My name is Conor O’Brien and I am a Marine Option Midshipman at Cornell University. I am also a member of the Varsity Lacrosse team. The weekly schedule for ROTC involves two Physical Training (PT) sessions at 0600, two Naval Science class periods, as well as a two-hour drill lab. For lacrosse, my schedule varies from the off-season to in-season, but generally involves 2-3 hours of practices and workouts per day. In this post, I am going to take you through a normal Wednesday for me and talk about my life at Cornell along the way.
A typical Wednesday starts at 0500. I wake up to change into my PT uniform and drive over to Bartels Hall for accountability with the Naval ROTC unit. Most PT sessions are some sort of long distance run (3 miles or so) followed by some calisthenics. Other days we will have interval training with sprints super-setted with bodyweight exercises. PT lasts from 0600-0700 and always ends with a cool down and stretch.
Luckily for me, I don’t have class until 1010 on Wednesdays and I can drive home to shower, cook breakfast, and change into my uniform. Every Wednesday the whole Unit wears their uniforms, which are typically navy issued khakis while the weather is decent. When it gets cold out, the uniform of the day changes to the Navy Working Uniform for Navy options or MARPATs for Marine options. Some students have class right after PT so they shower in the gym locker room and eat at a dining hall such as Trillium before their first class.
The NROTC unit is made up of both Navy and Marine Options. The day-to-day life is basically the same for both, although Navy options are required to take 2 more semesters of Naval Science classes. Marine options run 3 miles as opposed to 1.5 miles for their fitness tests and do pull-ups instead of pushups. Additionally, Marine options will often do marches or field exercises as well as meetings for Semper Fi Society, in addition to the standard midshipmen responsibilities. These additional duties are a great time to focus on team-building and leadership. The biggest difference between the Navy and Marine Corps midshipmen is in their summer training requirements, as after their sophomore year Marine Options go to Mountain Warfare School and then Officer Candidate School the following summer, and Navy Options go on cruises. Both options go to CORTRAMID after their freshman year where they are shown different aspects of the Navy and Marine Corps.
My class on Wednesdays is Business Management in the Dyson School. I am an Applied Economics and Management major, which is essentially a business major. I switched into this major because it focuses on communication skills, like presentations, and management skills which I personally believe will help me succeed as an officer more than a very technical major. Additionally, I know many people from my Lacrosse team in the major as well as some Midshipmen so I always have a group for projects and studying.
Every Wednesday from 1430-1630 is drill lab. This is essentially a 2-hour period that is utilized differently every week. Some days it is a presentation or a guest speaker, and other times it is martial arts training, paintball, or some other physical activity. This is probably the most important weekly unit event as it is the only time you are with the entire unit other than at PT, and many of the activities are both enjoyable and productive.
After drill lab, I have lacrosse practice from 1900-2100. Being a varsity athlete and a member of ROTC is extremely time-consuming, but is absolutely worth the commitment. Both programs complement each other and have made me more successful both athletically and academically. It is often difficult to balance classes, sports, and ROTC commitments, and the extra workouts are very hard. But having two great groups of people to hang out with makes every second worth it. I have great friends in both organizations that I will know for the rest of my life, and I am very proud to call myself a member of both. The more you put into your college experience at Cornell the more you will get out of it, and I would absolutely recommend being a part of both a team and NROTC.
It’s Wednesday, my hardest day of the week. From the time I wake up at 0445 to the time I go to bed hopefully before 2200, I am working hard, trying to prove myself on campus to my peers, my professors, and my superiors.
My day starts out with my alarm screaming at me to wake up when people still stroll into the dorm buildings from late study nights. I roll over, turn off my alarm and hop out of bed. I’m already completely awake. As a freshman, I am so worried about doing something wrong, like sleeping in, that I have adrenaline rushing immediately when I wake up. On the days that we have physical training in the mornings, I know that I can’t hit the snooze button. I have to remind myself that I must be ready for the day ahead. I can’t start the day off on a bad note. “I’m alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic,” I tell myself, pumping myself up for the long day ahead of me. I put on my PT (physical training) uniform: navy blue shorts and a bright yellow t-shirt, both with reflective letters proclaiming that I am proud to be a part of the Navy. I tuck in my shirt, put on my glow belt (so I don’t get hit by a car on my way to PT), and lace up my “go-fasters” (as Gunnery Sergeant Herrera calls our running sneakers). As I head out the door, with a bag packed for the long day ahead, I check my post-it next to my door to make sure I have everything: phone, keys, wallet, uniform, shower gear, hair supplies, lip balm, sunglasses, all notebooks, planner, laptop, pencil case, and snacks. I’m good to go. I shiver as I walk outside from the slight chill in the air, but quickly warm up as I walk the ten minutes to Teagle Hall for PT.
For PT, we get information to take accountability and make sure everybody is here. When we are sure that all members are present or accounted for, we begin stretching and warming up as a group. We do everything as a group and wait for every last person, making sure to motivate everyone to the end. We must be a team. When we start the actual workout, everybody is lined up on the goal line of the football field. We are doing suicides today. I get in a stance where I can burst out of my starting position to get a head start on everyone else. “Go!” Gunnery Sergeant Herrera screams as I push hard out of my stance and slip because the turf is wet. I am a bit behind everyone else on the shorter suicides because I am not as agile as some of the other midshipmen, but as the suicides get longer and more difficult, I focus on the midshipman in front of me and try to pass them. After each set of suicides, we jog in place waiting for everyone to come back to the goal line. We cheer. We scream. We motivate. And as the last midshipman comes to the line, we go again. To the 10-yard line and back, to the 30-yard line and back, to the 50-yard line and back… When will it end?! I push myself and push myself, wanting to get better, wanting to prove myself, wanting to be a competitor with the males. As I finish my last sprint, I am up with some of the fast males, proving to myself that I can keep up and stay motivated. As it has only been 15 minutes and we have plenty of time left to train, we move onto stadium runs. We run up and down the stairs of the football stadium trying to catch up to the person in front of you. I pass two males and do not get passed myself. We form a cool-down circle and wait for the rest to finish. We cheer them on. “Come on! One more! You can do it!” PT is so motivating and makes me feel good for the rest of the day. It builds confidence and comradery, and it is a great workout.
After I shower in the locker room and change into my uniform, I go to Bus Stop Bagels with my fellow 4/C Midshipmen. We get our breakfast and head to Intro to Naval Science with Lieutenant de Jongh. In this class, we learn about all things Navy related. How to act, how other branches interact with the Navy, what the different careers are in the Navy, etc. I hand out snacks that I made for the class before it starts. At the beginning of class, we have a student presentation on a Naval hero, battle, ship or plane and then we launch into a lecture. Today, we learned the missions, the training path and the organization of the United States Marine Corps. Our Commanding Officer, Major Blankenship, spoke on this topic as a guest lecturer. When class ends, we say “Good morning” to the Lieutenant and the Major as we walk out and head to our civilian classes.
People stare as I walk past. I stand out in my uniform, which is strange because the uniform is supposed to make me look the same as everyone else in the Navy, but here at Cornell, it does the opposite. I walk with my head up and eyes straight, confidently walking from class to class. I like that people stare. I want people to know that I love doing this program. I want people to be impressed and perhaps even want to join. And, I want to include everyone in all this fun I am having. In class, I get questions about if I am in the Army and what exactly I do in NROTC and I love to answer these questions.
In the afternoon, we have drill lab. This is a class with our whole battalion. We do fun activities, team exercises, and have guest speakers. Last week, we learned how to fight, fireman carry, low crawl, baby crawl and more. I was really sore afterward, but it was so worth it. I carried one of the heavier males in our unit and it made me feel so confident for the rest of the week. Today, we are going paintballing. I am so excited! This class is one of the reasons I love NROTC so much. I get to try new things, exercise, and be with my fellow Midshipmen, an experience I am very thankful for.
My class of freshmen Midshipmen are really close. We all have a group chat where we plan dinners together, decide who is bringing snack the next day, and talk about our daily struggles. We have inside jokes and have a good bond with each other even though we have only known each other for about two months. Our bond makes going through the strictly regimented life as a Midshipman easier. We can chat to each other about anything and we trust each other with anything because one day, we may have to trust each other with our lives.
When I was in high school, I never would have thought I would want to do this program, but one day I got a call from the Marine Corps recruiters asking me if I had thought about joining them. I told them that I hadn’t thought much about it, but I was willing to learn more. I told them that I wanted to be a doctor and they transferred me to the Navy recruiting office, where I decided this was the path I wanted to take. It was a random phone call and a spur of the moment decision to come into the recruiting office, but I am so glad it happened. When I arrived at Cornell, I knew I belonged here with the NROTC unit. I am looking forward to growing as a Midshipman mentally and physically in the years to come.