The history of Michigan Tech is closely interwoven with that of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. In 1917, over 300 men of the 1st Battalion, 107th Engineers, were mobilized on campus. Every officer of this battalion was a graduate of Michigan Tech. In addition, many students and faculty members joined Company "G," 125th Infantry, 32nd Division.
In the summer of 1928, the War Department authorized the formation of an Engineer Unit of the Reserve Officers Training Corps at the Michigan College of Mining and Technology. Establishment of this unit was accomplished largely through the effort of Professor Julius T. Natchazel, a past member of the academic faculty and a former Army officer. On October 26, 1928, the first federal inspection was conducted on campus. By November, the unit included approximately 100 cadets, and the required courses were under way. Although the program was voluntary, this initial enrollment included the entire freshman class. As a result of the first years’ work, and the annual inspection, members of the unit were authorized to wear a blue star on the sleeve of their uniforms—denoting the designation of the unit as an honor unit.
In 1930, it was decided that more color was desired in the uniform. A committee of cadet officers, working with the military staff, designed a shoulder patch to be worn on the uniforms of ROTC cadets. The shield-shaped patch, showing Michigan Tech’s old name (Michigan College of Mining and Technology), had a golden background for the upper portion, with a husky dog's head superimposed. The stamina and sturdiness of the husky—and its prowess in the North Country—suited Michigan Tech’s far-north location well. The school has now taken the silver husky as its symbol, and members of Michigan Tech’s athletic teams are known as Huskies. The lower part of the patch was scarlet on the left and white on the right—the colors of the Corps of Engineers. Thus, the patch not only contains the college colors of silver and gold, but also indicates being a unit of the Corps of Engineers.
The records of former members have proven the effectiveness of this engineer ROTC unit; great credit is due to its original organizers who foresaw its eventual value. Capable and enthusiastic Army officers functioned as Professor of Military Science and Tactics, and maintained the Michigan Tech ROTC. During the 1930s, the college’s male student enrollment gradually increased to 900, while enrollment in the ROTC unit reached approximately 400 just prior to World War II. In 1934, the uniform was changed to a dark whipcord cap and blouse, and light-shade elastic trousers (commonly known as “pinks and greens"). Sam Browne belts and sabers were retained.
Two years later, a new indoor range was constructed by the college to replace the range in the storage attic of the gymnasium (later known as the "Clubhouse," and presently as the "ROTC Building"). Supply facilities were also established in the building, which housed the new range. Civilian Pilot Training (later Civilian Aeronautics Authority, or CAA) was included under the ROTC program in 1939. By the end of World War II, approximately 300 students had completed work under these programs.
In 1943, the advanced-course ROTC was discontinued throughout the country, and the basic course greatly reduced in strength. However, the introduction of the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) in August of that year brought the Military Department and its staff to its all-time peak strength of 10 officers and 13 enlisted men. It resulted in the training of some 2,650 students prior to its termination in 1946. The major curriculum changes between 1943 and 1946 were the dropping of the ROTC program and its replacement by the 98th College Training Detachment—the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program (ASTRP). All in all, there were 1,248 trainees in various Army programs and 1,402 trained by the Army Air Corps. During this period, students enrolled in the college under this program constituted as much as 80 percent of the total regularly enrolled male students.
In 1946, the Army Engineer ROTC program was reestablished and an Air Corps ROTC program was initiated. All basic-course students were in a common class, instructed by both Engineer and Air Corps personnel. Students in advanced courses received prescribed technical instruction from personnel of the respective services. The experiences of the Armed Forces during World War II were incorporated into the doctrine being taught. After an enrollment of only six students in 1946, the combined Air and Engineer ROTC enrollment approximated 300 by the fall of 1948. In February 1947, Michigan Tech Squadron No. 1, a branch ROTC unit (basic course only), began with 34 students at the College's Sault Ste. Marie Branch (today, Lake Superior State University) who were enrolled as cadets. In the fall of 1947, the ROTC Department moved into its present quarters on the main campus in the building previously known as the "gymnasium," and more recently as the "Clubhouse."
In 1949, the United States Air Force attained separate autonomy under the Department of the Defense, and the Air Force ROTC was set up as a separate entity in the college. The ranking Air Force officer on the ROTC staff was designated by the President of the college, Dr. Grover C. Dillman, as the Professor of Air Science and Tactics. From that time on, the Air Force (AFROTC) has been a separate department of the college and has developed distinct course content, uniforms, and administration. Entering first-year students choose between the two programs, both of which are voluntary.
ROTC facilities have steadily improved since the initiation of the program. Classrooms have been modernized, numerous training aids have been provided (including projection equipment and models), and office and storage space has been expanded as needs arise. A drill team, known as "MacArthur's Engineers," was established in 1950. A Military Ball is held annually in the spring, the Army ROTC small-bore rifle team participates in many matches, and the Corps of Cadets has marched in street parades on National holidays and at numerous college exercises.
During 1960, a new Army ROTC curriculum involving one third fewer hours was adopted. Frank Kerekes, the Michigan College of Mining and Technology dean of faculty, was honored by the presentation of a letter of commendation, which conferred a distinguished civilian service certificate signed by the Honorable Wilber Brucker, who served as Secretary of the Army at the time. The title of Professor of Military Science and Tactics was also changed to Professor of Military Science during this year.
From 1962 to 1963, the curriculum for juniors was changed to add a course in tactics, since all juniors would go to a General Military Science summer camp rather than Engineer branch summer camp.
On the 25th of March 1974, the status of the unit was changed from an Engineer Branch Material ROTC Program to a General Military Science Program. The curriculum was changed from one in which all graduates were commissioned in the Corps of Engineers to one in which the students could request to enter any suitable Army branch. As a result, Michigan Tech graduates now enter the Engineers, Infantry, Ordnance, Armor, Field Artillery, Air Defense Artillery, and other Corps. This allows students to request assignments closely related to their academic fields.
Starting with the fall semester of 1975, a cross-town ROTC program agreement was signed between Suomi College of Hancock and Michigan Tech. Students from Suomi would enroll there, and Tech ROTC staff would provide instruction at Suomi. In June of 1976, the Senior ROTC unit at Lake Superior State College, a sub-unit of this Detachment, was disestablished.
A new era began when the Michigan Tech ROTC program was opened to enrollment of female students. Participation by women in the course now stands at approximately seven percent.