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Stephen Bissainthe from Arlington, Mass., is training to be an Army officer and hopes to be deployed overseas.

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ROTC Builds Character, Confidence for Middlebury Junior

November 8, 2016

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Standing six foot six and ramrod straight, Stephen Bissainthe ’18 enters Crossroads Café exuding confidence and composure. The Middlebury junior arrives a few minutes early, as he does for every meeting, because, he says, “If you’re not early, you’re late.”

Bissainthe is following in a long tradition of Middlebury undergraduates, and it’s not because he’s majoring in political science, plays football, or arrives on time. It’s because he's enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or ROTC, and will serve his country after graduation as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

ROTC was compulsory at Middlebury College from 1952 until 1966, and then voluntary from 1966 until 1976 when it was phased out. Since that time a few dozen Middlebury undergraduates have willingly incorporated ROTC classes and intensive Army training into their lives by being full participants with the University of Vermont’s Green Mountain Battalion.

Every Wednesday morning Cadet Bissainthe puts on his Army uniform, attends his Middlebury classes, and then drives to Burlington to take military science courses such as Foundations of Officership and Leadership, Training Management and Warfighting Functions, and the Ethics of Leadership. He also engages in regular field-training exercises at Camp Ethan Allen using M16 and M4 rifles and other battlefield equipment.

Last summer Bissainthe completed four weeks of intensive Cadet Initial Entry Training (CIET) at Fort Knox, Ky., where he learned basic soldiering skills and leadership strategies and took part in team-building exercises and high-adventure training. “It was a good experience for me,” the Arlington, Mass., resident said. “I know it helped build my character as a future Army officer and it definitely made me more disciplined.”

Bissainthe, who is following in the footsteps of his mother, Stella, who was a commissioned officer and an Army nurse, is already looking forward to next summer when he will return to Fort Knox for his Cadet Leadership Course, or CLC.

“That is going to be a big summer for me military wise,” he says, explaining how his performance at CLC will play a role in determining his occupational specialty. “I am interested in doing something that will give me managerial or logistical experience, like field artillery or signal corps. I would definitely like to have a specialty that I can apply later to my civilian career.”

At CLC, Bissainthe will take the Army physical fitness test—two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups, and time on a two-mile run—and participate in other training exercises, including basic land navigation (day and night), cultural awareness, first aid, mission command, and tactical leader development.

ROTC training “really strengthens your potential as a leader in the military, while also giving you tangible skills you can use in life after the Army,” says Bissainthe. “It’s not easy—the early wake-ups, giving up my summers—but I hope it will pay off. I surprise myself every day with the things that I have accomplished with the program. The Army has definitely helped build my character and my confidence.”

After he is commissioned as a second lieutenant and graduates from Middlebury, Bissainthe plans to serve four years on active duty followed by another four years either on active duty or as a reservist. (He signed an eight-year contract with the Army.) But regardless of what he is assigned to do, Bissainthe yearns to travel.

“I hope to be deployed somewhere overseas where I will have the full opportunity to serve my country,” the 20-year-old said.

With Veterans Day fast approaching, the Middlebury student reflected on national holidays. “Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Fourth of July—they have always struck a chord with me," he said. "And now that I have joined the military, national holidays like that mean a lot more to me.”

— With reporting and photography by Robert Keren

7 Comments

Thank you Stephen Bissainthe for your commitment to serve. It was my privilege to purse a similar path when I was an ROTC Cadet at Middlebury, 1959-1963. Two years active duty in Army Infantry followed by ten years in active reserve was enlightening and fulfilling.with friendships that have lasted a lifetime. May your journey be equally fulfilling!.

by CRAIG STEWART 63 (not verified)

Thank you for your service to our country.

by Jack Neumyer 75 (not verified)

To Cadet Stephen Bissainthe: We all owe you a debt of gratitude in your decision to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. As a junior, your "bio" is already impressive and your commitment to pursue ROTC on the UVM campus is to be admired. It appears you are already well on your way to becoming a successful military officer with excellent leadership skills and a reassuring sense of confidence. After fulfilling your military obligation, should you decide to pursue a career in the private sector, you will carry with you a valuable skill set that will serve you well
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for the rest of your life. Having received a commission via the Midd ROTC program in the mid-sixties, I can attest first-hand to the benefits derived from military training. Congratulations on selecting an honorable path and thank you for your current and future service to our country.
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by Thomas R. Easton '66 (not verified)

Congratulations. When I was at Midd, class of 1965, ROTC was mandatory. Looking back, I think ROTC and two years in the Army, including one year in Viet Nam, was a period of tremendous learning. You simply do not get anywhere's near the same challenges and responsibilities at such a young age in civilian life, as I found in the Army. It is time well spent, and the country needs young leaders.

by Al Bloomquist, ... (not verified)

Cadet Bissainthe, Thank you for your future service. As a Middlebury ROTC graduate and US Army Armor officer, I was able to have responsibility for the welfare of large numbers of personnel and valuable materiel and equipment at a very young age. This was certainly helpful in developing leadership and managerial skills and experience that have served me well throughout my civilian business career. I wish that more young men and women from leading colleges would serve in military leadership roles so that the armed forces would have a proper balance of demographics that represents the
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population at large. This, I believe, will help us keep the peace where possible and allow the military services to be strong when needed.
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by Jeffrey R. Stur... (not verified)

Although I am not a Middlebury graduate, my brother (Aaron, Class of 95) shared this article with me. I was a ROTC scholarship cadet student enrolled at Vassar College; I traveled every Friday across Poughkeepsie to Marist College for my military science courses. After earning my commission in 1990, I served as an Infantry officer in Korea and Germany. To remain representative of our entire nation, the US military's All Volunteer Force needs and benefits from commissioned officers like Cadet Bissainthe from small, so-called "elite" northeastern colleges and universities. Our military--indeed, our nation--was founded and remains grounded in the principles of
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selfless service. It is truly gratifying to read Cadet Bissainthe's story, and I wish him and his fellow cadets--men and women--success.
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by Bruce Mendelsohn (not verified)

Thank you so much for your service to our country.

by Debra Grant (not verified)

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