Skip to content
ROTC officer in uniform.

So, you’ve been thinking about joining the military after high school. There are so many choices to consider. I spoke with Matthew Burdick, a logistics officer with Marine Wing Support Squadron 272, about his ROTC experiences in college. Matt graduated and was commissioned from the University of Arizona in 2020 with a degree in criminal justice. 

What’s the difference between enlisting and ROTC?

Often when you think of joining the Marine Corps, you think that you’re going to go into the recruiter’s office and a few weeks later you’ll be in boot camp, but that’s not the case. You can go two ways in the Marine Corps.

First, is the enlisted route, which only requires a high school diploma. When you enlist, you go straight into basic training for 13 weeks then, depending on your job, you go through a little bit of infantry training, and then you go right to your job school.

Second, you can go the ROTC route. In the ROTC program, you’re both a midshipman and a college student. You’re able to earn your degree in whatever you want while getting the training you need to commission at graduation. 

Why did you choose the ROTC program?

I’ve always wanted to be a Marine, to become an officer, and lead other Marines. I also wanted to get a college degree and get the type of training to enter the organization as a lieutenant. I loved the ROTC program because it gave me a very strong foundation of military discipline while doing my studies and staying physically fit. I had the discipline that I needed, and I still got to participate in campus life.

Getting my degree was important to me as well so this program was a perfect blend of the two. Being a midshipman at the University of Arizona was almost a full-time job. The goal of the program is to get you to Officer Candidate School where you go between the summer of your junior and senior year to get evaluated to see if you have the potential to be a Marine Corps officer. 

How do you get into the ROTC program?

There are two ways to get into the program. You can get a full four-year scholarship which is very competitive. It requires very good grades and a high physical fitness score. For me, my grades just weren’t there, so I joined as a college program student which means I could still stay with the program until the end of my sophomore year to try to either earn that scholarship or get picked up on advanced standing. If you don’t make either of those, you get dropped and have to commission another way.

I competed for the scholarship for two years and was told no many times. And finally, with my last application, I had the grades, the scores, and everything that they wanted, so they picked me up.

What helped you get into the program?

Discipline, physical fitness, and keeping up with grades. You must stay on top of what you’re doing because the Marine Corps is selective about whom they allow through the doors. Stay involved in whatever high school leadership programs you’re doing. I was in Boy Scouts and earned Eagle Scout, which was a huge factor that helped me get into the program.

Do things that develop leadership like getting in front of people and talking and making decisions, whether it be on a sports team or an academic team. Academics and physical fitness are important, but having a good heart and good character is probably the most important. 

What did a typical week look like for you on campus?

During the week I had to wake up at 4:45 am for physical training. A lot of the time it’d be a calisthenics workout or a four to five-mile run. They were pretty intense because they were training you to be an officer. There are certain levels or classes of physical fitness tests that you have to maintain. You need at least a first-class to stay competitive. It’s a rigorous physical training program that you are going through, especially as a marine option because as a marine officer, you are expected to be physically fit.

From there, I went to class from about 8 to 3, sometimes I’d have to wear a uniform during the week. My classes were primarily Marine Corps and Navy service-oriented training because you do receive a minor in naval science when you’re in the ROTC.

I spent a lot of time at the ROTC building with my peers. I also had the typical college experience as a student. I went to sporting events, participated in campus events, and was involved in a lot of different volunteer organizations. I was also on the University of Arizona collegiate competition shooting team. There were a lot of different opportunities for me to go out and be an active member of the community as well staying disciplined in my studies and commitment to being a mid-shipment. 

What does your life look like now post-grad?

As a logistics officer, I plan and support squadron operations through different functional areas of logistics, whether that be through motor transportation supply, maintenance, engineering, etc. Essentially, my job is to piece all those different aspects together, come up with a plan, and then support those plans.

One of my primary roles, which makes us kind of unique in the Marine Corps, is Aviation Ground Support. Anytime the air Wing whether it be fighter jets, helicopters, c130s, or bigger large firm aircraft, go anywhere, they need a place to go home to. We run the air bases by fueling, airfield, matting, and runway maintenance. I have about 113 Marines that are distributed all over the place. I’m the executive officer, so I’m the assistant to the company commander which means I’m the second in command of the organization.

This job has taken me all over the world. I recently came back from 29 Palms where I did a two-month exercise out there. Last year I was in the Kingdom of Norway for about three and a half months, then was stationed in The Bahamas for a little bit. I’ve also been across the states as well, Arizona, Virginia, California, Florida, and all over the place to do training. I’ve been doing that for about three years.

What do you envision for yourself after your time in the Marines?

I’ll tell you right now that I love what I do. Being a marine is something that I’ve always wanted to be since I was a young kid. I’ve had the opportunity to do some mission command-type stuff, some convoys, incredible opportunities to go overseas, assist in a lot of different operations, and do what our country needs us to do. I feel so proud to be a part of that. Whether I do another 4 years and I get out or 20 more, I think that career really is very specific to the type of person, what their unit is, what their job is. Personally, I do also have a lot of goals outside of the Marine Corps that I want to pursue. Realistically, I see myself doing another tour and then possibly getting out. 

What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about the ROTC program?

Stay disciplined. Don’t quit. Be a good person. I was never on scholarship, so I had to compete for my spot. When I first joined the ROTC unit, I was told NO six different times and that I wasn’t good enough. My grades weren’t good, but I kept trying and I never quit. Eventually, on one of the last days of my sophomore year, I got pulled into my commanding officer’s office and he told me I got advanced standing, which meant I can continue and commission with the program. It was an enormous amount of success. It felt amazing to see years and years of work and discipline finally pay off.

As a young midshipman, I was hungry. I wanted to be there. I knew what I was getting myself into for the most part, you know, getting screamed at all day, your life is going to get pretty miserable. There will be times you want to quit. Keep going because when you put on this uniform and it says your last name and US Marines on there and you have these bars, it’s for real. After graduating and getting a commission and degree, I wouldn’t change anything for the world. It was absolutely the best decision I could have made.

By Sydney Burdick