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SJU students trade books for guns as conflict looms

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With the threat of war imminent, two freshmen at St. John's University enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps program have been called to serve active duty with the 320th Chemical Company Army unit.

The two students, Susan Kirkeby, 20, of Shelton, Conn. and Erik Mayid, 20, of Deer Park, N.Y. were deployed to Fort Stuart in Savannah, Ga. on Feb. 28 for initial training and skills testing, said Lt. Col. Nick Speliopoulos, the head of the ROTC program and chairman of the Military Science Department at St. John's University.

As members of a chemical company, the students will be part of a group that is responsible for dealing with nuclear, biological and chemical contamination, said a spokesman for the Fort Totten Army Reserve headquarters in Bayside.

The spokesman said he did not know where the unit would be deployed after its initial training, but Speliopoulos said he thought they were probably going to the Middle East.

"I don't know what their time line is, but I'm assuming they'll be deployed for at least six months, maybe longer, depending on the unit," Speliopoulos said. "They are taking a leave of absence until they come back."

Speliopoulos said he did not expect more of the 100 or so ROTC cadets who are part of his program to be deployed, partly because many are contracted cadets who are non-deployable until after graduation.

"There are other people in the National Guard or Reserves who attend St. John's but are not in ROTC that may be activated, but we don't expect more ROTCs to be deployed," Speliopoulos said.

ROTC cadets at St. John's University take a military science class, taught by Speliopoulos, and a hands-on leadership laboratory class every week. In addition, one weekend per semester they go to a nearby military training area to practice field training exercises.

As freshmen and sophomores, ROTC cadets are not obligated to serve in the military after graduation unless they are receiving ROTC scholarships. Once they become juniors, ROTC cadets are "contracted," meaning that they are required to serve six years as Army reserves after they graduate.

Army Reserve cadets are required to train one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer.

ROTC scholarship recipients receive up to $17,000 a year toward their tuition, in addition to $600 a year for books and a monthly stipend of $250 to $400. In return, they are contracted to serve four years of active duty and four years of Reserve duty after graduation.

Scholarships are one of the big draws to the ROTC program, said Speliopoulos, who oversees 23 ROTC scholarship recipients at St. John's University. In addition, students join ROTC to develop leadership skills and boost their marketability after graduation.

"ROTC does for corporate America what the Air Force does for the airlines," Speliopoulos said. "For our alumni, if they do four years of duty, they're pretty marketable ... because they have leadership experience. They were in charge of 30 other people, or a team of 10 people, actually making decisions and teaching soldiers how to do certain things."

Contracted ROTC cadets, including all ROTC juniors and seniors and ROTC scholarship recipients, cannot be called to active duty while they are in school.

      

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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