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Position On U.S. Wars May Influence Duke ROTC Votes

This story was written by Cameron VanSant, The Duke Chronicle

Although they could serve on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan within a year of graduation, students of Duke University's Reserve Officers' Training Corps say they are viewing the presidential election no differently than other Americans.

Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, war has dominated much of the political dialogue over foreign policy. Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who was one of the first backers of the troop "surge" in Iraq, opposes any plans for immediate withdrawal from the country. His Democratic opponent Sen. Barack Obama, whose campaign received a boost Sunday from the endorsement of former secretary of state and retired army general Colin Powell, advocates ending the war through "phased withdrawal."

Although the American military has been involved in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past five years, participation in Army and Navy ROTC has remained relatively constant over the same time period. Army ROTC currently includes seven members of the Class of 2012-the largest number of recruits in 15 years-and Navy ROTC has 13 freshman members, more than in any other current class.

Lt. Col. Mark Tribus, a visiting lecturer of military science, who served in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2005, said his experience gave him an understanding of the horrors of war.

"War is not an easy thing.... I would hope that we could find as many peaceful solutions as possible," he said.

He added, however, that he weighed foreign and domestic issues-especially the economy-equally in deciding his vote.

"As much as I am a soldier, I am a citizen," he said.

Seniors Amanda Carpenter, a cadet in Army ROTC, and Nick Lowman, battalion commander for Army ROTC, said the ongoing wars did not play a significant part in their decision to join the program.

"It wasn't a major consideration," Lowman said, adding that ROTC still made war seem more tangible to him. "Being in ROTC puts things in perspective-what you are doing has a purpose."

Other ROTC students were noncommittal about whether Obama or McCain would make a better commander-in-chief, adding that they were willing to serve regardless of the outcome of presidential election.

"Being in the military has not changed the way I think about this election," senior Ben Schweer, battalion commander for Navy ROTC, wrote in an e-mail. "No matter who is in the White House, the military goes where the commander-in-chief says to go and does what he says to do. As individuals, we can think and vote freely, but when we put the uniform on, politics becomes secondary to service."

Carpenter, who hopes to go to medical school, said both foreign policy and domestic issues are important considerations in deciding her vote.

"What [the candidates] view as important with the military affects my future job, but it would be the same with any other job," she said, adding that the next administration's health care policy will also impact her future.