A student from the De La Salle University entered the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) mainly for love of adventure.

But her plan to just try “something new” led her to discover a new part of herself that she is really proud of.

Private First-Class Maxine Keeler, who is taking up Behavioral Science Major in Organizational and Social Systems Development at the De La Salle University, said she had always looked up to the military. So when she had the chance to acquire the same kind of training, she picked ROTC for her National Service Training Program (NSTP).

“At first I was honestly afraid of what I got myself into. My whole life as a civilian had to change the moment I started training,” she said in an interview.

Keeler said her parents did not initially want her undergoing training to be a reservist since “they did not like it in their time,” but her curiosity and admiration for the soldier’s work pushed her to join.

She also asked a few colleagues what to expect in the ROTC so she knew then that she would have a hard time. She said the training, albeit difficult, was fun and fulfilling.

“When I started (undergoing) training, I first thought, ‘Oh my god what did I get myself into?’ But that thought slowly turned into ‘Oh my god this was so worth it’,” she added.

As a college freshman, she developed a liking in the program and pursued the Cadet Officer Candidate Course (COCC) to become an officer even though it meant going through harder training.

“All our hard work from physical training early in the morning, reporting in our office for lectures and learning how to do corps staff work, to commanding cadets in the field, has contributed so much to the formation of my character,” Keeler said.

“Thankfully, I had my officers, training staff and DLSU personnel to guide me and my batchmates into becoming the snappy officers we are today. All that I’ve learned in training has helped me become more motivated and hardworking in other aspects of my life,” she added.

Her dedication was also noticed by her unit commandant, Col. Nestor Narag, Jr., and recommended her in the shortlist of Filipino delegates who were sent to Guam, USA for the Cultural and Leadership Program (CULP) held November 17 to 24 this year.

Cultural program

About 20 ROTC cadets from all over the country were handpicked by the three major services to represent the Philippines in the Cultural Understanding and Leadership Program (CULP), one of the partnership programs between Guam and the Philippines under the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, an officer of the Office of the Philippine Army Reservists and Retirees Affairs, said the cadets were selected from various ROTC units based on criteria such as leadership potentials, aptitude, performance, and excellence.

From the Army, cadets Sgt. Destinee Noor, Sgt. Cres John Goldove, Sgt. Diosdado Taconing Jr., Sgt. Apriljoy Marindoque, Sgt. Jennifer Gavero, Sgt. Mary Jane Maghanoy, Sgt. Angelyc Juario, and Pvt. Lucino Rosas were selected.

The Navy picked Keeler, P03 Joshua Mellarpis, SN2 Aeron Rollon, SN2 Maryelt Robiso, PFC Jomalyn Alcover, and PFC Philip Castro.

While the Air Force had Sgt. Jules Danison Saplan, Sgt. Shiena Mae Ampongan, Sgt. Loui Umpad, Sgt. Francis Angue, Sgt. Jeslie Fajardo, and Airman Choline Jesse Marcial to represent.

For two weeks, the Filipino ROTC cadets engaged their American counterparts in a learning experience that were highlighted by educational tours, cultural events, military training activities, and exposure to American communities.

“We trained in the Army Reserve Command (ARESCOM) and applied them in our FTX in Guam. Not only did we learn from the Guam ROTC cadets but we also shared our knowledge with them,” Keeler said.

In particular, she said she felt grateful for learning about the value of leadership and teamwork in their training with the Guam ROTC cadets.

Mandatory ROTC

Keeler also said her experience was one for the books and that she wishes that more students like her will share and appreciate what her training did to her.

“I can confidently say that I do not regret my decision at all. It was and still is the best decision I’ve made in my life so far,” she said.

After the ROTC was made optional in 2002, the number of reservists in the country has slowly declined.

From 2015 to 2016, there were only 59,637 graduates from both basic and advanced training. In 2017-2018, it reached a low of 46,936.

Reservist General Rolando Rodil, among those who drafted the proposed bill making ROTC mandatory among senior high school students, explained in an earlier interview that the ROTC seeks to instill discipline and love for country among the Filipino youth.

If the mandatory ROTC bill passes into law, it would require students to take the training to qualify for graduation. The AFP will conduct meticulous screenings for future instructors and will only allow officers in the best practice to teach students.

The role of reservists, the general added, are (1) based on the expansion of regular force in case of war, rebellion; (2) to assist in disasters, socio-economic development, (3) secure vital government utilities such as water and power, and help in defense preparedness; (4) and as warfighters.

First Presidential Silent Drill Competition

On December 20, ROTC cadets from selected colleges and universities and uniformed personnel in the country will attend a summit in Quirino Grandstand to celebrate and drum up support for the ROTC.

The event is organized by the Office of the President through the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) and Presidential Security Group, in coordination with the Department of National Defense and the AFP through the Office of the Reservist and Retiree Affairs (OJ9).

The activity will feature a silent drill competition from among the best in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA), Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA), Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP), Philippine Army Officer Candidate School (PAOCS), Philippine Navy Officer Candidate School (PNOCS), and Philippine Air Force Officer Candidate School (PAFOCS).

The units are vying for the top prize of PHP300,000, PHP200,000 for the second placer, and the third will get PHP100,000.

A PHP50,000 consolation prize will be given each to the four other units. (Christine Cudis, PNA)

Top photo: FORMING LEADERS. De La Salle University student and ROTC Cadet Private First-Class Maxine Keeler says she’s glad to join the military training after discovering herself being a more disciplined and patriotic leader. Keeler and 19 others were handpicked by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to represent the Cultural and Leadership Program hosted by Guam ROTC in November, this year. (Contributed photo)