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Learn about ROTC and its history at USD


Army ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) creates leaders on college campuses after graduation, serve as Army officers and lead formations into battle and win. During classes and field training, students learn first-hand what it takes to lead others, motivate groups and how to conduct missions as an Officer in the Army. Upon graduation from Army ROTC, students/cadets become a 2nd Lt. and a leader for life.

Leadership Development that Lasts a Lifetime

Army ROTC is a tuition free elective taken along each student/cadet’s chosen field of study (i.e. Economics, Business, Biology, Computer Science, etc.). ROTC prepares you with the tools, training and experiences that will help you succeed in any competitive environment. Along with great leadership training, Army ROTC can pay for college. ROTC students have a normal college experience like everyone else on campus, but when they graduate, they become an Officer in the Army.

What It Means to be an Army Officer 

Officers in the US Army are leaders, counselors, strategists and motivators. It’s similar to being a manager in a corporation. Officers lead a diverse group of Soldiers in environments that are complex, challenging and rewarding. Officers are driven to achieve success with their team on every mission.



On March 22, 1919, at the request of the President of the University and under the command of Major A. S. Balsam, a unit of Reserve Officers Training Corps (Infantry) was established at the University. Beginning in 1924 the ROTC program achieved the "distinguished college" rating and the Scabbard Blade Society was founded. The Scabbard and Blade Society focuses on military and academic excellence. In the summer of 1942, a military camp was established. As part of the WWII war effort, under the command of Col Joseph Church, 400 recruits were sent to the University of South Dakota. The constant turnover of personnel would place up to 600 recruits at the University at any one time. In early 1944, Col. Church was replaced by Maj. Fred Sims who was a University of South Dakota graduate. During the 1954-55 academic year the ROTC program was changed to General Military Science. In 1969, the compulsory element was removed from ROTC and all student participation since that time has been voluntary.

The PRAIRIE FIRE Battalion

PRAIRIE FIRE was the code-name for highly classified deep reconnaissance and strike operations conducted by well-trained, exceptionally motivated and resourceful Special Forces operational detachments into Laos during the Vietnam War. These operations were an essential part of the US Military Advisory Command's intelligence and interdiction campaign against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese during the late 1960's. The Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers who participated in PRAIRIE FIRE were resourceful, dedicated, and unafraid to assume new responsibilities and take a few chances. They were leaders.

USD ROTC Recent History

Since compulsory enrollment in ROTC was removed in the late 1960s, a strong core group of volunteers on the USD campus have consistently stepped up to take on the challenges of becoming a commissioned Officer in the Army. The Army ROTC program at the Prairie Fire Battalion has been a steady presence in Vermillion and at our partnership schools. Students from USD, Mount Marty College and Briar Cliff University, have participated in ROTC through the Prairie Fire Battalion. While the size of our program is smaller than the compulsory enrollment period, the dedication and devotion of today’s volunteers matches the spirit of the Cadets from the earlier days. The Prairie Fire Battalion is located at the Burr House on USD’s campus with Physical Training conducted at the Dakota dome and field training events scheduled throughout the local area, at military posts, and state parks.

Military Science Alumni 1922-Present

Partner Schools

Students at the following schools can participate in ROTC