Life after the Corps

Ex-cadets discuss why they dropped and how they see the organization today

By Hannah Falcon @hannahfalcon_

Some cadets never receive their senior boots. Some never even receive their Corps Brass.

There are many reasons people choose to drop out of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M. Some simply decide the lifestyle is not for them. Others may face medical problems or disciplinary issues. While every ex-cadet has a unique story, dropping the Corps is not an unusual circumstance. Fifteen to 25 percent of cadets drop out of the Corps their freshman year.

Col. Glenn Starnes, Class of 1981 and assistant commandant for operations and training, said the number of cadets dropping the Corps has significantly decreased since his time in the Corps, and the goal is to continue that trend.

“I started with 20 freshman in my unit,” Starnes said. “Seven of us made it through our freshman year, and that was kind of standard. Has it gotten better? Yes.”

A common reason people drop the Corps is because they realize the regimented way of life is not for them, Starnes said.

“Some don’t like the lifestyle,” Starnes said. “Some don’t like the regimen of being told to wake up at a certain time, being told to study at a certain time, being told to keep your room up. They wanted to have it their way, and you don’t have it your way in the Corps. You have it the Corps way.”

Industrial distribution sophomore  Angelo Romero  holds a photo of himself as a cadet.   Photo by Meredith Seaver.

Industrial distribution sophomore Angelo Romero holds a photo of himself as a cadet. Photo by Meredith Seaver.

Angelo Romero, industrial distribution sophomore, was in Squadron 5 for the first semester of his freshman year. He dropped after receiving his Corps Brass because he didn’t want to follow the Corps routine anymore.

“I learned a lot about values while in the Corps,” Romero said. “I found a lot of my personal values, and one of those is freedom. ... I’m much better at doing things if I want to do them, and that’s simply not how the Corps works.”

Tenoch Aztecatl, international studies senior, never wanted to join the Corps in the first place. His parents told him they would only pay his tuition if he was a cadet, but he found out those were just empty threats after dropping out of Squadron 12 in November of his sophomore year. Although he was planning on becoming an officer in the Air Force, he realized he wanted to take a different path, and the Corps was no longer a part of it.

International studies senior  Tenoch Aztecatl  holds up a photo of himself as a cadet.   Photo by Meredith Seaver.

International studies senior Tenoch Aztecatl holds up a photo of himself as a cadet. Photo by Meredith Seaver.

“I was just thinking that if I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, this is not my college experience — maybe someone else who was planning on joining the military, but at that point I didn’t want to anymore,” Aztecatl said.

According to Starnes, Aztecatl’s change of heart is not uncommon. Others who fully intended to join the military realize through their time in the Corps that it’s not for them.

“You also have ones who came to the Corps to get a military contract, then they find out for medical reasons or something else that they’re not going to get a military contract. Well, they don’t need to do this then,” Starnes said.

Coley Lee, now a University of Oklahoma senior, dropped out of A&M and Squadron 4 when he realized his back injury prevented him from enjoying the Corps lifestyle. Lee was on a Sul Ross scholarship, which allows cadets from other states to receive in-state tuition, so he knew dropping the Corps meant he could no longer afford to attend A&M. Right before the beginning of his sophomore year, Lee dropped out.

“I drove down to College Station, and the day before the Corps started again, I left,” Lee said. “I decided, ‘I don’t think I can do this again.’ It was a pretty difficult decision to make, especially one day before the beginning of school. I ended up taking a semester off and kind of figuring out who I was. I worked full time back home in Oklahoma and then started back my spring sophomore semester at the University of Oklahoma.”

Spanish senior  Cole Rodriguez  holds up a photo of himself as a cadet.   Photo by Meredith Seaver.

Spanish senior Cole Rodriguez holds up a photo of himself as a cadet. Photo by Meredith Seaver.

Spanish senior Cole Rodriguez transferred to A&M from Marion Military Institute in the spring of his freshman year after realizing the military school lifestyle was not a good fit for him. He no longer wanted to join the military, but thought joining the Corps in fall of 2017 would help him get connected at A&M. Rodriguez dropped out of K-1 a few weeks into the fall semester.

“The biggest deciding factor was that I realized I didn’t want to commission into the military,” Rodriguez said. “I was like, ‘If I don’t want to join in the future why would I dress up and play army everyday?’ So I dropped out.”

Starnes said some cadets find themselves dropping due to disciplinary issues.

“A lot of it is self-selection; they get in trouble,” Starnes said. “I would say probably over half of those upperclassmen who either leave the Corps or are dismissed from the Corps are for discipline reasons.”

International studies senior Zach Russell was in E-2 before he was charged with conduct unbecoming of a cadet, complicity, physical abuse and harassment. While he was only found guilty of complicity and conduct unbecoming of a cadet, Russell was transferred to Squadron 4. Russell said he dropped because he didn’t like the way the Corps leadership handled his trial.

“I don’t like the way that the university investigates these sort of things,” Russell said. “From my perspective, the university looked at it as ‘you’re guilty until proven innocent’ with a lot of things. It was hard for us to prove our innocence. … We also felt that our incident was used as a reason for the commandant and his office to make changes within outfits that he saw as problematic.”

While Starnes explained that the process of dropping out of the Corps can be as quick as one day, the social aspect of moving from cadet to non-reg seems challenging to some. Romero expressed difficulty adjusting to his newfound freedom, while Aztecatl said he had a hard time finding where he fit in without the Corps.

I think if you would’ve asked me my freshman year how I feel about the Corps, I probably wouldn’t answer the exact same way. But I think from an outside perspective and kind of looking at my life and the impact it had on my life, it was a challenge. It’s a challenge for anyone, but I think it’s a good challenge.
— Coley Lee, University of Oklahoma senior, former Squadron 4 member

“I think it was extremely hard because you’re isolated from the rest of the university,” Aztecatl said. “My experience as a black A&M student, I feel like it was especially hard, because in the Corps you’re not that networked with other black students. Getting out leaves you with no network, especially as a sophomore.”

Some ex-cadets expressed gratitude for their time in the Corps, such as Romero who said it helped him realize who he is; or Lee, who said his closest friends to this day are his Corps buddies.

“I think if you would’ve asked me my freshman year how I feel about the Corps, I probably wouldn’t answer the exact same way,” Lee said. “But I think from an outside perspective and kind of looking at my life and the impact it had on my life, it was a challenge. It’s a challenge for anyone, but I think it’s a good challenge.”

On the other hand, some ex-cadets came out of their time in the Corps with resentment toward the leadership and the way it was run. Rodriguez said he thinks the Corps does not do a good job of representing the university. Russell said while he acknowledges his experience is not the same as others, he feels the Corps is over-glorified.

“I think the university sees the Corps as its crown jewel,” Russell said. “I think there are definitely things that aren’t said about it that are said about other organizations, like Greek life, that the university just turns a blind eye because it’s the Corps.”