ROTC cadets spend their weekend training, bonding
Published: Monday, April 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 01:04
Before sunrise on the morning of April 15, snow was falling on the faces of cadets as they prepared for an exercise in light infantry tactics, the first exercise of many on that frost-bitten morning. Students in the Army ROTC program travelled to Jack’s Valley, a training area within the Air Force Academy, where they spent three days practicing a variety of field training exercises.
The intense weekend of training varied depending on the rank of the cadet – or more accurately, their equivalency of rank. Cadets are ranked between Military Science (MS) one through four. Senior Jonathan Briggs, ranked MS 4, explains that the ‘rank’ just refers to the year of the cadet, so all of the cadets are technically the same rank.
MS 4s like Briggs will be training in light infantry tactics, leadership-based obstacle courses and night navigation; cadets such as Elizabeth Hill, ranked MS 2, explained that “the MS 1s and 2s do an obstacle course.” She added that since it’s the last day, “its MS1 and 2 fun time.”
Is it actually fun? “It’s more fun than what we’ve been doing … it’s team bonding; you get to hang out with your class mates.” Hill said that she is fortunate, as “the MS 3s have to be patrolling, and that’s not fun, I’ve heard.”
MS 3 Andrew Perry explained the training that his year is preparing for, “We’re doing patrolling lanes … which in the Army would be in a platoon size unit – 30 to 40 people – but here we do it with two squads – 15 to 20.”
The exercise places the cadet in the scenario of being in enemy territory and receiving a mission, which includes anything from a raid or ambush to reconnaissance or retrieving friendly soldiers. “We first establish a patrol base,” Perry explained, “and there we receive an operations order.”
The operations order funnels down the command chain from platoon leader to squad leaders to the rest of the soldiers, and then they rehearse the mission. During the mission rehearsals, Perry explained, “[we] plan for action on the objective … we conduct battle drills, basic doctrinal reactions to certain situation that might come up.”
Perry said that most of the patrol exercise is to train the platoon and squad leaders. All ROTC cadets will become officers upon graduation from UCCS, and the leadership being taught is “what an officer ultimately does: They are master planners, master organizers,” said Perry, “they have to be the leader.”
Leadership skills and survival training are not the only rewards ROTC has to offer: Enrollment in the program is what pays these cadets’ tuition bills, but ultimately, this perk is not what inspired cadet Perry to enroll.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to be in the Army. I grew up with three brothers, and we always fought and played army. My other two brothers – one is a Ranger, and the other is in Special Forces.”
Once the cadets graduate, they are required to serve four years either in the Army or National Guard, but Perry said he can’t wait. “I’m looking forward to being in the actual Army again.” Perry was already a member of the National Guard before he decided to enter ROTC.
“The Army is a necessary thing for our protection, and ROTC students are going to be the future leaders of the Army,” he continued. “We as Americans enjoy a lot freedoms that other countries don’t have, and I know its cliché, but I think it is very true, and we fight for those rights.”
Participating in ROTC is a full-time commitment, and the demands can be tremendously taxing on the cadets. “It takes a certain type of person to be in the Army,” Perry said. “A lot of people don’t like being told what to do, and you will be told what to do, and a lot of the times you will not like it.”
Briggs explained that “even out of uniform you’re still a cadet,” something that is demonstrated by the extra workload ROTC students take on.
“We have our PT three times a week, that’s physical training. We do that Monday, Tuesday and Friday every week,” he explained. “We do a leadership lab every Thursday,” and many weekends, such as this one, are reserved for intensive field training.
Hill relates the seemingly endless training exercises that occur regularly. Other than regular PT, she said, “We practice battle drills, learn about equipment, we have to do water training … we have ranger challenge, we compete against other schools, there’s a baton ruck march in the spring.”
Despite the numerous commitments, Hill finds pleasure in what she is doing. “Some days, I wonder what in the world am I doing? But I am so happy I’m doing this, and you meet a lot of friends and cool people.”
Catching only a glimpse of what these cadets do creates instant respect and appreciation for the role they are seeking to fulfill, for the image of cadets huddled together, half asleep, still clinging to their weapons, the yellow smoke bomb staining the faint light of dawn, and the ring in your ear from an explosion somewhere nearby; all of this makes it difficult to acknowledge that this is just training for these students, and several years from now, this battlefield artifice will become a reality for them.