For ROTC, a weekend away to prep for test
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
Members of the University Of New Hampshire’s ROTC program spent the weekend of Oct. 26 at Fort Devens, Mass., for the program’s fall Field Training Exercises (FTX). From Friday through Sunday, the cadets participated in vigorous tasks that put their mental endurance and leadership abilities to the test.
Cadets from 11 New England universities are members of UNH’s ROTC program. Twice a month, UNH cadets are given the opportunity to train with some of their fellow soldiers from these comrade schools, but rarely have the chance to operate with all of them at once.
“I like training with the UNH cadets,” said Colby-Sawyer College senior Cadet James Brown. “I have friends all over the state now. I’ll know the cadets here throughout my whole career, and I don’t have to stay up at Colby-Sawyer in the middle of nowhere anymore.”
Although the weekend is overseen by cadre and officers, it is predominately run by the ROTC seniors, who are responsible for organizing assignments for the juniors to lead, and evaluating them on their performances.
“It’s about team building,” said Maj. Joshua Stringer, the battalion commander in charge of overseeing the FTX weekend. “We have cadets here from all over the region, and this is the first time we get to come out here and really bond and share an experience.”
Cadets were divided into squads of underclassmen, led by juniors who were placed in the position of squad leader.
“This weekend is all about prepping the juniors for the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC),” Cadet Staff Officer Meghan Grant said. “We evaluate how well they’re doing and what they need to work on.”
LDAC is considered the centerpiece of the U.S. Army’s ROTC program. Also known as “Advanced Camp” or “Warrior Forge,” the 29-day course at Fort Lewis, Washington, comprises intense physical, mental and tactical training exercises.
ROTC juniors will attend LDAC next summer, before their senior year. The evaluations they are given at LDAC will make up for 30 percent of their undergraduate training assessments – the other 70 percent of which is acquired over the course of three years. FTX is designed to be a mock version of LDAC, on a smaller scale.
“Last year FTX taught me how to remain calm,” Brown said. “There were so many different variables thrown at us. You learn to stay calm and react accordingly.”
This year’s FTX weekend began the morning of Friday, Oct. 26 at the field leader’s reaction course (FLRC), an intense obstacle course that a squad must navigate according to a particular mission. Tasks generally include moving large equipment such as fuel drums, as well as all members of the squad, to the opposite side of the course.
“They do things like figure out how to get everyone in the squad from post to post without touching the ground, or the ‘hot lava,’” Maj. Justin Strevig explained, as he walked the perimeter of one particular FLRC.
Throughout the weekend, other exercises included night land-navigation, during which cadets must find coordinates throughout the woods in the dark, and most importantly, STX lanes (Situational Training Exercises).
UNH junior Cadet Raymond Miller waited to be briefed on his first of three STX lane operations Friday afternoon. He prepared to direct his squad through a hypothetical ambush situation – a tactically organized surprise attack in the woods on two enemy soldiers.
“You receive a mission in a specific format,” Miller said. “Then you brief that format back to your squad and tactically move through it to where you set up the ambush.”
With intense focus, Miller diligently took notes as a senior cadet briefed him on the mission. Using a terrain model kid, Miller then gave each member of his squad orders and grid coordinates.
“When we’re traveling, if we get indirect fire we yell, ‘Incoming!’ and hit the ground,” Miller said to his squad, as they conducted a rehearsal. “We’ve got to be loud out there.”
Miller’s voice reverberated over his squad as he gave them the op-orders —important for receiving a good evaluation.
“In an ideal situation, you should know who the squad leader is without even being told,” Grant said. “It’s like when you walk into a locker room and know who the team captain is because he’s the one getting everybody pumped up.”
Miller and his squad began marching through the woods in full gear with unloaded guns. After approximately an hour and a half, they came upon the enemy soldiers: two sophomore cadets hiding out in the woods. After the squad pretended to shoot them, the two cadets played dead while Miller’s squad properly searched them.
“I felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness because I got to lead a squad in a mission and because I’m being watched by an evaluator,” Miller said, reflecting on his first STX lane. “But by the end of the weekend I felt less nervous and more confident in each lane.”
The evaluations that the juniors receive from LDAC next summer will largely determine what positions they will be eligible for in the army after they graduate, and the FTX weekend is crucial in helping them prepare.
“FTX definitely helped build confidence and leadership skills that will help me when I go to LDAC,” Miller said.
UNH’s ROTC program ranks six out of 41 other schools in its brigade, due to exceptional leadership and training programs that prepare cadets for LDAC and their futures in the Army.
“We give the cadets all sorts of leadership experiences that the average college student simply doesn’t see,” Strevig said. “And that’s our goal: developing these leaders.”