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Navy ROTC Students Test the Waters Overseas

Published: August 08, 2008
On a U.S. Navy mine hunter ship in the South China Sea, University of Tampa senior Andrew Learned watched as the ship’s crew lowered a remote operated vehicle (ROV) armed with explosives into the water. As the robotic device was driven into the depths, Learned heard a countdown, “5-4-3-2-1,” followed by an explosion that set the sea rocking.

The mission was a Navy training exercise on the removal of sea mines. It was one of the many stops Learned made this summer as one of two UT students taking part in a foreign exchange program through the Navy ROTC.

UT’s Navy ROTC, which is a partnership with the University of South Florida, gave Learned the opportunity to spend a month in Singapore, while fellow senior Maria Vasquez spent several weeks in the United Kingdom.

Learned acted as a liaison to the Singapore Navy, exchanging information and building relationships with the allied country’s military.

“It was a show-and-tell type of thing,” Learned said. “On most days in the morning, they take us to different ships and we are considered a guest of the ship. We learn about their Navy and they learn about ours.”

Learned was hand picked for the trip from a pool of Navy ROTC students from across the nation to serve on the one-month cruise. While he didn’t specifically apply to go to Singapore, his prior studies of the Chinese language and East Asian politics likely influenced the selection, he said.

His trip also included meetings with the Navy’s defense attaché as well as meals with Singapore’s naval ship captains and various exercises in seamanship training. He was also on hand for the towing of different ships through the Strait of Malacca, a waterway through which much of the world’s oil supply is transported.

For Vasquez, the base of her overseas journey was in Plymouth, England, where she worked with the British Royal Navy. Her journey included nearly a week that was spent at sea assisting with ship inspections as well as the test of a maritime anti-missile system dubbed “Sea Wolf.”

“I thought that foreign navies would be a lot different from ours, but there is a lot of similar technology,” Vasquez said. “Obviously our Navy is different because we put a lot more of our budget into it, but it’s interesting to compare the different cultures.”

Her time in the U.K. also included numerous training exercises. One such exercise simulated a rescue mission in which a sailor was thrown overboard.

Elsewhere, she worked with an aviation crew to assist with the take-off and landing of helicopters. The trip also included a visit with Britain’s Prince William, who serves in the Royal Navy.

The experience served as a complement the students’ academics; both are pursuing degrees in government and world affairs. Classified as midshipmen, Learned and Vasquez will qualify to be commissioned officers in the Navy upon graduation.

“The ROTC program was the reason I went to UT,” Learned said. “It’s actually a very good deal for UT students.”

Visit UT’s ROTC programs Web page for more information.