Learning takes flight in ROTC exercises

Cadets get opportunity to train on Blackhawk helicopter

By Ken Johnson
On March 18, 2014

The wind whipped and drove snow crystals into faces and bodies as the Blackhawk helicopter landed. One by one, in a single file line, people went over to the Blackhawk with their right hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them. The wind blew harder as a crewmember - wearing a tinted visor that hid his face - helped each person into the Blackhawk and buckled them in.

The door closed, the engines roared and the Blackhawk lifted off the ground and into the air.

This particular Blackhawk saw action in Afghanistan doing rescue missions, but for the last four months it has been back in the United States. More specifically, it was recently at Boulder Field on the campus of the University of New Hampshire. The helicopter was brought in for a UNH Wildcat Battalion ROTC collective training exercise on Friday, March 7 while many students headed off for spring break.

The collective training exercise started with a contracting ceremony. Contracting is officially becoming a part of the ROTC program, Cadet Shannon Snively, a senior at Plymouth State University majoring in criminal justice and sociology, said.

After that the cadets were broken into two groups, MS1 and MS2, which are comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Cadets were learning about how to create a safe, hasty landing zone and properly mark it from Cadet Patrick Linehan, a senior from the University of New Hampshire. The cadets also learned how to communicate with hand signals to the aircraft at the landing zone.

"Maybe today some of you guys, girls will get to assume guidance," Linehan said to the cadets. He went over how to assume guidance of the aircraft and then how to properly direct the aircraft once guidance has been assumed. 

The M1 and M2 cadets also got to experience being aboard a Blackhawk helicopter.

"The UH-60s, it kinda gives us the feel of the military aspect," Snively said.

"I'm learning a lot more than I thought I would have," Torren Talen, a freshman criminology major from the University of Southern Maine, said. "[There's] a lot of interesting information from day to day. Obviously, today is extra special because the Blackhawk helicopter is pretty unique and extraordinary."

Anyone who meets the physical fitness and GPA requirements can join ROTC and give it a try, Maj. Joshua Stringer, professor of military science, said. Stringer began employment at UNH in 2011 for what is usually a three-year assignment but then extended it for a year.

Around 110 cadets are in the UNH ROTC program. UNH has the only ROTC program in the state, so many students come from other campuses in the area, Stringer said. Roughly 63 students in the ROTC program are students from the University of New Hampshire's Durham campus. Other students present are from Plymouth State University, Southern New Hampshire University, St. Anselm College and the University of Southern Maine, Snively said. 

Students from PSC, SNU and St. Anselem come to UNH for their classes and all of the students come to UNH for the collective training assignments. Stringer said he aims for a retention rate of 80 percent of underclassmen and 90 percent of upperclassmen.

Collective training exercises like this bring together students from all of the campuses.

"They get a good experience, I think," Stringer said. Collective training exercises happen about eight or nine times in a semester. There is also one overnight field training exercise per semester, Stringer said. 

In addition to the normal course load, ROTC students must take one ROTC class per semester, participate in all the labs and be a full-time student, Snively said. Freshmen through junior classes execute the missions and seniors prepare the labs and classes. The cadre teaches the classes.

"There is a lot of time management that goes into being in ROTC, being a full-time student, and also being part of the National Guard," Thomas Curry, a senior criminology major from the University of Southern Maine, said. Curry is also in a military police unit in the National Guard in Waterville, Maine. 

The competition comes in at the end when cadets are lumped together with all other cadets in the country on a National Order Merit List, Stringer said. If they want to compete for active duty, they have to be high on the merit list.

"Increasingly, that's getting more competitive," Stringer said.

"Your junior year you get evaluated a lot, so you are under a lot of pressure," Tim Smith, a junior from University of Southern Maine majoring in media studies, said. "But that pressure builds you as a person and teaches you how to rise above adversity."

The position of a National Guard officer, or a reserve officer, is another option available and cadets can commission into those programs, Stringer said. ROTC isn't just training for the military.

"We push them to do things in the community," Stringer said. "... By far academics is the main priority." According to Stringer, 40 percent of the math that goes into the standing on the national merit list is their academic standing.

"I know what they are getting ready to do and it's a great job," Stringer said. "So, I'm excited to see them go out and do that. I think we do a good job of preparing them for what real life might throw at them."

Commissioned students become a second lieutenant in the army and have the full responsibility of an officer; this usually occurs in one's senior year. On average, ROTC has been commissioning over 20 students each year, Stringer said. This year 26 students are commissioning.

"UNH has a great program to be in because they have a lot of great cadre that are involved here and know their stuff," Snively said.

In the woods, an Alpha Alpha, which is an area of assembly, was set up. Cadets performed security around the Alpha Alpha, using their rucksacks as coverage. The squad leaders and the platoon leader, Cadet Joshua Lynde, a junior at the University of New Hampshire, were hunched in a circle in the middle of the Alpha Alpha. The platoon had to ambush and capture a target for this exercise and destroy the patrol he was traveling with by 1555.

"He will be protected by three body guards with small arms," Lynde said as he briefed the squad leaders.

As the MS1 and MS2 cadets learned from Cadet Linehan, the MS3 cadets - juniors - took place in an attack exercise where they were looking for a hostage, and could possibly get ambushed in their Alpha Alpha to test their reactions.

"This is usually the main part that people get assessed on," Snively said. "It's really of how they brief it and how they are going to control the troops they are leading." 

"For our training, it prepares us to be future leaders in the military. As future leaders, we need to learn all the processes of preparing ourselves, getting our subordinates ready, executing and how to brief others," Snively said.

Lab planning starts about six weeks in advance and there are usually four to five labs being worked on at a time.

"So it's kinda cool to see everything come together once it's finally set, especially when we have choppers," Max Krasnoff, a senior at the University of New Hampshire, said.

The squad leaders headed back to their squad to tell them their part in the mission. Armed with what are referred to as "rubber ducks," which are rubber M-16 replicas, the cadets made their way toward their objective though the deep snow in the woods, taking commands from their squad leaders. 

"I love it, I love it," Sam Gaskin, a senior mechanical engineering major from the University of New Hampshire, said. "[It's] a lot of good training, it's a lot of work. I'll get up early when all my friends get to sleep for PT before classes and I'm always doing ROTC stuff when all my friends don't have to do that but it's worth it to me to serve my country."

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