Crossing the Charles—ROTC Style

Alyssa Pybus '16, Army ROTC

Editors Note: In May, a group of Army ROTC cadets participated in the "Crossing the Charles" event in a flotilla of five canoes. Former cadet Alyssa Pybus '16, cadet now a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, chronicled the experience for DUE News.

MIT Army ROTC Crossing the Charles eventOn May 7, 2016, a group of highly motivated cadets from MIT’s Army ROTC program conducted Operation Meuse. The rest of MIT simply referred to this event as “Crossing the Charles,” part of the celebration of MIT’s move from Boston to Cambridge 100 years ago. But Army cadets like to use our own unique lingo. The name Operation Meuse refers to a famous river crossing from WWII by German engineers, one that is frequently studied and analyzed by military scholars and cadets. In another nod to the engineering culture of MIT, we called ourselves Team “Essayons,” the motto of the U.S. Army Engineers. As a disclaimer, I chose the team and operation name as a future Army Engineer myself, and the other cadets may not be fully aware that I’m trying to subconsciously recruit them into the Engineering branch.

MIT Army ROTC Crossing the Charles eventParticipating in MIT’s centennial celebration in was an honor and a privilege. It was made extra special by the fact that this year, on June 3, Army ROTC celebrated its own 100-year anniversary. In fact, our program at MIT is often asserted to be the first in the nation. Many people don’t know this, but military instruction at MIT dates all the way back to the school’s first classes in 1865. Because MIT was established under the Land Grant Act of 1862, all first and second year students were required to be a part of the MIT Cadet Battalion and take part in an hour and a half of military instruction per week.

We have many fewer cadets today, and the time commitment is quite a bit more than 1.5 hours every week, but our program is built on the history of those who came before us. More U.S. military officers from MIT served in World War I than any other school except the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The names of our fallen MIT veterans who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War are engraved in Lobby 10, recently (and appropriately) renamed Memorial Lobby.  Commemorating that service of the past 100 years was a special honor for each of the 12 cadets who participated.

MIT Army ROTC Crossing the Charles eventAside from being deeply meaningful, the Crossing the Charles event was also “the best way I could’ve possibly spent my weekend,” as one of our first year cadets said. We dressed up in uniforms from the past 100 years, including World War I doughboy outfits, World War II officer and enlisted uniforms (one with a classic bomber jacket), Korean War uniforms, and Battle Dress Uniforms from the 80s and 90s. The day even featured an eventful trip to Shake Shack on Newbury Street while waiting for our dock departure time (thanks for the complimentary fries, Shake Shack!).

At 14:28, our fleet of five canoes, organized by time periods of uniforms, rowed away from the Gloucester Street dock towards Smoot 0 and beyond. One canoe fell behind and another was a bit side-tracked and ended up drifting under the bridge (freshmen—what can you do?), but overall the crossing was glorious.

Personally, as a senior graduating and commissioning into the Army this year, this was the perfect event to end my four-year ROTC experience. It may sound like a classic cliché, but I don’t know any other way to say it: these friendships forged with my fellow future soldiers, who have also made the commitment to serve, are some of the strongest I’ve ever had. Our esprit de corps, a deep sense of belonging in our organization, was strengthened immeasurably on that day through the commemoration of MIT, ROTC, and those who came before us.