Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Guest Post: Citizens Military Training Camps (CMTC) by Carole Sobke

This post was written by SDGS and CVGS member Carole Sobke:

The Citizen’s Military Training Camp (CMTC) was a program that was part of the National Defense Act of 1920. CMTC was a compromise to mandatory military training. For one month each summer between 1921 and 1940, about 400,000 young men between the ages of 17 and 24 received the training at 53 military posts around the country. For a few years there was even a camp in Puerto Rico. One of the stipulations of the program was that the young men attending the sessions were not obligated to be called for active duty, although some would later join the National Guard or one of the Armed Forces Reserves.

The training camps occurred during the month of August each year. The program consisted of four separate consecutive courses called the Basic, the Red, the White and the Blue. The first year was basic military training, the Red, White and Blue sessions were for more specialized training. In 1922, training was offered in nine Army branches; Infantry, Cavalry, Field Artillery, Coast Artillery, Corps of Engineers, Signal Corps, Air Service, Medical Department and Motor Transportation Corps. In later years the Air Service, Medical Department and Motor Transportation Corps were dropped from the program. One had to apply every year to be accepted in the next level of training, but it wasn’t mandatory to complete the four-year course. In other words, if you didn’t like it you didn’t have to go back!

The young men who applied would only be accepted if they were intelligent, of good character and physically fit. A thorough physical examination and doctor’s report was part of the application. Many were turned down. Emphasis was also placed on promoting good citizenship, responsibility, good moral values and physical fitness through organized sports.

Around two million dollars would be allocated per year for the CMTC. All the trainees’ expenses were covered by the government; clothing, food, gear, equipment and there was even reimbursement for travel expenses to and from the forts. Some of the forts offered mid-morning milk and cookie breaks, other forts transported the trainees to weekend entertainment in the nearest town, the movies, rodeos, etc. The regular Army enlistees at the forts were often jealous of the special treatment given to the CMTC members, even though they went through the same rigorous training of the regular army.

If one completed the four-year course in consecutive years and enlisted in the Army, he qualified for Officer’s Candidate School. Upon his graduation he would receive the rank of 2nd lieutenant and his gold bar signifying the rank. Only about 5,000 men took advantage of this opportunity. It is estimated that nearly 400,000 men attended at least one year of the program, but these records are scarce.

Two of the four Sobke brothers are known to have participated in the CMTC, Llewellyn and Frederick. Frederick trained at Fort McArthur in San Pedro, California in the Coast Artillery program. It is not currently known if the other two brothers, Arthur and William, took part in CMTC. Arthur and Fredrick became members of the Naval Reserve in the late 1930’s.

Llewellyn was the brother to benefit the most from CMTC as he completed the full four year  program. It is not known which camp he attended. When he enlisted in the Army in 1942 during World War II, he was sent to Officer’s Candidate School and received his commission as a 2nd lieutenant upon his graduation. When the war ended in 1945 and shortly after demobilization (1945/46), Llewellyn was offered a commission in the Regular Army with a rank of 1st lieutenant. He accepted, became career Army and achieved the rank of colonel by his retirement.

Frederick Sobke completed three of the CMTC programs, 1935 (he was one of 30,984 to complete the Basic course that year), 1936 and 1937. A Pearl Harbor survivor, he was honorably discharged after World War II and returned to his parents’ home in Chula Vista, California, where he married Alfa Kirk and had three children, Dorothy, Catherine and Robert.

Catherine is in possession of some of his CMTC ephemera, the photo of his 1935 Basic class and two “Gold Brick” Fort McArthur yearbooks from the years 1936 and 1937, his Red and White years.

CMTC Basic class of 1935 - Frederick is sixth from the left 

Frederick Sobke in CMTC camp

The 1937 Fort MacArthur CMTC yearbook

Robert Penn Warren, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner (two for fiction and one for poetry) attended CMTC at Camp Knox in Kentucky in 1922 when he was seventeen. There he wrote his very first poem about his days at Camp Knox.

by Robert Penn Warren

You see no beauty in the parched parade,
The quivering, heat-glazed highways mile on mile,
The fields where beauty holds a debt unpaid,
The gray, drab barracks in monotonous, grim file.

You take no joy when dust wraiths dimly curl
Above the winding column crawling on far hills,
You see but short beyond the present whirl
Of circumstance, your little wrongs and petty ills.

But when it all has passed and you have lost
The swinging rhythmic cadence of the marching feet,
Then you reck as paltry small the cost,
And memory will purge the bitter from the sweet.

Warren would later be honored as America’s first official Poet Laureate.


My thanks to Carole for providing this information to readers of Genea-Musings, and to future searchers of CMTC.  I had never heard of this program.  I don't think my father participated.  I wonder if there is an index of participants?  

Copyright (c) 2019, Carole Sobke

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Marian B. Wood said...

Very interesting post! As it happens, my late father-in-law participated in CMTC, serving at Camp Perry, Ohio. More info and a photo of his CMTC badge (still in the family) here:

William Saltiel-Gracian MPH said...

This is a very good article on a long-overlooked bygone era in US military history. My own late paternal grandfather earned his commission through CMTC himself back in 1923. Having first served in the active US Navy (1916-1922) and receiving his discharge as a warrant officer Machinist, he was taken on directly into the Blue Course as a Corps of Engineers candidate and received a commission within the Organized Reserve on that basis. In civil life during the interwar period, he was a lead process engineer for the Channel View, Texas water works. When the Second World War broke out and dragged the US into it, he was called to active duty commanding a construction battalion on the ALCAN Highway project.