The Best Job in the US Army (for me) – Rutgers Army ROTC!

Last week I dabbled in my magic world of RUNet 2000 at Rutgers University (remember Mike Fox) and mentioned I would talk more about that great project and the great people I met working at Rutgers in a later post. This post is not that post.

There will be quite a few posts highlighting my days at Rutgers. We will talk about RUNet 2000, my friend Joe Percoco and his great “Midnight Confession” story which enabled me to be seen on camera with Jay Leno, my personal experiences with a great leader (and past and now current Rutgers head football coach) Greg Schiano, the great “secret fiber on the NJ Turpike” story, a personal story about a friendship I made with a great former midshipman and retired admiral, Joe Sestak, and much more.

However, today’s topic is the US Army ROTC Rutgers University Scarlet Knight Battalion. Say what you say? That’s right, Army ROTC. That’s where my 36 year affiliation with Rutgers University began, starting in 1984 through today as a retired Rutgers University employee. Not only that, today, May 19, 2020 is the commissioning ceremony for the current graduating class of army second lieuteneants from the Scarlet Knight Battalion. GO SCARLET KNIGHTS!!!

Unit Crest worn by cadre and cadets of the Rutgers University Army ROTC Battalion

Before I talk about my escapades as an Army ROTC instructor, it is important to understand how important the “team concept” is for those of us in the armed forces. At West Point, Army football is a BIG DEAL! And the Army/Navy football game is the BIGGEST DEAL!!! So, as a lead-in to my Army/Rutgers days, I just have to share a photo which I absolutely love because I was at this particular game when Army beat Navy a couple of years ago. In the army we train cadets and soldiers how important proper cameflouge techniques are, and Army certainly nailed it on this occasion!

So, I reported to Rutgers Army ROTC duty in New Brunswick, NJ for the first time in the summer of 1984. Most of the officers assigned to Army ROTC at Rutgers were down at Ft. Bragg, NC serving at the “advanced camp”. Advanced camp was a six week training program that brought cadets from the entire East Coast Army ROTC programs together where they took turns fulfilling field training leadership positions. For a cadet, doing well at advanced camp made a difference in the future assignment the cadet/future army officer would get upon commissioning and graduation. Cadets attended advanced camp during their final summer in college, just ten months before most of them either went into the army reserves or active duty.

How Rutgers cadets performed at advanced camp was also a reflection on how well the officers and non-commissioned assigned to Rutgers Army ROTC were doing their jobs. In other words, our report card as officers, or officer efficiency rating (OER) was tied to our cadets’ performances at advanced camp! Risky business! As Rutgers cadre, our challenge was to send all of our cadets down to Ft Bragg in hopes of them all gaining top leadership scores. Grading was done on a 5 point scale, with “5” being the best. There were very few scores of 5 or 4, while most cadets earned a “3” rating. Below a “3” meant you had serious leadership challenges. As a large university from the Northeast, Rutgers cadets were actually competing with cadets from the likes of Virginia Military Academy, the Citadel, along with all of the other East Coast schools from the South, where the weather was more conducive for summer training preparation and military was more encouraged by the local populace then it was in New Jersey. Recruiting and training, the two areas that officers assigned to Army ROTC battalions were evaluated by, was a tough road to hoe for us at Rutgers.

My first year at Rutgers Army ROTC was a challenging but rewarding one. I taught the MS IV class (seniors). These cadets had just returned from advanced camp and each had done their best. As the instructor for the senior class, my job wasn’t tied directly to what each of us officers were actually evaluated on….. making our recruiting numbers and school ranking vis-s-vis other schools at advanced camp. My biggest accomplishment my first year was becoming faculty advisor of one of Rutgers University’s premier “clubs”, the Rutgers University Queens Guard Precision Rifle Drill Team.

Rutgers University Queens Guard Presenting Arms in Edinburg, Scotland

As faculty advisor of the Queens Guard, I got to travel with the team, the best in the world, to their overseas performances at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 1985 and at the 150th celebration of the State of South Australia in 1986. I am pictured with the team photo at the Tattoo in 1985 (back row far right).

Travelling with the Queens Guard was exciting and challenging and will be the subject of another post. Back to me and Army ROTC.

Army ROTC “Patch”

After one year (and two advanced camps) at Rutgers Army ROTC, the Scarlet Knight was ranked in the bottom 10% in both “quality and quantity”. Quality referred to the composite average leadership scores of the advanced camp cadets and quantity referred to the number of new cadets we brought into the program. Having been there a full year it appeared to me that we needed to make some changes. We were about to receive a new Professor of Military Science (the lead officer of Rutgers Army ROTC) in August of 1985. I approached the new boss, a 1966 West Point graduate named LTC Michael V. McKay with a bold recommendation. Having never met LTC McKay, I was a little reticent to make a major recommendation right off the bat, but I felt we didn’t have time to lose as the students (who we needed to recruit into the ROTC program) would be back on campus in a week or so.

I loved teaching Army ROTC, but I also felt that we as a unit were not putting enough focus on recruiting and training. No one person had accountability for either very important effort, other than the boss himself. The first time I met LTC McKay I recommended that we change the structure of the Rutgers Army ROTC cadre assignments. I asked him to put me personally in charge of both recruiting and training, but in order to give those important areas my focused attention, I would need to be pulled out of my teaching duties in the classroom. Without hesitation, our new leader made the change and my new job was to get more and better students in the door and train them better than we were able to do previously.

Prior to LTC McKay’s arrival, I had worked tirelessly with Professor of Military Science LTC Bob Fazen (now mayor of Boundbrook, NJ) to increase Rutgers administration support of Army ROTC. A most significant event, the approval of the ROTC Advisory Council, occurred in 1985, which helped lay the groundwork for continued Rutgers support for the ROTC program. In April of that year, Rutgers University approved the awarding of $1700 per year to those 4-year ROTC scholarship winners who attended Rutgers. Additionally, Dean James Reed of Rutgers College (who once personally signed over 500 letters to top Rutgers students in support of Army ROTC) authorized $500 scholarships per year to a maximum of three exceptional prospects. The influence of the ROTC Advisory Board was also a great factor in the approval of six credits to those students who complete Basic Camp.

Armed with the knowledge that Rutgers University was supporting our efforts, we did a full court press finding and bringing in the best prospects for Rutgers and our Army ROTC program. We asked for our existing cadets to volunteer to team up with prospective cadets, both in high school and current Rutgers students and give them a personal tour of the campus and of our program.

Adding focus to our recruiting and training efforts was what we needed. And the results proved it!

In just two years, the Rutgers Army ROTC program went from the BOTTOM 10% in training and BOTTOM 10% in recruiting out of over 100 schools on the East Coast to TOP 10% in BOTH RECRUITING AND TRAINING! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!

All of this is great stuff, but I must tell you what Paul Harvey used to call …THE REST OF THE STORY…

Rutgers Army ROTC was technically an active duty military assignment, controlled by the Department of the Army. Our “Army ROTC Building” at 157 College Ave in New Brunswick, NJ was owned by Rutgers, but we ran our own operation. We were attached to the Faculty of Professional Sciences (FPS) for some things, but by and large we were left alone.

That independence enabled us (me) to do some creative things to raise support funds for our program. One huge opportunity came when I took over recruiting. Rutgers, in 1985 signed a new contract with Pepsi Cola, replacing Coca Cola every where on campus. Like I said, we were pretty much left alone and when the university replaced all of the hundreds of Coke machines with brand new Pepsi machines, they left ours alone. So there we were, with the only Coke machine for miles around right there on the front porch of our ROTC home at 157 College Ave.

Where “Old Coke” machine stood an the front porch of 157 College Ave.

Of course, you know what happened next….we started selling Coke like crazy…we couldn’t keep up with the demand. It was a cash cow for us. An astute Pepsi sales director paid me a visit, knowing he couldn’t force me to take his product (we weren’t really Rutgers, we were Army), and made me an offer I really couldn’t refuse…

I remember this sharp dressed man coming up our stairs and coming inside the building looking for who was “in charge”. I told him that I was (I really wasn’t, but nobody gets to waste the colonel’s time without me vetting them first). It turns out he was the “Pepsi” guy. He offered me an impossibly ridiculous low price for his Pepsi product that his folks would keep stocked, and we would just keep the profit. He assured me we were getting a better deal than the university as a whole. The only caveat was that he would have to take our Coke machine away.

Location, location, location….our real estate, right accoss the street from the College Avenue Gym (knicknamed “The Barn”) where students stood in add-drop lines for hours in the hot September days was the perfect place for a Pepsi or Coke machine. But when you have the ONLY Coke machine, the law of supply and demand make it a Coke sellers market!

I thought about the Pepsi man’s offer, and made him a deal. I told him, “you don’t have to cart that old rusty Coke machine out of here, just bring it to the back of the building, it’s all junky back there anyway.” He was happy to save the labor cost and gladly accepted my offer and within a week we had a brand new Pepsi maching on the front porch at 157 College Ave. We were making money to support our recruiting efforts HOORAY! After the dust cleared a little, we made a make-shift sign and placed it next to the Pepsi machine. The sign read “COKE MACHINE OUT BACK!!”. We ran an extension cord out the back door and plugged in the Coke machine, not far from the old horizontal ladder where cadets would train. We started making more quarters than the federal mint! We were definately supporting our cadets!

Back of 157 College Ave where old Coke machine flourished

We made so much money (how much money you ask?)(keep reading) that we even had enough for one of our senior cadets (who had a private pilot’s license) to rent an airplane and fly over West Point the week of the Army Rutgers football game. (Remember, football was a big deal). He dropped hundreds of professionally made red and black flyers which had a Scarlet Knight pictured spearing a Black Knight and a quote saying Rutgers ARMY ROTC says “Go Rutgers Beat Army!”. The flyers were dropped all over the West Point cadet corps during their lunchtime formation and our hero pilot, on his second pass, noticed cadets everywhere bending down to pick up the flyers!.

The second half of the mission was to also drop thousands of flyers over the Rutgers College Avenue campus (getting the local students excited about Rutgers Army ROTC). Unfortunately, part two wasn’t quite as successful as the beautiful red flyers ended up missing their target and reportedly landed in the Raritan River. Sadly, no Rutgers students (our target audiance) knew anything about our recruiting flyers :-(. So I would say that then Cadet Kauza, got a “3” or maybe a “4” that day (remember effort doesn’t count, only results count).

The final chapter of our recruiting story set the groundwork for helping today’s Rutgers Scarlet Knight Battalion and Queens Guard in raising money. Please stay with me, this is important…

Back to LTC McKay…after our boss got acclamated to his surroundings, he got to know each of us closely. As a servant leader, he made a habit of coming to us as opposed to us reporting to his office. In my office stood (sat) a huge five foot tall, four foot wide vault with this huge handle and combination dial. It was an imposing structure. When the boss asked what the safe was for, I told him it stored our money from the Coke and Pepsi machines. Then came the zinger question. He said, But Joe, “How do you account for those funds?” I opened the safe and showed him several cardboard boxes filled with quarters, several hundred dollars worth. I said, ” Sir, I don’t have time to count those quarters”. He got very serious very fast and said, ” Oh, yes you do, and you will!” After counting all the money and getting all of the quarters wrapped in quarter rolls, I went to the Rutgers administration and we decided to start a group know as the “Friends of Army ROTC”. The money would be accounted for through the university. We made the initial deposit and then took over rolled quarters every week from that point on!

So, fast forward to today…The current Rutgers Army ROTC program is supported through the Rutgers University Foundations accounting. They are producing tomorrow’s army officers, along with other ROTC programs and West Point.

Rutgers Army ROTC Today

I hope you will consider supporting Rutgers Army ROTC or the Queens Guard Precision Drill Team by:


or by sending a check to:

Accounting Department
Rutgers University Foundation
120 Albany Street Plaza
Tower 1/Suite 201
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

You can choose to support any one of four affiliated organizations now:

  1. Army ROTC Memorial Award
  2. Army ROTC Program Support,
  3. Queens Guard Support Fund, or
  4. Queens Guard Alumni Support Special Projects Fund

So, congratulations to the brand new US Army lieutenants who are being commissioned through the Rutgers Army ROTC program! I am proud of you, and proud to be a part of the history of the Rutgers Army ROTC program and the Queens Guard Prisision Drill Team! Go Scarlet Knights!


Joseph R. Sanders, LTC(R), US Army, formerly Captain Sanders Rutgers Army ROTC and Queens Guard Advisor, 1984 – 1987

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