Bronco Battalion

What does it mean for a Jesuit university to be home to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps? Seventy-five years after ROTC came to Santa Clara—and 150 years after officers were first trained on campus—a few answers are clear.

Bronco Battalion
Officers and cadets: Left, the Students' Army Training Corps, Dec. 9, 1918 - Photo by SCU ROTC (click here to zoom) and right, the Bronco Battalion in early 2011 - Photo by Charles Barry (click here to zoom).

John Sequeira ’71 arrived at Santa Clara University in the fall of 1967 with no clue that he was about to be pulled into officer training for the U.S. Army. A local kid from San Jose, Sequeira figured he was going to a quiet campus a world away from the country’s brewing military worries. Only on fall registration day, when he and his fellow freshmen were told to gather apart from the female students, did Sequeira realize his impending choice: join the Army’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or come up with a really good excuse.

MacArthur Award: Recognizing the battalion as one of the top in the nation. Read about their second win on Photo by Charles Barry.

“It took me by surprise completely,” he says. “I thought I was going to a liberal arts school. Nobody told me I was going to have to sign up for the Army. You had to decide that moment, ‘Are you going to go conscientious objector?’”

Santa Clara stopped requiring freshmen to take ROTC the following fall, but Sequeira remained a cadet throughout his time at SCU out of a mix of patriotism and self-preservation, preferring the officer training route to the chance of draft. Though by the time he was a junior, the boiling tensions surrounding the Vietnam War and the invasion of Cambodia had come to campus, and some opposed to the war focused their anger on the short-haired cadets.

Company of cadets: Circa 1880. Military
training on campus was first offered in 1856.
After the Civil War, it was less at the fore. Photo
from SCU Archives.

“It was embarrassing to wear your uniform on campus,” Sequeira recalls. “There was a look of disdain.”

Events reached their nadir in May 1970. Sequeira and his fellow cadets were marching in the annual End-of-Year President’s Review of ROTC and were greeted by dozens of students and some professors, holding signs like “Off ROTC,” “Get out of SE Asia.” Some demonstrators lay in their way, a moment immortalized in a photograph of the lead cadet saluting as he stepped over the prone protestor. The image ran in papers around the world.

Four decades later, it’s a very different picture. Back for his 40th reunion in October 2011, Sequeira stopped by an event marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of Santa Clara ROTC and the 150th anniversary of Santa Clara cadet training during the Civil War. Instead of cadets conflicted by their commitment, he saw budding officers wearing their dress uniforms with dignity.

“You just never walked around wearing your uniform with pride like these guys do now,” said Sequeira, who is now a management consultant in Charlotte, N.C. “It was interesting to see.”

ROTC Memories: ROTC alumni share their memories of the program.
ROTC History: See historic photographs and milestones.


Indeed, these days, members of the Bronco Battalion are far more likely to get support from a student body that respects their volunteerism even as few consider it. Though numbers are relative; this fall, 92 cadets made up the Bronco Battalion, the highest enrollment in more than a decade. But that’s a fraction of the unit’s size during the 1950s and 1960s, when obligatory enrollment, fear of the draft, and a different tenor to the times spurred hundreds to participate—all of them men.

In 2012, junior Brigitte Clark, a liberal arts major, is a face of a new generation of cadets at Santa Clara. She came to SCU set on joining ROTC out of a sense of tradition and duty. Her grandparents served in the military, her parents met in ROTC at the University of Florida, and her sister, Brittany Clark ’09, led the battalion during her senior year. An aspiring elementary schoolteacher, Brigitte does not plan to make the Army a career beyond her four-year active service commitment. She gets a full scholarship from the Army. And she believes everyone has a duty to provide some sort of national service.

“I feel like everybody should do their part,” she says.

She balances the early morning training, military science classes, and weekend exercises of cadet life with a job as an IT manager at student services and an overload of other academic coursework. And she confesses the mornings can be tough. “But you think, ‘This is your scholarship and this is how you’re paying to go through school.’ You just have to suck it up.” She might get curious questions when she’s lugging a rucksack and Kevlar helmet through the dorms, she says, but the response from other students has always been positive.

“Everyone is really supportive of it here,” she says. “They think it’s really cool that I am doing something like this, especially being a female.”

Liberty Loan parade: San Jose, 1918. Seven days after the United States entered World War I, Santa Clara President Walter Thorton, S.J., offered Washington “our entire facilities—halls, classrooms, laboratories, and grounds—for the purpose of training troops.” At the time, Santa Clara offered the only officer training program in the West. Photo from the SCU Archives.


Following the May 1970 protest against ROTC, two Santa Clara instructors who participated were censured for conduct unbecoming faculty—though their actions were probably supported by roughly a third of the faculty, according to George Giacomini ’56. Now professor of history emeritus, he served as battalion commander when he was a senior in college. Also in the wake of the protest, the Santa Clara faculty voted 117 to 36 to keep ROTC on campus but with reduced visibility, removing commissioning from commencement. The student body held the first referendum in the nation concerning dissolving ROTC academic courses. The result: 927 out of 1,352 votes cast were for keeping academic credit for military science intact.

Call her Commander: In 1975, Rita Tamayo
 became the first female cadet battalion
commander in U.S. history—a full year before
the first female cadet entered the U.S. Military
Academy. Photo from SCU ROTC.

ROTC soon became a nonissue compared to debates about the actual war, which themselves faded in following years. Many students increasingly ignored the program. In 1970, Santa Clara ROTC commissioned 62 officers; in 1972, just 21. The inclusion of women to the program in 1973 did not reverse the trend. But it did lead to a Santa Clara first: During her senior year, Rita Tamayo ’76 served as battalion commander—the first woman in the nation to do so.

In 1981, the program commissioned just nine officers. The recent bounce in enrollment comes as students barely old enough to remember life before Sept. 11, 2001, now fill the ranks. For senior Jason Catalano, the current battalion commander, the commitment to the Army comes with a sense of duty to country; if it requires deployment to Afghanistan, so be it, he says. But his attraction to the Army is also about investing in himself. The Army—and its opportunities and responsibilities—promises to bring out the best in him, he hopes.

At Santa Clara the pendulum of attitude toward ROTC hasn’t swung nearly as wildly as at some other schools, which actually forced the Armed Forces off campus, beginning a decadeslong estrangement that’s just begun to ease. Reasons cited for revisiting ROTC include policy changes like the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and acknowledgment that a military that has fought two wars for the better part of a decade needs the best and brightest.

In fall 2011, Yale, Harvard, and Columbia decided to bring back ROTC. Brown University still withholds recognition of ROTC for a variety of reasons, including faculty opposition to military hierarchy. At Stanford—where the Naval ROTC building was burned down in protest in 1968—faculty also invited ROTC back last year. For the time being, though, Cardinal cadets still commute to the Mission Campus, as they have since the 1970s.

Operation Overlord: A prayer book
carried by John C. Plano ’55, who
served in World War II with the 101st
Airborne Division. He fought at
Normandy, was part of the liberation
of Holland, and saw action during the
Battle of the Bulge. He later attended
SCU on the GI Bill. The Bronco
Battalion keeps a display of his
mementos—including his dog tags
and medals.


Within the nation’s Jesuit schools, the connection to the military has remained strong. More than three-quarters of the nation’s Jesuit colleges offer ROTC, including SCU, the University of San Francisco, Loyola Marymount University, Gonzaga University, and Georgetown University. But some in these broader Jesuit environs claim that the long relationship can’t be reconciled with a focus on forgiveness, nonviolence, and social justice. At College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, protests against the Naval ROTC program have become an annual ritual. Peace activist John Dear, S.J., wrote a scathing piece for the National Catholic Reporter in September 2011, after reading a glowing feature on ROTC in the alumni magazine of Loyola University Maryland. Dear’s column garnered plenty of reader support, but it also drew criticism from those who pointed out that the military has been the guarantor of the rights and freedoms that allow Dear to make his arguments. Moreover, so long as the country needs a military, shouldn’t it have the most capable, liberally educated leaders?

As a matter of course, a sovereign nation has a right to defend itself, says James Felt, S.J., professor emeritus of philosophy at SCU. Felt began teaching at Santa Clara in 1965, and he served briefly on a board that convened hearings for students trying to get out of ROTC in the 1960s. Indeed, military strength can be essential for good, he says. Had the British and French not let their militaries wane in exhaustion after the First World War, they may well have prevented Nazi aggression.

“I can’t think that there is any moral fault in the United States maintaining suitable armed forces,” he says matter-of-factly. “If so, then it’s okay for SCU to offer ROTC, just as we need to train local police. It would be fatuous to pretend that there’s no evil or evil-doers in the world, and countries, as well as individuals, have a right to self-defense. But this is not to condone a culture of killing.”

Thomas Buckley, S.J., agrees that the campus embrace of ROTC is a sensible one. Buckley, a professor of American religious history at SCU’s Jesuit School of Theology, has a unique historical and familial perspective on the matter: His father, Col. Michael Buckley Jr., was a West Point graduate who briefly led Santa Clara’s ROTC program in the 1950s, when all students had to take ROTC their first two years. Fr. Buckley, meanwhile, has studied and taught about pacifism, believing “the anti-war tradition is a long and honorable one in the United States.”

But at least in the United States, it’s politicians who decide to go to war, he says, not top officers, who are often averse to initiating conflicts of which they better know the price. “You want a professional Army. You want a trained officercorps,” Buckley observes. “But you also want them to have a background in ethics and philosophical training. That’s where a university like Santa Clara does a great service for the military and, therefore, for the country. It’s just as reasonable to have Army officers who graduated from Santa Clara as to have Leon Panetta ’60, J.D. ’63 sitting in the cabinet leading them.”

In formation, 1943: Santa Clara cadets in front of the Donohoe Infirmary (now Donohoe Alumni House). Kenna Hall and the Adobe Lodge were reserved exclusively for military science instruction.The following year, 75 percent of the campus was being used to train soldiers. Photo from SCU Archives.

David DeCosse, director of campus ethics programs, echoes Felt and Buckley, adding that the presence of cadets at Santa Clara adds to the debate and discourse on campus. At a time when the percentage of Americans serving in the military is at its lowest since the start of World War II, ROTC provides a bridge between the Armed Forces and students who would never consider joining the military. “Having that voice in the room is really, really important,” says DeCosse. He has taught a course on The Ethics of War to campus cadets and edited a book on the morality of the Persian Gulf War. “It’s not as though we have all the answers to everything.”


Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who rose to the rank of first lieutenant in the Army, is perhaps the most prominent alumnus of the Bronco Battalion to shape the U.S. military in the past 75 years. But among the numerous graduates of the program are a number of general officers who’ve served in the upper echelons of the Army, including Lt. Gen. Joseph K. Kellogg Jr. ’66, Maj. Gen. Mike Lenaers ’69, Lt. Gen. Joseph Peterson ’72, and Maj. Gen. Eldon Regua ’77.

Less-heralded junior officers from the program have also shouldered immense responsibility for the lives of men and women under them. Lt. Brittany Clark ’09 won the Pallas Athene Award as one of the nation’s top female cadets for leading the Bronco Battalion during her senior year. Her beaming smile belies a steely willpower. She twice competed in the Bataan Memorial Death March, a 26.2-mile race that draws hundreds of cadets, who lug 35-pound packs in the high desert of New Mexico.

Clark spent most of 2011 as an engineering officer in Afghanistan, leading a platoon of 35 soldiers charged with clearing roads of bombs and other hazards, in the face of constant danger. Dismounting their vehicles to talk to villagers and walk areas along roads, her soldiers worked under constant threat of improvised explosives, rocketpropelled grenades, and small-arms ambushes. Many of Clark’s soldiers were also dealing with their first extended stays away from home—and their first exposure to combat zones. Clark’s job wasn’t just executing the mission at hand but also caring for troops worn down by months of combat stress and loneliness, a responsibility she says her Santa Clara education prepared her for well.

“Santa Clara produces graduates who have an understanding of competence, consciousness, and compassion,” says Clark, who completed her years with all 35 members of the platoon. “Those values instilled in me from Santa Clara were always part of my decision process.”


Lawrence Terry ’57, J.D. ’62 entered ROTC at a time when the draft ensured most SCU students stayed with ROTC all four years. The unit was roughly eight times its current size—even as the student body was many times smaller.

Switchboard operator, 1950: Beginning in
1948, all Santa Clara students enrolled in ROTC
their first two years—and most upperclassmen
continued with courses rather than risk getting
drafted as grunts, especially after the war in
Korea began in 1950. Photo from SCU Archives.

On Wednesday drills, the field near the present-day Leavey Center would fill with a sea of men in green wool jackets and pants, khaki shirts with black ties, and combat boots, the cadets marching in formation carrying M-1 rifles from the campus armory. At graduation, the influence of ROTC was even more apparent. Terry estimates 75 percent of his class wore an Army uniform under their gowns, receiving their commissions as second lieutenants in virtually the same motion they received degrees.

Like Brittany Clark decades later, Terry says his Santa Clara education helped him be a better officer. After joining military intelligence and taking part in a 20,000-strong mock assault in Central California, Terry’s time in the military took an interesting turn. A drummer, he won a series of Army talent shows, ending up as officer in charge of three dozen fellow soldier-performers making their way across the South and up to New York on a tour that ended with an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Touring the South, they stopped at restaurants eager for customers—until the proprietors saw the African-Americans among the soldiers.

“Thanks to my Jesuit education, I knew what to do,” says Terry, who later served as a state judge for three decades. “I said, ‘Okay, gentlemen, let’s get back on the bus.’ There was no way I was going to let these guys be separated from the rest of us.”

It’s not just the military that benefits from Santa Clara students, says historian George Giacomini. As regimental commander, he led 700 cadets as a senior. And, sent to Germany as a forward observation officer, he discovered leadership skills that he didn’t know he had.

“It certainly was an extraordinarily valuable experience for me,” he says. “I discovered I wasn’t a bad leader. I could actually make pretty good decisions in a pretty short period of time.”

Weapons training: From left, Charles Fisher ’14 and Sam Pierson ’13 outside Varsi Hall. Photo by Ryan Selewicz ’13.

Marty Sammon ’56, MBA ’63, a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne, was sent to Little Rock, Ark.—where soldiers had been ordered by President Eisenhower to enforce the desegregation of Central High School in 1957. It was one of the great pivot points of the Civil Rights Era.

Writing from Afghanistan, Brittany Clark says that the military and ROTC have exposed her to challenges she never knew she could overcome. “A lot of the training pushed me outside of my comfort zone and made me do things I never would have tried,” she says. “There is such an awesome sense of accomplishment after doing something that scares you or seems impossible; the second time around is a piece of cake.”

Update Feb. 8, 2012: The Bronco Battalion won another MacArthur Award for being one of the top battalions in the nation. Read about their accomplishment on And here online, you can read memories of alumni who have been part of the Bronco Battalion over the year—and share your memories.

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