It's 6:30 a.m. and shadows still cover the campus, seemingly deserted and quiet except for the sound of occasional leaves rustling on the ground. An abrupt 'Good morning' rings out, echoing across the Quad before silence falls again. But not for long. The silhouettes facing Carnegie Library repeat the phrase in unison, their hands behind their backs. The sea of men and women, dressed in identical green shirts with a U.S. flag displayed on the back, black shorts and a yellow band wrapped around their waists, have more in common than their attire — all are members of the Army ROTC program, designed for students to graduate college as officers in the Army. David Harding, a senior American history major, is closer than ever to achieving this. Harding and his peers' arms hang by their sides before proceeding into swift jumping jacks, done perfectly in unison. After stretching, they scatter off in groups to different parts of the darkened Quad, their bags and hats spread out on the ground as the only reminder they'd been there. —– Harding credits his grandfather for igniting his interest in joining the Army. Running up to his grandfather, 5-year-old Harding announced he was going to be a daredevil when he grew up. 'He just looks at me straight-faced and says, 'That's stupid. How are you going to do anything beneficial to anyone else by being a daredevil?' I was 5 years old, but it stuck with me.' Although Harding prepares for a career in the Army, he said his life isn't so different from any other college student's — besides the early morning workouts. ROTC is not a major, but a program. He takes 15 credits. He's in the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He spent a semester on the rowing team. His four roommates are in ROTC, but he has other friends outside of the program. In a sense, he gets the best of both worlds. 'I think it's a lot of fun. You get to play Army on the weekends and get to be a regular college student as well,' he said. 'I mean, it sucks having to wake up that early. But once you wake up, it's like you could go all day.' But Harding isn't a stranger to early mornings. He and his family live on a farm 45 minutes away, a lifestyle that required him to wake up before dawn. 'It doesn't make any difference, except now I like what I'm doing,' he laughed. His parents recognize that, completely supporting him in his dreams, though naturally worried for his safety. In seventh grade, Harding told his Mom he wanted to be in the military. Not long after, he told her he was going to join the Army. 'She said, 'OK, just don't go into infantry,' and now I'm contemplating it just to mess with her,' he joked. —– The next hour, physical training, 'PT,' puts the cadets through a variety of exercises. Today, there are no breaks. No time to grab any water. Just running. Harding sprints back and forth, sometimes backward. Again and again. He even flashes a few smiles, and some cadets teasingly try to outrun one another. They stop running only to do crunches, jumping jacks and other exercises. During the skydiver exercise, which requires them to lie on their stomachs and tilt to each side, their serious demeanors dissipate, and they break out into laughter at how ridiculous they look. But sprinting isn't over. Everyone comes together again for a relay race. Cadets run around the border of the Quad and those watching enthusiastically cheer, whistling and clapping in support. At 7:30 a.m., the cadets end where they began — facing Carnegie Library, their hands behind their backs. Now it's bright enough to see everything clearly. Students wander through the Quad for their 8 a.m. classes; some glance over. —– On the third floor of Archbold Gymnasium, past ROTC posters and colorful flags, Harding rushes into a room with 11 individuals sitting around a table in full uniform, wearing a hat and brown boots. Before the weekly meeting, some sit at the computers, talking and laughing. One cadet lies down on a sofa, his cap pulled over his face. The meeting starts. The air becomes serious as each individual glances at a PowerPoint presentation, updating the others about their particular jobs. Afterward, they all head down the hallway to their classroom. Harding and others scribble notes that correspond to the lesson, such as the military decision-making process and the role of the commander. ——- Still in uniform, Harding walks out of Archbold. A girl uncomfortably stares at him, trying to figure out if she should salute him. Instead, she awkwardly raises her arm before lowering it sharply. 'I can tell you countless times when I'm walking down the street and I've seen people literally cross the street or the Quad just because they see me in uniform. I intimidate them,' he said with a sigh. He pauses for a few moments, looking off in the distance before continuing. 'It's kind of disheartening when you join a cause to help people and they're scared.' —– In the end, all the early mornings, the nights of partying he sacrifices to get enough sleep and the misunderstandings of other students haven't deterred Harding from what he wants to do. 'I wanted to join the Army to help people because I want to make a difference,' he said. 'I know that's kind of corny, but that's what's driving me right now to do it because I feel like I can make a difference.'
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