Managing academics, athletics, social life and the transition to college can be difficult for any first year student. For Amir Parker ’19, juggling all of this is only half the battle. 

Parker is also enrolled in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at the University of Southern Maine (USM), the only Bowdoin student to do so.

“I’ve known for a while that I wanted to join the military,” Parker said. His family has a long history of military service—his older brother is currently enlisted in the Coast Guard, and his father is a retired Army veteran.

Though ROTC programs exist at over 1,000 colleges, Bowdoin does not have such a program.
Although Parker considered attending college and then enrolling in Officer Candidate School afterward, he ultimately chose the ROTC program so that he could enroll in college and train for the military at the same time. Upon graduation, he will be commissioned as an officer and have a four year obligation to the U.S. Army.

To Parker, enrolling at Bowdoin and completing ROTC at USM was a simple choice. But many of his friends and advisors initially thought he might be overcommitting himself.

“They were a bit skeptical and worried because they felt like it was a lot,” Parker said. 
His schedule is certainly busy. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, he drives to the USM campus in Portland for physical training.

Workouts include running, sit-ups, push-ups and a practice known as “rucking,” in which Parker and his fellow cadets run with backpacks full of military gear that often weigh up to 50 pounds. While such exercises would be demanding at any hour of the day, Parker and his fellow ROTC cadets deal with the added difficulty of operating on little sleep.  

“I have to get up at 3:30 usually, and if we ruck, I have to get up at 3:00,” Parker said.
His ROTC training goes beyond just physical exercise. He attends weekly leadership training every Wednesday and engages in tactical training and field exercises on Friday afternoons.

When the military requirements and the demands of being a Bowdoin student seem overwhelming, Parker makes sure to keep his challenges in perspective.

“I really don’t think it’s hard at all because the way I look at it is that there are people who actually have hard lives,” Parker said. “I don’t think it’s hard. I just think it’s a good opportunity. It’s a challenging opportunity. It’s an opportunity for me to embrace a challenge. When I wake up, I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to sleep or what I’m going to eat, so I don’t really think of it as being hard. That’s the mindset I attack it with.”

Such a mindset helps Parker mentally deal with his demanding schedule. On a practical level, he employs a strategy of rigorous time management.

“Pretty much every minute of my day is planned out. I don’t have much time to waste,” Parker said.

While military service always seemed natural to Parker, his path to Bowdoin wasn’t as clear. 

Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Parker had never heard of Bowdoin until a college advisor at his high school suggested he apply. He submitted an application despite knowing fairly little about the College, but decided to attend Bowdoin after a campus visit last April.

Parker shares the College’s commitment to the Common Good. In his hometown of Baltimore, he worked to mentor inner city youth through football.

Just in case schoolwork and military training weren’t enough to keep him busy, he is a member of Bowdoin’s varsity football team, too.

Unsurprisingly, Parker doesn’t have much time to attend campus events or parties. 

“The first time I actually even got to go to a party was Epicuria,” Parker said. “That was the first time since I’ve been at Bowdoin that I went out. And I had a good time.”

Although he rarely goes out on weekends and spends significant time off campus, Parker has nonetheless found it fairly easy to make connections at Bowdoin.

“I still have good friends on the football team. I have good friends on my floor. I have good friends that aren’t associated with my floor or the football team,” Parker said. “So it’s not that my social life sucks, necessarily.”

He has also found a good support system within the Bowdoin community, including a group of friends and advisors who help ensure his workload remains under control.

“They have been supportive. They’ve had my back,” said Parker. “They’ve been checking in with me periodically just to make sure things are running smoothly, and they’ve been great about that.”

Parker will continue to rely on such friendships moving forward. He is committed to the ROTC program for all four years. At Bowdoin, he plans to study physics with the goal of someday doing engineering work in the Army.

“I do want to make a career out of the military,” Parker said.