CORVALLIS - Like most graduating seniors in the Air Force ROTC program at Oregon State University, Daniel Nott is looking forward to his official commissioning ceremony in June.
But while most of his fellow cadets will return to campus Sunday to receive their diplomas at OSU's commencement, Nott will already have his degree in hand. He will graduate with a computer science degree from Western Oregon University on Saturday - the day before OSU's graduation.
Nott is one of six cadets - out of a total of 85 - enrolled in OSU's Air Force ROTC program who take their primary classes at another institution, said Col. Mark Overholtzer.
"Nationwide, Air Force ROTC detachments are located at 144 colleges and universities, but the crosstown program allows cadets to attend more than 900 different institutions," Overholtzer said. "It provides cadets the opportunity to attend the university of their choice - one that meets their academic needs or fits within their financial budget.
"And the Air Force gets a new officer corps who come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences," he added. "This diversity is vitally important for leadership in a modern Air Force with military commitments around the world."
Nott says he wanted the small school experience that Western Oregon offered, but he was interested in the Air Force experience. A 2000 graduate of Churchill High School in Eugene, he enrolled at Western and began a weekly commute to Corvallis for Air Force classes and drills.
"By the time I was a junior," he said, "I was coming to OSU at least twice a week for classes and the physical workouts in the morning, and often again on weekends for special activities. Sometimes I'll drive to Corvallis six times in a week; sometimes it's twice in one day."
Yet after he graduates, Nott says he'll miss the people and the experience. He'll start navigator training at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas this summer.
Don Sandberg is just starting down a similar path to what Nott experienced. A junior in physics at the University of Oregon, he stayed close to home after graduating from Willamette High in Eugene in 1998. And though UO has an Army ROTC program, Sandberg said he has always been interested in the Air Force. "I had an uncle in the Air Force who enlisted and ended up staying in for 21 years," Sandberg said. "He loved it. So after listening to his stories, getting his input, it seemed like a natural thing to pursue."
So one day Sandberg came to the OSU campus and talked to Major James Wenschlag about the program.
"He told me since I was so far along in my studies at UO, that a two-year program might be a good fit," Sandberg said, "but I was concerned about not getting the full experience. I want to get into leadership and so I wanted to get on board for the full four years."
Russell Young is a 2003 graduate of Sprague High School in Salem, who enrolled at Linn-Benton Community College and began studying speech communication - and began coming to OSU for the Air Force ROTC program. He recently transferred to Lane Community College to pursue a flight technology degree, and plans to enroll at OSU after attending Lane.
"I've always wanted to be a pilot, every since I was very young," Young said. "I want to fly fighters. To do that, I knew I needed to be an officer, so I pursued ROTC."
Young and the others say that haven't had trouble fitting into the OSU Air Force ROTC program, despite spending only part of their time on campus.
"I fit in pretty well from the start," Young said, "because I went to the new student orientation, which is like a camp every day for a week. We did a lot of things to get to know one another, and I've made a point in getting involved in drill team and other activities."
Involvement is the key, Nott agreed.
"I never felt like an outsider," he said. "A lot of the cadets don't even know I go to Western Oregon. As a freshman, it took a while, but once you start getting into the activities, you're part of the group."
Time management is an important skill for these commuting cadets. Sandberg says he is finding ways to become more efficient.
"I work 30 hours a week for Kendall Ford in Eugene," he said, "so finding spare time isn't easy. But I'm able to do my PT - my physical training - by myself in the mornings.
"It's worth it," Sandberg added. "I'm really enjoying the experience."
Col. Overholtzer said the six cadets in Air Force ROTC this year who are not primarily enrolled at OSU all hail from UO, Western Oregon, and LBCC, though Young is transferring to Lane.
"We've previously had cadets from Western Baptist University, Chemeketa Community College and Lane Community College," he said. "We really encourage participation in the crosstown program."
And for the commuting cadets, every hour invested in travel is worth it, they say.
"Air Force ROTC is like being in a family," Young said. "When I was in high school, I was in marching band for four years and grew very close to those friends. Air Force ROTC is the same way, only more so. It is your family and friends rolled into one."