Brigman Rees ’15
HOMETOWN: Kittery, Maine
MAJORS: history, philosophy; oral communication/rhetoric
Brigman Rees always knew he wanted to be in the military. While he was in high school, at age 17, he enlisted in the National Guard.
But when the time came for him to graduate and determine life's next steps, he wanted to throw a Christian, liberal arts college education into the mix. And his search led him to Calvin, where he could take classes from a Christian perspective, run track and enroll in the military's Reserve Officer Training Corps—or ROTC, as it's better known.
Didn't know Calvin offered an ROTC program? Neither do a lot of people. Brigman hopes to change that.
"It's a challenge to do both [college and ROTC], but I love ROTC and I encourage people to give it a try—it has so much to offer," Brigman says. "The program is primarily class-based learning, but also gives you people skills and physical training. It's a good test to see how you can handle yourself during stressful times."
As a member of the Army ROTC at Calvin, Brigman is dually enrolled at Western Michigan University, which serves as the parent school for the military program. There, all cadets in the "Bronco Battalion" take leadership classes—one per semester—led by active Army instructors from all over the country. Each semester, they spend one weekend at historic Fort Custer for field training. Other weekends often involve volunteering for ROTC events or optional tactical training. And at least three times a week, the Calvin cadets meet at 6 a.m. for an hour of physical training.
That's on top of the work that Brigman and the other cadets put in as full-time students. But the academic excellence at Calvin makes it worth it, he says.
"I could have gone anywhere [for college], but I wanted the perspective of Christian thought displayed through history and philosophy, the two areas of study that I was interested in. And I was blown away by the quality of faculty in each department here.
"You have to know someone who can help you be the best, and my professors have definitely done that."
A junior this year, Brigman has worked his way up to the rank of platoon sergeant in the Bronco Battalion. This means he now leads the morning physical training sessions and watches out for the 21 other cadets at Calvin—a role he takes very seriously.
"We're a support structure—we take care of each other," he says. "I came out here with no friends, so I understand what it's like to be alone. So I make sure my door is always open to all the new freshmen."
That sense of community is one big benefit that Brigman has come to appreciate about his ROTC experience. Another benefit is the program's financial aid, which will enable him to complete his education at Calvin. ROTC offers scholarships, monthly stipends, and other forms of tuition assistance to those who are contracted with the program.
A contract involves an eight-year minimum commitment to some form of military service, which could deter some students who might otherwise benefit from the program. But Brigman is quick to point out that the contract doesn't need to be signed on the first day—or even during the first year.
"A lot of people write [ROTC] off as 'not for me,'" Brigman says, "but don't count it out. You have options, and you have time to make the big decisions. I would not have had the same experiences or learned the same lessons without this program."
And that military commitment doesn't have to be a full-time, active-duty role, either. After graduating from Calvin, Brigman plans to be commissioned as an officer in the Army National Guard, where he'll work one weekend per month and two weeks every summer for the National Guard, for the remainder of his commitment period.
Doing this will enable him to pursue what he'd like to do for a career: working with children at a nonprofit like the Boys and Girls Club—"encouraging kids to BE someone." It will mean a few years of working two jobs—but that's what his dual enrollment during college has prepared him to do.
"ROTC is supposed to teach you ways to adapt, and that's the key to college. If you don't adapt, you can't survive. I was just an average high school student, but at Calvin I was encouraged to stay on top of my grades. I've been able to do that as a result of the discipline that both ROTC and Calvin have given me. I was able to not only adapt, but excel."