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Physics and the Military

  1. Dec 30, 2015 #1
    So I just got accepted into Virginia Tech and I will be participating in the Virginia Tech Corp of Cadets as a physics major. I am currently signed up for Air Force ROTC but I'm starting to have second thoughts and am now considering Army ROTC. I was wondering if anybody could tell me what there experiences were with both ROTC programs and what opportunities are available in both branches as a physics major. Thanks.
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  3. Dec 30, 2015 #2
    There is a big difference in mind sets between officers in the Army and officers in the Air Force. Army officers are much more real warriors in every sense of the term - great guys in friendly settings, but real warriors prepared for up close and personal destruction on the battlefield. Air Force officers tend to be more reliant on technology to kill people and break things through effective action at a distance. I have tremendous respect for both branches, but having worked a lot with both, there is a lot of truth to the Army reference to the "Chair Force."

    If you are more cerebral and looking at a military career as a way of paying for school, the Air Force is the better choice. If you really aspire to be a warrior to defend the Constitution of your country by getting down to blood and guts when that's what it takes, become an Army officer. I'd take a group of Air Force officers any day of the week to help me solve the most challenging scientific problem. But give me the Army officers if I'm going to a street fight.
  4. Dec 31, 2015 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    While I agree with Dr. Courtney on the Air Force, my experience with Army officers is different than his. I don't see such a huge difference. (The Navy, on the other hand...do you know the difference between a Navy aviator and an Air Force pilot? The aviator breaks ground and flies into the wind.)

    What you'll be doing as a physics major is simple - it will be determined by the needs of the service. You might be thinking you'll be doing X, but if the service decides it needs you doing Y, well, you'll be doing Y. Good grades and good evaluations from the unit will give you more flexibility, and certain areas are volunteer only, so it's not like you have absolutely no control over your career, but the most important factor is the needs of the service.
  5. Dec 31, 2015 #4


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    Your major doesn't really matter for either. You won't be doing physics in either branch.

    If your plan is to go aviator for either, it's very competitive. You'll be ranked against the entire nations ROTC graduates. To just get on active duty, you'll need a pretty solid ranking, otherwise you'll need to complete your time in the reserves, or national guard. You list like your first 20 preferences for jobs, and then Army/Air force decides where it's going to put you. If you rank top of the nation, you can be fairly certain you'll get whatever you list as number 1.

    Officers are leaders (read administrators), junior officers often follow the lead of their sergeant/first sergeant and learn from them for the first two or so years. The Army is larger, with more types of "jobs" available, (Ordnance, Supply, Infantry, Aviator, Engineering, Communications, etc). The Air force is more technical (not science-y or engineer-y, it's an important distinction), and you'd be more likely to work leading enlisted personnel doing technical stuff (By leading, I really mean doing paperwork, reviewing part orders, managing training, keeping track of statuses, interfacing with other officers, etc). You can be hands on with them if you really wanted to, but the enlisted personnel might start to think you're micromanaging and come to resent you.

    So make sure you understand what the roles are for officers in the military before you commit. You can do the two year basic ROTC without a service commitment if you want, if you aren't taking scholarship money. Then you can decide to do the advanced courses (which comes with a 3-4 year service commitment.)
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