Portland State Military Science department has a brand-new way for students with an eye on armed services to begin that track while in school. The Army Guard Officer Leadership Development (GOLD) program provides financial and personal incentives for participants, and is trying to quietly fit in on a traditionally liberal college campus.
Many colleges, until recently including PSU, have some form of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program, allowing students to pursue a four-year degree while taking military science classes. Halfway through the program students make a commitment to join the military and after graduation become reserve members of the Army National Guard on-track to become commissioned officers.
In the past, ROTC programs in the Portland area were held primarily at PSU with a small satellite program at the University of Portland. Several years ago that flip-flopped, and PSU students in the program had to commute to UP. “When PSU decided to close out the ROTC program on-campus, they still wanted to have some sort of military commissioning program,” Sgt. Mark Browning, senior instructor in the Military Science program at PSU, said. “The GOLD program filled that need.”
The program’s mission statement is to offer “a unique leader development program specifically for the civilian career-minded student.”
“Fall term was our first operational term, and we started so quickly that we didn’t get a whole lot of advertising,” Browning said. “We’re also at three other universities, and all three programs are having a really positive experience, so we’re hoping to replicate that.”
The Army GOLD program plans to post fliers around campus and participate in public events, such as the recent PSU homecoming football game. An Army National Guard helicopter did a flyover and members rappelled off the roof of PGE Park, both in observance of Veteran’s Day and to promote the GOLD program on-campus.
The GOLD program is broken down into two courses. The basic course occurs during the first two years and consists of lower-division classes which introduce students to military service and leadership skills. It is open to any PSU students and requires no military commitment. The advanced course is an additional two-year pre-commissioning phase that further prepares students to become officers in the Army National Guard, and requires participants to join and commit to serve after graduation.
In addition to maintaining a good level of physical fitness, the GOLD program offers financial incentives. Participants can receive a monthly stipend through the G.I. Bill of up to $400, earn scholarships worth up to $3,000 per year, and earn student loan repayment benefits of up to $10,000. Students who choose to enroll in the National Guard also receive a salary and enlistment bonus depending on rank and participate in activities one weekend per month and two weeks per year.
Browning noted a definite jump in interest in all sorts of military programs since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The goal of PSU’s GOLD program is to have a “subtle, positive presence on campus,” he said. “PSU specifically is sensitive in regards to the military, and we’re trying to accommodate that by not being incredibly overbearing. We’re trying to be a part of the university and their programs and become something the student body can see in a positive light.”
Since the transition to the GOLD program just happened this term, long-term enrollment numbers were not available. Browning said, “If we have 25 to 30 people sign up in Military Science programs and we can get five to 10 to commit to the commissioning program, we consider that a success.” He notes that the most important thing for the program right now is getting people to sign up for the 100- and 200-level Military Science classes. Those classes don’t require a military commitment and get students in the door to see what the program is all about.
Although no students enrolled in the GOLD program have been deployed because the program is so new, Browning says there are definitely some PSU students overall that have been activated. “Especially in the Oregon National Guard, there are literally thousands of Oregonians being activated,” he says. The National Guard does not specifically track members who are also PSU students, Browning says, because there are so many who are affiliated with the university in a variety of ways, ranging from full-time students to people taking only one class.
For more information about the Army GOLD program, including eligibility requirements for the advanced course, visit their Web site at www.armygold.pdx.edu or contact SFC Mark Browning at 503-725-3212.