History Starts in 1819

The ROTC story really begins in 1819 with Capt. Alden Partridge, a former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Capitalizing on his experience, Partridge established the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy in Norwich, Vermont. It was there that Partridge's method of producing "citizen-soldiers" first took root. The institution, now known as Norwich University, continues operating to this day.

Partridge advocated a process through which able-bodied men would receive military training while attending civilian institutions of higher learning. Between 1819 and 1861, several other schools focusing on military instruction were established. These included Lafayette College, Pa.; Oak Ridge Military Academy, N.C.; Kemper Military School and College, Mo.; and Marion Military Institute, Ala. By 1840, more colleges added compulsory military training as well, to include Virginia Military Institute.

Note that Lafayette College established its' own program under Lafayette President MacKracken and even became a military reservation until World War I ended.

The Confederacy's surrender in 1865 did not mark the end of efforts to incorporate military instruction on college campuses across the growing nation. A total of 105 colleges and universities across the country were offering military training by the early 1900s.

Plattsburg Movement

The next key development in ROTC's history became known as the Plattsburg Movement, named for the camp in upstate New York that was established to train civilian volunteers on military preparedness. As fierce fighting raged between the Central Powers and the Allies, a group of prominent Americans formed this preparedness program. These pro-Allied community leaders believed our Army was too small to be effective if America was drawn into World War I. In the summers of 1915 and 1916, they facilitated the establishment of additional camps to train potential Army officers. By the end of 1917, more than 17,000 men had trained at these camps.

Subsequently, the National Defense Act of 1916 yielded Army ROTC units closely resembling the college-based Cadet Command formations of today. Isolationism and the resulting smaller standing Army did not produce a favorable environment for ROTC in the wake of World War I. During these lean years, Army ROTC efforts focused on producing officers for the Army Reserve. ROTC began as a regular summer camp and did not appear on college campuses until 1919, when Lehigh formed one of the first programs in the country and Kutztown State Teachers College later joined the efforts. When World War II came in 1941, these ROTC graduates made an immediate positive impact.

Welcome Army Air Cadets

On April 5, 1943, more than 300 Army Air Cadets arrived at Kutztown State Teachers College to continue their education and training before heading off to serve their country in World War II. The boy’s dormitory, standing tall today as Old Main, was converted to barracks and the cafeteria became the Army mess hall.

Training and Instruction

The men were taught by members of the college faculty. The subjects were divided into three types: military, academic, and physical which included civil air regulations, customs and courtesies, flight training in light horsepower plane, physics, geography, English, physical fitness, athletics, military hygiene, and inspections.

Recognized With Distinction

Kutztown State Teachers College was given a Certificate of Service Award by the headquarters of the Army Air Forces Training Command in Fort Worth, Texas for allowing the recruits of the Army Air Forces college training program to study and train at the school from 1943 to 1944.

Heroes Are Remembered

The compilers of the 1946 Keystonia yearbook dedicated a page to the Kutztown students who had fought and died for their country during World War II. The list included 15 names, along with each person’s rank and fighting unit, time and place of death, and graduation year, if applicable.

Lean Years

By 1947, America had rapidly demobilized with the surrender of Nazi Germany and the Imperial Japanese government. But Soviet aggression and an armed conflict in Korea quickly spurred renewed interest in ROTC. The ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964 solidified ROTC's role as the primary source of active-duty Army officers, and the program of instruction for Army ROTC became more closely aligned with a college education than ever before. Scholarships were made available to qualified cadets, and monthly stipends were offered. All of these factors were expected to broaden the popularity of the program on campus.

A Part of Kutztown’s Rich History

After World War II, the requirements and composition of ROTC changed drastically. Lehigh University’s already established Steel Battalion ROTC program began cross enrollment with KU in 1962. In 1965, the two year ROTC program began. 

An Uncertain Future Becomes A Bright Future

The draft ended in 1973 and as might be expected, total ROTC enrollment declined significantly.  But under a pilot program, women became eligible to enroll in Army ROTC in the 1972–73 school year. The pilot program proved successful and in short order, the program was commissioning female lieutenants.

Cadet Command's establishment in 1986 at Fort Monroe, Va., was a true milestone in ROTC's long history. Under Maj. Gen. Robert E. Wagner, the new command assumed responsibility for over 300 college-level Army ROTC units, four regional headquarters, and Junior ROTC programs at over 800 high schools.

Lafayette College had its own ROTC program since 1920 and was inactivated as part of the Army’s nationwide cost cutting measures.  Lafayette College’s Leopard Battalion combined with Lehigh University’s Steel Battalion in 1991. The Steel Battalion has a long history of clubs including the color guard, Scabbard and Blade, Society of Military Engineers, and the Ranger Club.

Since the onset of the global war on terrorism, the quality of ROTC-trained officers has won high praise. In a 2002 speech at Virginia Military Institute, President George W. Bush said ROTC cadets "represent the best of our country, and the best future for the United States Army."

He added, "For nearly 90 years, this great program has developed leaders and shaped character. Those looking for idealism on the college campuses of America will find it in the men and women of ROTC.  ROTC's traditions and values are a contribution and a credit to every college and every university where they're found."

Honoring The Covenant

Kutztown University and the Steel Battalion signed a covenant to partner together to help develop the leaders of tomorrow. Kutztown University’s cadet enrollment declined significantly and the Steel Battalion branch site moved to another Berks County college in fall of 2018. Through tremendous campus support and the reaffirming of the covenant, cross enrollment returned to Kutztown University’s campus fall of 2021. Cadet enrollment has doubled.

Together We Roar!

Together Kutztown University and the Steel Battalion are proud to help develop tomorrow’s leaders.

Sources:, Article, Army ROTC-Steel Battalion’s History, Kutztown University, The Campus History Series (Emily E. Billing and Kayla L. Fusselman), and Kutztown University History Facebook page (Jason Graver)

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