About the Black Bear Battalion - History
Military training began at the University of Maine in 1869, one year after the institution first opened its doors to the initial 12 students. Under the command of Captain Henry E. Sellers, who retired from active duty to teach at the University and to command the “Coburn Cadets”, the men of Maine began to study Military Science 45 years before Military Training at Land Grant Colleges would be recognized as the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).
During these early years, the cadets wore a uniform similar to that worn at West Point. Early history indicates that a Lieutenant Hersey became dissatisfied with the absence of uniformity to outer wear in 1890, and sent for uniform samples from Bangor merchants. He finally selected a dark blue beaver cloth cape as an outer garment.
In 1882, the War Department detailed the first Regular Army Officer as Professor of Military Science. Second Lieutenant Edgar W. Howe of the 17th US Infantry, established “West Point” type standards for the Coburn Cadets, to include the standards for cadet rooms.
One of the most popular aspects of the military life in the early times was the summer encampment, held initially at Prospect, Maine. The encampment gave the cadets a change of scenery and provided field experience and drill training. A typical encampment took place in 1886.
With Fort Knox, Prospect, Maine, the destination, the cadets “marched to town”, band playing, to board the train. Enroute, the college yell greeted every town and everybody along the route. Rations in those days were far from satisfactory for the account indicates that two cadets got sick from eating bad canned beef.
Because of the many conflicts that arose between “the town ruffians and the cadets” at the Fort Knox site, the encampment was moved to Searsport, Maine, in 1895. Marching to Bangor, the Corps boarded a steamer and floated down the Penobscot to Searsport. In 1896, the encampment was moved to Portland, Maine. The Commandant was a little concerned about the behavior of the cadets in a “town of such large proportions.” One of the least-liked tasks the cadets performed was the “long roll”. In the middle of the night, everyone was roused from sleep to man his defense position. In 1897 the cadets went north to Presque Isle for the October encampment. The encampment was a good one, and the cook learned that an army travels on its stomach. After serving nothing but beans for two days, the cadets responded by attacking two large pots of beans in the night and spreading them all over the ground. The food improved immensely the next day.
Once a year, the annual competitive drill was held at the Military Ball (first held in 1887) for entertainment of the couples attending. Drilling was difficult in the Corps’ early years because there was no large hall in which to march. Drill was conducted in the corridors and even these were not too perfect, thus causing the drill sessions to be cut short due to “drafts” in the corridors.
As the Maine State College grew, the Corps’ also grew. Until shortly before World War I, the Coburn Cadets had been under control of the University. However, the defense Department, needing a greater supply of officers, decided to make the Corps a Training unit, and so in 1916, the Coburn Cadets became a unit of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. With the implementation of this Act, the Government assumed control of the unit’s total future, and direction. Soon after, the instruction was updated and broadened to include Naval and Signal Training, incorporating the use of radio, telephone, flag, and heliograph.
By 1921, the Corps of Cadets was well established and began to have an impact on the community, as shown by the following recorded activity. In 1921 there was obvious need for a nurse in the Old Town-Orono area, as well as on the University campus, so ROTC sponsored a Red Cross County Fair. The cadets put on a vaudeville act and dance along with serving refreshments. The funds raised contributed towards providing nursing services in the area.
The Military Ball continued to be one of the major social events on Campus. Because of the hall size, the number of people attending was limited to 200. A queen and court were selected, and designated as Honorary Colonel and Lieutenant Colonels, respectively. The completed construction of the Memorial Gymnasium brought a new era for the Military Ball. The 1933 Ball was called “the event of the Season.”
By 1939, there were five officers and three enlisted men assigned as Cadre to the University’s ROTC Detachment. The Corps of 800 cadets, and equipment figures approached the $120,000 mark. It was during this period that the ROTC Rifle Team placed second in the Nation in Marksmanship competition. The following year, the Maine Team again finished second in the Nation, and was declared the best Team in the entire Northeast, and captured the Hearst Award for competitive sportsmanship.
With the commencement of World War II, the ROTC program was drastically reduced, as many of the men took up arms for the Armed Forces; 1,370 fought in a combat theatre; and 162 gave their lives for their country.
By 1947, the Corps answers an urgent call; the entire unit fought the big Maine fire which raged over 200,000 acres of southeastern Maine.
In 1956, the Corps numbered close to 1,000, with units structured to enable all seniors to hold leadership positions, to include a 60-man ROTC band, which played at home football games. The Flight Training Program was also implemented in this year for those ROTC seniors who sought to be commissioned aviators.
In the early sixties, students on campuses throughout the Country, including the University of Maine, strongly objected to the concept of mandatory ROTC. In 1964, the Maine Legislature amended the State Law, and the ROTC program at the University of Maine became voluntary. Although the late sixties brought a reduction in enrollment figures at Maine, those who have participated have built professionalism and esprit within their ranks.
In 1973, a new dimension was added to the Program. Ten coeds became the first women to enroll in the ROTC program at the University of Maine. Female cadets participate in all activities of the Cadet Corps and receive the same benefits as the males. In 1976, the first woman officer to be commissioned at the University of Maine received her Second Lieutenant Bars.
The current ROTC program appeals to the varied interests of the University student and provides an alternate career path in addition to a selected major field of study.
The Army ROTC program options add new dimensions to the student’s future career paths. ROTC training instills in them increased perspectives and abilities in areas such as self confidence, leadership, teamwork, self pride, ethical values, and patriotism. These existing skills and values are enhanced and given new meaning as they progress towards their dual goals of becoming a college graduate and an officer in the United States Army. They are challenged both mentally and physically to reach their maximum potential as they progress through their ROTC training.
The Army ROTC training is a combination of formal classroom education and leadership labratory experiences which offer extensive hands-on training on a wide variety of military skills. Additionally, there are opportunities to attend high skill-oriented courses such as: Airborne School, Air Assault School, Northern Warfare Training School, and Mountain School.
The educational development of the student is of paramount importance to the ROTC program, reinforcing the premise that education is the key to a successful, challenging, and exciting future.