LA CROSSE, Wis. — The ROTC program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse that was slated to end in spring 2015 could survive after all.
UW-L’s Eagle Battalion was among 13 ROTC programs the U.S. Army Cadet Command picked in October to close due to military budget cuts.
But Army officials this week informed lawmakers and college officials the Eagle Battalion instead would be put on probation.
What that status means is not yet clear, officials said.
“We do not know what the Army is going to require to get off of probation,” UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow said.
All 13 of the ROTC programs slated for closure will have a chance to prove their worth, according to a Department of the Army notice sent to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s office.
Wisconsin’s Republican senator is scheduled to meet with ROTC students and staff today at UW-L.
The probationary period would be two years, according to the Army, but battalions would have just a year to show improvement before receiving “one year’s notice of intent to close the unit.”
Army Cadet Command previously had rated ROTC programs on their productivity and whether they met the “Army’s academic discipline needs,” before deciding which branches would close, according to a September letter to UW-L from Thomas Lamont, assistant secretary of the Army.
Officials at UW-L and Viterbo University both expressed concern about the decision to shutter the Eagle Battalion. The local ROTC program serves more than 50 students from UW-L, Viterbo, Winona State University and Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona.
Juniors and seniors will be able to finish the program, but first- and second-year students could be left in the lurch, forced to leave ROTC or transfer to other universities.
“Students would be cut off mid-stream,” U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said. “At least to be fair to them, let’s continue the program.”
Kind, Johnson and Sen. Tammy Baldwin all signed a letter last month to the Secretary of the Army, warning of the negative effects of closing UW-L’s ROTC and how it might impact students who participate in the program.
“Clearly our senators and our congressman, their advocacy has had a significant impact,” Gow said.
Closing ROTC is the result of sequestration-related budget cuts, Kind said.
“I think there are smarter ways of reducing the deficit,” he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, UW-L’s ROTC Battalion Commander Lt. Col. James Hill hadn’t received any news of the Army’s plans.
Kind, like Gow, wasn’t sure what kind of improvements the Army wants to see from the Eagle Battalion.
“We’re trying to lock that down,” Kind said.