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A SALUTE TO 125 YEARS / A&M celebrates Corps of Cadets

RON NISSIMOV Staff

SUN 09/16/2001 Houston Chronicle, Section A, Page 31 MetFront, 4 STAR Edition

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COLLEGE STATION - In October, Texas A&M University will celebrate its founding in 1876.

But this week, A&M will hold a separate 125th anniversary celebration for its Corps of Cadets, a group of students who undergo military training while earning their degrees.

It is no accident the Corps is having its celebration first. As Texas' oldest student organization, the Corps is credited with creating and preserving many of the university's traditions.

"Throughout A&M's history, the military tradition set forth by those first cadets has remained an integral part of what's important about Aggieland," said Don Crawford of Dallas, a 1964 A&M graduate who volunteers as the executive director of the Corps of Cadets Association alumni group.

The celebration, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, will feature a reunion of thousands of Corps alumni, a huge military flyover featuring vintage and modern airplanes, a speech by Corps alum Gov. Rick Perry, and a golf tournament featuring professional golfer and former A&M student Jeff Maggert.

About 10,000 people are expected to attend, said Crawford.

Founded in 1876 as a land-grant institution with the aim of training military officers, A&M until 1965 required that all its undergraduate students who did not have prior military experience enroll in the Corps.

Upon graduation, students would receive a military commission.

A&M has produced more military officers than any U.S. university that is not a military academy, said John Adams of Laredo, a 1973 graduate who recently published a book called Keepers of the Spirit: The Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University, 1876-2001.

In 1965, the university made enrollment in the Corps voluntary in order to try to become a major research university and attract women, he said.

Women and minorities were first admitted to the university in the 1960s, but women's enrollment stayed relatively small until on-campus housing was provided in the early 1970s, Adams said.

Since 1969, membership in the Corps has held steady at around 2,000, while the university's enrollment has more than tripled, from 14,000 students then to 44,000 today.

"The numbers are small compared to the student body, but make no mistake they have a dramatic impact on the campus," said Jack Rains of Houston, a 1953 graduate who served as Texas secretary of state from 1987 to 1990 and was founding chairman of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority.

Perhaps the best-known A&M tradition is the Aggie Bonfire before football games with archrival University of Texas.

The university put the tradition on hold after the 1999 collapse that killed 12 students, but it plans to revive it next year with safety improvements.

Other traditions that grew out of the Corps include Silver Taps, a solemn ritual held every month that an A&M student dies; Aggie Muster, an annual roll call of A&M alumni who died in the previous year; the 12th Man, symbolizing the importance of A&M fans at football games; and kissing dates when the Aggies score at football games.

"When the team scores, everybody scores," said Maj. Doc Mills, who oversees a university department devoted to running the Corps.

Burke Wilson, a junior cadet from Nederland, said that on a typical school day, Corps members wake up at 5:45 a.m., run two or three miles, line up in formation during the raising of the flag, march to breakfast and eat as a group, attend classes until midafternoon, perform an afternoon activity or drill at 4 p.m., gather in formation again as the flag is lowered at 5:30 p.m., eat dinner as a group, and have mandatory study time for freshmen and sophomores from 7 to 10 p.m. He said students can get permission to stay up to study after 10 p.m., but most are tired and go to sleep.

Cadets live in a 12-unit dormitory complex known as "the Quad," where upperclassmen can frequently be heard yelling at underclassmen and underclassmen ritualistically greet their superiors.

"I'm in the Corps for camaraderie and leadership experience," said Wilson. "To be a good leader, you have to be a follower first."

Mills said a major goal of the Corps is to increase enrollment to 2,600 students because it would fill up the Quad area that was built in 1939. Currently, two of the dormitories house non-Corps students.

Col. Anthony "Shady" Groves, who works in the Commandant's Office that oversees the Corps, said recruitment and retention are two ways the Corps are using to reach that figure.

All Texas A&M marching band members are required to be in the Corps.

To recruit students, the Corps emphasizes academics and leadership training, Mills said, and in recent years it has increased the number of available scholarships. Students are given the option of attending two years of ROTC classes and then staying in the Corps as "drill and ceremony" cadets.

About 70 percent of the Corps is composed of the latter group, with the rest finishing four years of ROTC training and earning a commission in a branch of the military.

Adams said hazing has been rooted out of the Corps, and cadets today are known for having a higher grade-point average than the rest of the university. He said many employers are eager to hire Corps graduates.

Groves said freshman Corps retention currently stands at 75 percent, with more than 90 percent of students who make it through the first year staying in the Corps. He said the goal for first-year retention is 85 percent.

Adams said the number of women in the Corps has hovered around 100 since they were first admitted in 1973. Groves said about half of the women drop out because of the "lifestyle."

Mills and Groves said they did not know the percentages of minorities in the Corps, but that it is likely close to the percentage of minorities on the rest of the campus. A&M is 85 percent white.

Barbara Monje, a sophomore from Long Island, N.Y., who spent two years in the Army before enrolling as a freshman at A&M, said she planned to get her commission through the Corps.

She said she chose A&M because of its combination of military training and conventional college experience.

"If I went to West Point," she said, "I would miss out on the college experience."

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