The Military Science program was established at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1876 under the provisions of the Morrill "Land Grant" Act of 1862. At the time, 57 out of 100 male students enrolled in the University colleges elected to take military science. Throughout its history, the program has been strongly supported by both the Regents and the University administration. Student support, however, has fluctuated from rejection to fanatic participation, to acceptance, very much reflecting the prevailing moods of the state and nation.
During the first decade, the Regents made Military Science compulsory. The next quarter century witnessed the development of a very strong military curriculum, although at times against student opposition. Lieutenant John J. Pershing, yet to gain fame on the Mexican Border and in World War I, became the Commandant in 1891. Under his leadership, the Cadet Battalion grew consistently, gaining acclaim for its proficiency in both military circles and within the State of Nebraska. The Pershing Era, only four years in duration, set a pattern that was followed until 1917.
True ROTC began in Nebraska in 1916, when the University unit was inducted under provisions of the National Defense Act of 1916. When the U.S. entered World War I, the unit was converted into a Student's Army Training Corps (SATC) contingent, at which time trained over 1,700 cadets in Military Science. The life of SATC was short and in December 1918, ROTC was re-established. The compulsory program continued to grow and in 1941, prior to the U.S. entry into World War II, the Regiment of cadets numbered 2,300 and was composed of one Infantry, one Field Artillery, and one Engineer Battalion.
After the war, ROTC took a new look at Nebraska. In 1945, a Naval ROTC program was added to the curriculum, followed a year later by an Air Force unit. In 1964, the Board of Regents reversed the position it had held since 1876. Following the guidelines of the ROTC Revitalization Act of 1964, the program became voluntary at Nebraska.
In 1969, following a national trend, the University appointed a joint NU-ROTC Committee to review the Military Science programs. The report, issued in May 1971, is a milestone in the development of a truly integrated academic-military program for the cadets. The most significant recommendation was the placement of all the Military Science programs under a Joint ROTC Curriculum Committee, headed by the vice chancellor for academic affairs with members from both the military and academic faculties.
UNL began expanding its ROTC roots to other colleges in 1975 adding first Doane College, then Concordia University in 1979, Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1993, York College in 1996 and most recently the University of Nebraska-Kearney in 2008. The formal agreement between these institutions and UNL allows students from each college and university to participate in UNL ROTC while receiving their education from their respective school. With the addition of these colleges and universities, the Big Red Battalion looks to continue its proud tradition of success of raising young Leaders and Officers for the United States Army.