.D., vice provost for undergraduate programs.
That investment paid dividends for Garren Montes ’10, a psychology major and transfer student from Turlock, California. Although he previously served as an enlisted member of the military police corps (MP), he felt called to go back. “I wanted to finish my education first, so I needed a Christian school with a good psychology degree and a solid ROTC program. Getting the scholarship at APU was the answer to many prayers,” he said. Montes plans to rejoin the MP after graduation.
Servant Leadership at the Core
However, while scholarships and training exercises drive APU’s ROTC program, Christ-centered servant leadership stands at the center of all activity. “My faith is an integral part of my life as a cadet. There are many opportunities to shine the light of Christ during difficult times,” said Brian Hawkins ’11, a political science major from Norwalk, California. Of the 270 Army ROTC programs across the country, few are faith based. Although all programs use the same curriculum, Christian schools prepare men and women to be disciples and scholars advancing the work of God in the world through their military service.
“You can’t openly proselytize, but you can model Christ-likeness. Soldiers will notice the difference. And so will others. How the world perceives America is influenced by how it sees our military. Having faith-based leaders in the Army gives us a huge opportunity to better represent our nation and our God,” said Montes.
Moreover, the influence of a Christ-centered program carries on far past initial assignments. ROTC experience lays the groundwork for students’ professional lives. “ROTC is not the stereotypical boot camp you see in movies. We are a professional leadership development program preparing students for careers in and out of the military,” said Goeller. “Most Army jobs do not involve combat. There are as many diverse jobs in the military as there are in big corporations. The Army is a foundation for anything you want to do in life.”
Changing Lives through Christ's Love
Take Hawkins for example. Passionate about defending soldiers unjustly convicted of war crimes, he plans to attend law school after graduation and enter the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. He hopes that his work will demonstrate Christian integrity and be a catalyst for change in both military and civilian courtrooms.
Having seen firsthand how decidedly the men and women of the Armed Forces need the love of Christ in their lives, Goeller has brought a vital mission to APU: equip Army ROTC cadets to change lives with that love. God can then use those changed lives to reach out to other nations, both those enjoying times of peace and those weary from war. “Our ROTC program prepares students to do Christ’s work alongside some of the most difficult military problems in the world,” said Goeller. “There isn’t a much better ministry than that.”
For more information about Army ROTC, visit www.cmcarmyrotc.com.
Jessica Sherer, M.A. '08, is a senior editor in the Office of University Relations. firstname.lastname@example.org