ROTC honors local vets on Veterans Day

The Veteran’s Day breakfast at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Wednesday morning expected about 900 local veterans in attendance.

ROTC stands for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. About 70 students are enrolled in the program through UW-L, some with hopes of being an officer in the military someday.

Wednesday morning a few of those cadets had the privilege to present the colors in front of hundreds of their heroes.

Presenting the colors of the United States of America and Wisconsin on Veterans Day is an honor only a select few are given. For cadet Zeke Emerick, its a opportunity he would never have expected when he came to UW-L.

“Coming out of high school I was torn between going to college so I could play college football or just enlisting,” Emerick said.

Emerick joined ROTC his freshman year and hasn’t looked back since, but preparing for this honor is no easy task.

“The trigger will be above your name plate and then you want you elbow right about your hip and then your arms just parallel with the ground,” Emerick said.

Membership in the ROTC program at UW-L is growing in recent years, and recruiting officer 2nd Lt. Zachary Gust said he believes it gives recruits a sense of purpose.

“I think it’s a calling if you want to do the military personally. It’s something you want to do and it’s a great way to go to college at the same time. If you want to do the military out of high school and you want to also get your college degree ROTC is the perfect match,” Gust said.

Emerick expects to be a veteran someday himself.

“I want to serve in the active duty and I want to, hopefully, be in the infantry for, I would like to do 20 years and actually be able to retire in the military,” Emerick said.

But for now, he’s enjoying the moment honoring and being surrounded by those who have served before him.

“I’ve done color guard before, but I’ve never done it for anything like this. This is pretty cool because typically I’m doing it for a football game or something (else), I was cool to actually do it today for a bunch of veterans. It meant a little more I feel,” Emerick said.

ROTC programs produce most officers in the military along with West Point and Officer Candidate School.

There are both contracted and non-contract members in the ROTC. Contracted members are required to serve eight years in the military after graduation, four years of active duty or in the reserves.

UW-L partners with Viterbo Univeristy, Winona State University and St. Mary’s University in Winona to make up its ROTC program.

There are 1,100 colleges and universities nationwide offering the ROTC program to all branches of the military.