History of ROTC at St. Mary’s University

The St. Mary’s University Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program, established in 1932, has commissioned 1,702 officers (as of Spring 2020) for our Army. The program has a long timeline of excellence and continues to be a training ground for tomorrow’s leaders.

Prior to the National Defense Act of 1916, military training occurred primarily at land grant institutions established by the Morrill Act of 1862. The Morrill Act stipulated that each land-grant institution would provide instruction in military tactics as part of its engineering and agriculture curriculum.

Female ROTC cadet in dress uniform, sitting in front of a whiteboard in a classroom

When the Civil War ended in 1865, the benefits of the Morrill Act were extended to former Confederate States of America, including Texas, thus allowing for the creation of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, now Texas A&M University, in 1876.

From 1876 until World War I, formal military instruction was generally only available at the major state-funded institutions of Texas (Texas A&M and the University of Texas), and even at those schools, it was not formalized under U.S. Army control until 1916.

The National Defense Act of 1916 formalized the establishment of Reserve Officers Training Corps programs at civilian colleges and universities throughout the U.S. Immediately following the NDA and in the feverish effort to produce men and materiel for the war effort in Europe, the War Department selected 28 Texas colleges and universities to participate in the Students Army Training Corps (SATC) program.

Approved by Congress on Aug. 31, 1918, the SATC program was an agreement between the U.S. Department of War and American educators to prevent the U.S. Department of War’s conscription efforts from further depleting the number of 18-year-old males entering universities in the fall of 1918.

ROTC instructor gesturing with his hands

The only SATC program available in San Antonio was at the West Texas Military Academy, the predecessor to the Texas Military Institute. The SATC program was short-lived and disbanded upon signing of the armistice that ended World War I. The SATC program was again replaced with ROTC, yet formal college-level military instruction would not be available in San Antonio for another 14 years.

In 1932, St. Mary’s University established a “Section 55-c unit” of ROTC. The National Defense Act of 1916, as amended in 1921, allowed the Secretary of War (predecessor to the Secretary of the Army) to support military instruction at civilian colleges and universities where no formal ROTC unit existed.

Though these “55-c units” were not formal ROTC programs, they were still supported by the U.S. Department of War with detailed officers, enlisted soldiers, and equipment to conduct proper military training.

The U.S. Army detailed 1st Lt. William E. Cox to serve as the first professor of military science and tactics at St. Mary’s.

The 55-c unit was formally dedicated on March 20, 1932 on the University’s baseball field and commissioned its first reserve officer, A. Ransome Marlowe, on Dec. 5, 1932. Between 1932 and 1942, St. Mary’s commissioned just 39 officers. One of these graduates, Cadet Joseph J. Cody Jr., class of 1941, would become the first St. Mary’s University Army ROTC graduate to achieve the rank of general officer and another, Cadet Rodolfo Vargas, class of 1942, would be the first graduate killed in WWII.

Profile of a female ROTC cadet

Due to World War II, the St. Mary’s University Army ROTC program was closed in 1942, but many St. Mary’s graduates, both former cadets and civilian students, served in World War II.

In 1947, the Marianist Brothers of St. Mary’s petitioned the U.S. Army for the formation of a formal Army ROTC program to “educate the whole man. The totality of this intellectual goal demands that we treat with man’s many needs: the practical as well as the theoretical, the worldly as well as the spiritual, the body as well as the mind. Mens sana in corpore sano.” (5 May, 1969, speech given by The Very Reverend Louis J. Blume, S.M., President, St. Mary’s University.)

On April 25, 1947, the ROTC program was re-established as a Field Artillery program by General Order #91 under the Professor of Military Science, Col. Bryan Milburn.

From its reopening, St. Mary’s required all male students to participate in ROTC instruction for their first two years of school. Since the GI Bill made college attendance feasible for returning veterans, the student population of St. Mary’s, and thus the ROTC program, grew.

During the Vietnam War, students resisted the requirement to join ROTC and petitioned the University leadership to reduce the requirement. On May 5, 1969, the President of St. Mary’s University, Rev. Louis J. Blume, reduced the ROTC requirement for male students to one year beginning in fall 1969. In 1971, he eliminated the requirement altogether and ROTC enrollment dropped to its lowest levels since 1942.

Two cadets in dress uniform salute

In the fall of 1972, the U.S. Congress opened all ROTC programs to female students. Since female cadets could not commission into the Field Artillery at the time, the St. Mary’s ROTC program began offering the General Military Science program in 1975 in order to commission officers, including females, into branches other than Field Artillery.

The first female cadet battalion commander in the nation was Cadet Karen Pospisil, the St. Mary’s University Battalion Commander in 1976.

In addition to enrolling females, St. Mary’s Army ROTC grew with the establishment of a cross-enrollment agreement with the University of Texas at San Antonio on May 20, 1975. As the UTSA program grew, it achieved Extension Center status on Nov. 13, 1979, and it remained a part of the St. Mary’s program until Jun. 14, 1982 when it earned Host Program status.

From 1982 to 1991, there were three ROTC host programs in San Antonio — St. Mary’s, UTSA, and Trinity University.

With the downsizing of the military following the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. Army decided to close 50 ROTC programs nationwide, including the program at Trinity University, in 1991.

With the Trinity program’s closure, St. Mary’s University established ROTC cross-enrollment agreements with both Trinity University and the University of the Incarnate Word, so that those students could continue to pursue army officer commissions through St. Mary’s.

In 2009, St. Mary’s established a cross-enrollment agreement with the newly formed Texas A&M University at San Antonio (TAMU-SA).

St. Mary’s commissioned six officers through TAMU-SA between 2009 and 2014. On Aug. 28, 2014, the TAMU-SA ROTC program became part of the UTSA ROTC program.

Today, the St. Mary’s University Army ROTC program enrolls cadets from affiliate programs at St. Philip’s College, Trinity University, and Our Lady of the Lake University, a partner program at the University of the Incarnate Word, and the host program at St. Mary’s University.


For more information on ROTC at St. Mary’s, email rotc@stmarytx.edu or call 210-436-3415.

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