It’s 4:45 on a Monday morning and while most Macalester students are sleeping off the weekend, sophomore Grace Dickman is waking up and readying for the day. In less than an hour she will be joined by fellow sophomore Glen Hartford and the two will head to the University of Minnesota. Before the sun is even up, they will start physical training, followed by class at 8, which wraps up just in time for them to hustle back to campus before their Macalester classes begin. Dickman and Hartford compose Macalester’s representation at the ROTC program at the University of Minnesota. Not only are they committed students and aspiring officers, they are varsity athletes, pushing the challenging balance of athletics and academics to a whole new sleep-defying level. Unsurprisingly, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Interest in attending a military academy grew for both during high school. Hartford channeled hard work into the goal of admission to the Coast Guard Academy while Dickman was recruited to play basketball at West Point. The combination of high-caliber academics and athletics combined with the promise of an active postgraduate career appealed, but it was the sense of service and sacrifice that drew them in. “For me the military has always been an honorable thing. I thought it was worth something to give back,” Hartford said. “I would say the most important thing to me was that as you get older you realize how much people have done for you to get you into the position where you are today, and you have this desire to do something for them.”
Hartford and Dickman each had their plans of enrolling in their respective academies derailed by medical exclusions. For Dickman, she settled on Macalester and accepted that the military would have to wait as the ROTC program here had been dormant for the last decade. Unbeknownst to her, the summer before they both arrived on campus, Hartford and his family successfully worked to reopen the Army program. A couple weeks into school, Dickman noticed Harford in his uniform and asked how he was able to participate in ROTC, leading to her own entrance into the program during spring semester.
During the period when he was the only Scot in the program, Hartford struggled with stress, expectations, and feelings of isolation. It was especially difficult without anyone to share the experience. Dickman’s addition to the program meant finally having someone who understood. “Having Grace be there to not only understand the challenge that Macalester academics are and on top playing a varsity sport plus ROTC around that made it so much easier,” Hartford said.
As with every college student, getting enough sleep can often be a challenge. “It’s one of those things you accept,” Hartford said. “We have four years to do all these different things that we want to do, so you might as well lose sleep while you’re doing the things you love.”
The basic time commitment consists of physical training sessions Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 6:20 am, which are followed by classes on Monday and Wednesday, and an afternoon lab session. There are occasional weekend training sessions and volunteer opportunities, all with the focus of preparing the ROTC cadets to leave college ready to serve as an officer in the Army. “We talk about the characteristics of a leader, army values, some tactics like movement, field navigation, structure of the army, what is your role as an officer, what are the different things you have to do, what are the different jobs an officer could have,” Dickman said.
After becoming an officer Dickman would like to go into Intelligence and, while Hartford is uncertain of his future field, he knows he does not want it to be behind a desk. “I think the craziest perception that people have about the military and the people involved is that everyone wants to create harm and that’s absolutely not the case,” Hartford said. “They also think all the jobs are in the line of violence, but there are a lot of jobs that don’t put you on the front line.”
“[ROTC] pushes you to be the best you can be. You do things, not just time-wise, but you’ll do things in ROTC that you never thought you could do,” Dickman said. During a fall training exercise, the cadets rapelled off a 35-foot tower. Dickman has a fear of heights.
“Taking that jump was one of the biggest things I’ve ever done,” Dickman said. I knew I had to do it, standing on the ledge of this structure but having Capt. McConaghy there and my fellow cadets there was such a big thing.”
For Hartford, the dichotomy between the liberal views of Macalester and the more conservative ones in military is refreshing. “I get to live in the middle of both and I think it opens your eyes up to everything. It’s not just one bubble either way, I’m able to have my own opinion on both sides. My favorite part is living both experiences and being able to play a sport.”
Hartford has been a starting linebacker on the football team for two seasons. This year, he helped anchor the defense in the Scots’ historic run to their first conference championship in 67 years and their subsequent appearance in the NCAA tournament.
“His greatest gifts are his work ethic, desire to do his very best and the way he treats other people. He treats people very well, it’s because they trust him, because they believe in him they will follow him,” head Football coach Tony Jennison said.
“He’s a very strong young man in a lot of ways — mentally, physically. He’s special. He stands out. I hope that his experience at ROTC helps him gain confidence and learn that he is destined for greatness. I hope that being great in football, being great in academics and being great in ROTC will all come together to help him understand that he is capable of doing anything he sets his mind to.”
“We understand there are times he won’t be with us because he is participating in ROTC training,” Jennison said. “I think it makes him have to be a very strong manager of his time. His teammates trust him enough to know that when he’s not there it’s not that he doesn’t care about the team or anything like that, they know that he has another passion he has to follow.”
This season for the Women’s Basketball team, Dickman was a starting combo-guard and staple in the Scots’ rotation. She was an offensive catalyst and one of the team’s premier perimeter defenders. “She is one of our hardest working players. Just the competitiveness, edginess, the tenacity she plays with is really fun to watch,” said Women’s Basketball coach Kelly Roysland. “I admire her commitment to everything she does.”
As her coach, Roysland has seen Dickman’s understanding of how a team should function as a unit serve her well on the basketball court. Roysland praises the sense of discipline and time-management skills that Dickman has built through her involvement with ROTC.
“Like anybody, there are times where it is great and there are times where it’s a long, stressful, hard day,” Roysland said. “She is able to do it all because she is open with her teammates, communicating very well with me and our training staff.”
The challenges of this lifestyle are undeniable, but more undeniable are the rewards for Dickman and Hartford. “The big thing is, if I didn’t have either one of them, I would feel as if I wasn’t doing something right,” said Hartford. “If I didn’t have ROTC then I wouldn’t be happy. If I didn’t have football, I wouldn’t be happy. If I didn’t challenge myself academically, I wouldn’t be happy. It may be extremely hectic to plan around but at the same time enjoy doing all three.”
Said Dickman, “I get to do [ROTC and basketball] which I love, and go to a great school. It’s the best of everything.”