The Army ROTC was approved for Ohio University by the Department of the Army in September 1935. A total of three officers and one non-commissioned officer from the Regular Army were authorized for the new unit. The Board of Trustees in 1936 formally approved the establishment of the ROTC unit (Voluntary Program - Infantry Training) at Ohio University.
On 7 March 1936, Major Merritt E. Olmstead arrived for duty as the acting Professor of Military Science. First Sergeant George Wallace reported for duty with the new unit on 1 April 1936, thus completing the assignment of Cadre personnel. Because of a large ROTC enrollment of 145 students, it was found that two additional enlisted positions were needed. Accordingly, with this new authorization, Sergeant Charles H. Fair and Private First Class Luther B. Andrews were assigned to the University. The first meeting of all classes was held on 17 September 1936, at which time COL McNeill gave them a general orientation. In the absence of President Herman G. James, Dean John R. Johnston, Dean of Men, gave an address to the assembled ROTC students. ROTC thus began at Ohio University.
ROTC established itself more firmly in the social life during the year by sponsoring and successfully conducting the Military Ball held under the jurisdiction of the University. Since then the Military Ball has been the outstanding annual social function.
In May 1937 a group of thirty-four ROTC students, having formed a temporary organization called the "Kaydets," petitioned the Campus Affairs Committee for authority of organize a chapter of the Pershing Rifles for the Basic Course students. The application was approved and a charter was granted by the National Society of Pershing Rifles to this organization as of 27 May 1937, under the title of Company F, First Regiment of Pershing Rifles. The ROTC Armory with an indoor rifle range was completed under the east wing of Peden Football Stadium in December 1937. On 20 May 1938, Company F, First Regiment, Pershing Rifles, attended their first competition drill at Columbus, Ohio. With the growth of the ROTC, Company A of the Scabbard and Blade was formed and they held their first Spring Formal on 17 May 1940, in the ballroom of the Berry Hotel. For the school year 1940, there were 89 students in the ROTC Program. The school year 1942-43 found the total enrollment in ROTC climbing to 753 Cadets. Because of the emergency, military training was made compulsory as of 28 September 1943.
In October 1964, a new law, the ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964, provided increased opportunities and advantages for students enrolled in, or about to enter college. The four-year program continued with increased pay for students in the advanced course, and the new two-year program for students who were unable to participate in ROTC during their first two years of college, junior college or while in attendance at the regional campuses of Ohio University. The new law also authorized financial assistance in the form of ROTC scholarships for carefully selected students in the four-year program.
The adoption of the academic quarter system by Ohio University beginning in the fall of 1967 gave birth to the program as you see it today. Added in 1968 was Counterinsurgency Company, its purpose being to provide interested students with information and practical experience in counterinsurgency operations.
In 1976, enrollment numbers had dropped significantly enough to place the program under evaluation and spur the possibility of elimination. However, Ohio University alumnus, General James Abraham, then assistant adjutant general of the Ohio National Guard, pushed through a pilot program which allowed National Guardsman to enroll in the ROTC program and be commissioned upon graduation. The program was the first of its kind in the nation and led to the Simultaneous Membership Program or SMP, which was later implemented nationwide. Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, enrollment figures grew and stabilized, while the program retained its reputation for producing excellent officers.
During the 1990s, the program earned a reputation for academic and leadership excellence. The entire curriculum was revised in the spring of 1998. Through close cooperation with the university and community, the program has been able to build upon its excellence. In 1998, the program added a Field Leadership Reaction Course and a Hand Grenade Assault Course. In the 21st Century, Bobcat Battalion Cadets exceeded the grading average at the annual Cadet Assessment Course (Advance Camp) for nearly 20 straight years, the only ROTC program in the nation with such a consistent record of excellence.
The Bobcat Battalion won the 2017 McArthur Award for being one of the top eight ROTC programs out of 275 programs in the United States.
Today, the department provides a robust training program that is considered one of the best in the nation. The Bobcat Battalion continues to improve and create an environment that consistently produces outstanding commissioned officers.