Rebecca Modiano had no intention of joining the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corp when she arrived at Yale University as a freshman.
Modiano ’16 wanted to become a U.S. marine, but she planned to focus on being a Yale student during the semester and begin officer candidate training in the summer. Her plans changed when her freshman-year roommate, Gabrielle Fong ‘16, a member of the Naval ROTC, introduced her to the program and helped persuade her to join it. Modiano does not regret the decision.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” she said.
Modiano and Fong were among 10 Yale graduates to receive commissions as U.S. Navy ensigns on May 23 during a ceremony at Battell Chapel. Eight U.S. Air Force cadets — four from Yale, three from the University of New Haven, and one from Quinnipiac University — were commissioned as second lieutenants at the ceremony.
The cadets and midshipmen had the honor of being sworn in by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter ’76, who delivered the ceremony’s keynote address. The young officers compose the first ROTC class to complete four years of training at Yale since the program was reestablished on campus in 2011.
“I’m so pleased that ROTC is back on campus,” Carter said to an audience of the graduates’ family members, some of whom had tears in their eyes.
Yale President Peter Salovey attended the ceremony, as did Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy.
“I want to commend the 18 remarkable men and women we honor here today for embracing the awesome responsibility of leadership and accepting the noblest mission that I believe a young person can undertake, which is providing security for the American people, and indeed, much of the rest of the world,” Carter said.
ROTC was discontinued at Yale in the early 1970s amid widespread protest over American involvement in the Vietnam War. The last ROTC class to complete four years of drilling on campus graduated in 1972.
John Bodeau ’16 said being part of the first class of Air Force cadets at Yale in more than 40 years provided cadets the opportunity to shape the program.
“We were able to have a large say in what was going on with all the cadets and what happened in terms of training, and that was really great for us,” he said.
Bodeau, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering, is heading to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to serve as an engineer. He said his fellow Yale students over four years have made him feel “nothing but welcome.”
“A lot of people are curious more than anything,” he said. “It brings up a lot of good conversations. One of the beautiful things about a school like this is that there are so many people studying so many different things — and passionate about so many different things — and by surrounding ourselves with all these different people we can help educate each other.”
Modiano, who earned a degree in global affairs, said people outside the Yale community have questioned her decision to join the military instead of using her education to pursue a more lucrative career in the private sector.
“I never get that from my Yale classmates,” she said. “People are actually pretty jealous that we have job security.”
William Groff ’16 has dreamed of being an Air Force pilot since he was a child, but he declined an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy, choosing instead to attend Yale and participate in the Air Force ROTC.
Groff, who earned a degree in physics, said he chose Yale because of its academic program, the diversity of its campus, and the many unique opportunities it affords its students.
“I wanted to diversify my world view,” said Groff, who will begin pilot training in Columbus, Mississippi this summer. “I think a diverse education is important in the military.”
The students balanced the academic rigors of Yale with the often physically challenging obligations of their ROTC programs. The Air Force cadets routinely had physical training as early as 6 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. (Groff said that on occasion he had to go straight from all-night study sessions to the training field.)
The midshipmen and cadets said they appreciated the opportunity to forge new traditions in each ROTC program. For instance, Modiano and Fong are the first women to receive commissions through naval ROTC at Yale.
Modiano said they were able to help develop special events, such as hosting an annual joint Presidents Review, in which the ROTC programs drill for the Yale president and the presidents of the other participating local universities.
“That’s a great way for us to demonstrate our talents and what we work on, and it’s become a great tradition,” said Modiano, who will soon report to flight training school in Pensacola, Florida.
In a demonstration of their leadership skills, the cadets and midshipmen had the idea to invite Carter to Monday’s commissioning ceremony and worked out the arrangement themselves.
Fong, who earned a history degree, helped draft the invitation letter to the defense secretary. The cadets and midshipmen believed that inviting Carter would demonstrate the importance of ROTC on campus and highlight the role that Yale students and alumni have played over generations in the military, she said.
“We wanted to proudly share this moment with another Yalie, and doing so with someone who happens to be the secretary of defense is an amazing way to do that,” said Fong, who will soon report to the destroyer U.S.S. McCampbell in Japan.
The newly commissioned officers
Air Force Second Lieutenants
John Geoffrey Bodeau
Tyler William Detorie
William Dakota Groff
John Francis Keisling Jr.
Ronald Edward Kramer III (University of New Haven)
Dennis Michael McCullough Jr. (University of New Haven)
Catherine Mary Perrotti (Quinnipiac University)
Carissa Katharina Silva (University of New Haven)
Eric Edward Abney
Jordan Villagran Bravin
Joshua Charles Clapper
Drew William Denno
Gabrielle Ai Ling Fong
Michael Kevin Herbert
Rebecca Marie Modiano
William Warner Hinnant Overhauser
Matthew Bryar Smith
Andrew Edward Torano