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Navy Sub Base, Yale Renew Ties with Return of ROTC

GROTON, Conn. – For the first time in 40 years, students from a Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps unit are among the freshmen arriving at Yale University.

The appearance of midshipmen for classes beginning Wednesday is also leading to new ties with the naval submarine base 50 miles up the shoreline in Groton.

Since the Ivy League school agreed last year to bring back ROTC in the wake of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, military officials have welcomed Yale faculty members on base tours and taken some for a ride on a nuclear-powered attack submarine.

The commanding officer of the base, Capt. Marc Denno, said in an interview that he hopes to develop an even tighter relationship and perhaps inspire Yale-educated officers to pursue careers in the submarine force.

“The synergy is obvious and necessary,” said Denno, who noted that Yale now has the only Naval ROTC program in Connecticut. “We’re pretty excited about it.”

Eleven Yale undergraduates, including one sophomore, are enrolled in the Naval ROTC unit.

The Air Force and the Navy are both opening ROTC detachments this fall at Yale, which welcomed them back after Congress voted to allow gays to serve openly in the military. A Yale ribbon-cutting ceremony for ROTC involving military and university officials is planned for Sept. 21.

While ROTC hasn’t had a presence at Yale since the Vietnam War era, its return renews a long military tradition. The inventor David Bushnell is credited with creating the first submarine ever used in combat while studying at Yale in 1775, and one of the original six Naval ROTC units was established at the university in 1926.

Students enrolled in the ROTC program receive scholarship money in return for agreeing to military service after graduation.

The Yale midshipmen had a weeklong orientation program at U.S. Navy installations in Newport, R.I. The Groton submarine base is expecting to support the students in a number of ways, including hosting them for visits to use training and team-building equipment.

ROTC officials also have sought to build connections with the faculty, particularly members of the engineering department.

“It’s important for them to understand we’re not a lot of knuckle draggers,” said Navy Cmdr. Jamie Godwin, the commanding officer for the NROTC consortium at the College of the Holy Cross that includes Yale. “Not a lot of people are aware of the high level of training going on in the Navy.”

Two other Ivy League universities, Harvard and Columbia, also signed agreements last year to bring back ROTC.

ROTC programs left the campuses of several prominent universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the fervor of student protests against the Vietnam War. ROTC was kept away more recently because of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which banned gays from serving openly in the armed services. The universities said the policy violated non-discrimination rules for campus organizations.

Military officials say Yale faculty members have shown enthusiasm for the renewed relationship.

Vincent Wilczynski, a deputy dean at the Yale School of Engineering & Science, is one of two faculty members who accompanied the crew of the submarine USS Missouri on a three-day sea transit this spring. He said he was struck by the complexity of the submarine as an engineering platform and the young age of the sailors responsible for the nuclear plant.

“It was tremendous,” Wilczynski said. “It was a good reminder of the end game of what we’re teaching in the classroom and what we’re teaching in the lab.”



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