Still, the number of students enrolled in ROTC units is substantially down from its peak in the mid-1960s, and even the latest flurry of support for all things military probably won't totally reverse the trend.
"At the height of the Cold War, we had larger programs, but we also had larger needs," said Paul Kotakis, spokesman for the Army ROTC headquarters at Fort Monroe in Virginia.
Nationwide, 29,818 students enrolled in Army ROTC units this academic year, Kotakis said, a figure comparable to the number who signed up in the previous four years. That level is substantially down, though, from the number enrolled in 1967, the largest ever, 177,422.
Kotakis said the war in Afghanistan has piqued interest in ROTC among students, who have been contacting the units on their campus and seeking information on joining. The ROTC units for the Air Force and the Navy, which also includes the Marines, also have seen increased interest.
"We've had a couple of students coming in and saying that as a result of what happened on Sept. 11, they want to serve their country," said Lt. Col. Gregory D. Denney, commander of the Air Force ROTC detachment at the Madison campus, one of 143 such units in the country.
ROTC officials say it's probably too early to tell if support for the war will translate into lasting commitment to military training. Students who enroll in ROTC receive scholarships that cover their tuition agree to serve in the military after graduation. The number of years they must serve varies depending on the type of training and scholarship they choose, but some students can face a commitment as long as 10 years.
In Madison, about 220 students are enrolled in one of the three ROTC units. They make up a small fraction of the more than 41,000 students enrolled on the sprawling campus.
"Having this small group your freshman year at such a big school really is great. It becomes your family at college," said Vogel, who was selected by the Navy ROTC faculty to head the 73-student unit. Nationwide, about 4,200 students are enrolled in Navy ROTC.
Like others in her unit, she comes from a non-military background. "I was a theater geek in high school," she said. "I was the nerdy type."
She initially entered college on an ROTC scholarship for Navy nurses, decided to drop the nurse part and then opted for the Marines. An avid ballroom dancer - yes, it's hard to follow when you're used to leading - she will graduate this spring and be commissioned as a second lieutenant. Then it's off to Quantico, Va., for basic Marine training and, after that, she hopes to specialize in either intelligence or public affairs. Although she is required to serve for only eight years, she said she plans to make it her life's work.
"It's such an honorable career," she said.
Military culture on campus
Except on Tuesdays, when her unit is in uniform and spends much of the afternoon drilling, ROTC members largely blend into campus. But that one day a week, they get a taste of military culture: the salutes, the formality of calling one another Miss and Mister and their teachers, Sir or Ma'am.
"That's really weird, being saluted all the time," said Ben Norkin, a junior from one of Madison's rivals for political progressiveness, Takoma Park.
Norkin intended to become a Navy pilot, but his eyesight is not good enough, so he is considering becoming a surface warfare officer. He says that though the scholarship is attractive, the level of commitment - during the school year, through summer training programs and the service after college - requires a motivation that goes beyond financial.
"You have to be in it for more than the money," he said.
His unit's commanding officer, Capt. John J. Langer, agrees.
He was a Navy ROTC member as well, at the University of Rochester, Class of 1974. Then, some of his classmates had joined ROTC as a way of staying on campus and avoiding the draft. When the draft ended in 1973, so did their participation in ROTC.
Today, his students tend to have different motives. Many are attracted to the scholarship money, but they earn it, said Langer, referring to the tough physical training and classes they take in addition to their college work.
"We're getting a good deal," he said of the potential officers. "There are easier ways of coming up with the tuition, which is not that high here. Most of them are here for the service."
Now that the United States is fighting a war, the ROTC members' commitment to military service is no longer mere theory. Although their service won't begin until after graduation, they say the war has crystallized what it means to serve the country.
"I feel I have even more purpose now," said Jon Secor, who is in his second year of Navy ROTC. "It's no longer just about a free ride."