New commander at the helm
Though it has maintained a presence on the University of Missouri campus since 1946, Naval ROTC has been affiliated with the College of Engineering since 1980, and recently, the unit has come under new command.
Captain Michael A. Vizcarra, first commissioned by the Navy in 1984, assumed command of MU’s Reserve Officers Training Corp Unit in August. Prior to being assigned to the post, he served as Commander of Fleet Activities in Okinawa, Japan.
“I am a Florida state resident but we’ve actually lived in Japan three times,” he said of his family’s many moves. “We wanted a small college town and we wanted a place where we could experience all four seasons. Not ever having lived anywhere in the Midwest, my wife Sherri looked online for information about Columbia, and everything she read about it, she really liked.
“Our kids are in high school, and I had a chance to look at the schools when I was here,” he said, adding that he liked what he saw. “Every person I talked to about Columbia said they came here, not necessarily intending to stay, but that it’s a great place and the people are great too. We haven’t looked back.”
Vizcarra became a Naval Flight Officer in 1986 and in his steady climb through the Navy’s ranks, he has accumulated over 3,600 flight hours piloting F-14s and F-18s with nearly 1,000 carrier take-offs and landings. “I’m glad I did it,” he said, “but I’m definitely glad to be spending time with my family now. I miss flying a little bit, but this way I can teach my kids to drive. I’m a family guy.”
He wholeheartedly believes that throughout his 27-year connection to the Navy he has been presented with great opportunities and that his experiences have led him to this job, serving as a mentor for young men and women starting down the same path.
Nationally, 6,000 people apply to the NROTC program, but only 1,200 are accepted each year. MU’s program is holding steady at 85 students — midshipmen and women — with a freshman class of 35 this semester. Vizcarra had nothing but praise for the group who he said graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes with an average 3.85 GPA.
Once in the Navy, officer quality continues to the highest level. If a continuation board fails to promote an officer because he or she fails to show his or her utility — reason to be retained — under the “perform to serve” policy, that officer would be asked to leave. “It keeps the quality up,” Vizcarra said.
MU’s midshipmen are divided nearly in half between future careers in either the Navy or the Marines — their choice — and this year, four of the women in the freshman class are in the Nursing Corps. NROTC students can choose to major in any field but Vizcarra said that the Navy is pushing for 85 percent technical majors because these days the fleet is nuclear-powered.
Vizcarra noted that today’s Navy serves in an entire spectrum of varying roles and situations, from war to humanitarian assistance, as in the case of Katrina. On a deployment during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, his ship provided water, power and 600 hospital beds for civilian victims.
“My objective is to produce the best officers possible,” said Vizcarra who teaches ‘Introduction to Naval Science’. Academics are a priority. We have a mandatory 10 hours per week study hall.”
NROTC’s senior capstone class examines leadership and ethics, which Vizcarra said covers some tough questions. It is writing intensive and involves very critical thinking. “Part of being a leader is making a judgment call, one that you have to live with.
“Our motto is, ‘Honor, Courage and Commitment.’ That’s what we live by,” Vizcarra said.