ROTC cadets participate in weekend-long training camp

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Cadets gather to plan their attacks during their weekend Field Training Exercise. 

Jill Golden

Kent State Army ROTC cadets trekked through mud and thorn bushes while dealing with few hours of sleep at their weekend Field Training Exercise April 5 through April 7.

The cadets were joined by other Army ROTC cadets from nearby universities, as well as some Kent State Air Force ROTC cadets at Camp James A. Garfield Joint Military Training Center in Ravenna, which is an Ohio Army National Guard military base.

The cadets come to this base every spring for their Field Training Exercise, or FTX, to practice leadership when planning missions while working with cadets from other schools whom they have not previously met.

“On a small scale what we’re doing here is teaching the cadets land navigation, tactics and ruck marching,” said Cadet Sam Carballo, senior biology major. “On an overall scale, it’s more about leadership. That’s what they’re being assessed on.”

The senior ROTC cadets assess the junior cadets on their ability to lead others while sticking to the Army Values, such as loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

“Larger army picture, (leadership) is a valuable skill not only in the army, which you’re going to use for lieutenant, captain, colonel and major, but you’re going to use in your whole life,” Carballo said.

Cadets started each morning between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. while sleeping in the woods without any overhead coverage despite the temperature drop.

“This is when training gets stressful, when everyone’s low on sleep,” said Cadet Jared Howard, a senior public health major.

On top of the few hours of sleep in the chilly outdoor weather, cadets carried their rucksacks with all of their personal belongings, which typically weigh around 50 pounds, for the entire weekend.

One of the many activities the cadets completed during the weekend was an eight mile ruck march with their weighted rucksacks. This is to help prepare them for the dozens of miles they may need to walk in their future while carrying heavy supplies.

The cadets’ food source during the weekend were MREs, or Meals, Ready-to-Eat, which are pre-made packages of meals that the U.S. military uses. Each MRE lasts approximately five years and typically consist of a main dish containing meat or pasta, side dishes, a dessert and beverage mixes.

At the beginning of the weekend, the cadets were divided into six platoons, which consist of around 20 to 30 cadets from a mixture of the universities in attendance.

Each platoon practices planning missions and organizing attacks on the other platoons, which is what they’ve been training for throughout the semester.

Because the cadets come from different schools, they soon realized that everyone had been taught differently, which could make for a challenge when trying to work together.

“There’s no one set way to do everything, so when you come together it’s just really important to be open-minded and be able to accept different ideas because you’ve got to keep in mind that your way is not the only correct way,” said Cadet Danielle DeCristofaro, a junior history major. “Communication is key and just being a team player I think is the biggest factor when working with everyone.”

Most cadets said they felt it was actually beneficial to learn other ways to complete the tasks since they were able to learn new ways to accomplish something.

“I see it more as a learning experience seeing what other people have been taught and what you can use and how you can mix ideas and bounce ideas off each other,” said Cadet Cameron Crockett, an ROTC cadet at the University of Akron. “So it’s really not that difficult, it’s more of just a learning experience and helps me learn a lot and helps them learn a lot.”

Once everything was organized early Friday morning and the planning was about to begin, cadets jumped in and started off strong, setting up 360 degree security around the platoon leader, platoon sergeant and squad leaders as they planned their attack.

Members of one platoon quickly found that they would have to make some major adjustments to their plan after they found out the time they had to complete their plan had been cut down by two hours.

“Part of leadership is adaptability,” Howard said. He explained that, as a leader, a person may have to adapt and make adjustments in different scenarios. It’s important to be ready for whatever changes may come his or her way.

When pushing forward to attack the enemy, or in this case one of the other platoons, cadets creeped quietly through the woods in their mud-covered boots while avoiding stepping on branches that could reveal their location.

Once the other platoon was spotted, the cadets opened fire with their paintball guns. Paintballs were splattered across trees and cadets’ uniforms, bringing color to the damp, bland forest.

The cadets also practiced day and night land navigation, where they are given grid points, a map and compass and have to find the exact flag locations in the woods.

Land navigation is important because it teaches cadets how to locate an enemy. In their future in the army, they may be given grid points of the enemy and will need to know how to find that location while using just a map and compass.

It is possible that they may have access to a GPS in the army, but if it gets disabled it’s important to know how to accomplish land navigation without access to technology, said Cadet Steven Westlake, a senior applied engineering major.

The junior cadets will be taking the skills they practiced throughout the weekend to Advanced Camp at Fort Knox in Kentucky this summer where they will spend 31 days training in the woods. Army ROTC cadets from across the country participate in Advanced Camp to help assess their leadership and officer potential.

“The biggest thing that I’ve learned this weekend is that a situation is only as good as the people around you,” DeCristofaro said. “There might be a whole bunch of factors going on that you might not like to deal with such as rain, cold weather, anything like that but the attitude that you bring forward and the attitude of those around you is really what makes the situation and helps you get through it.”

Jill Golden covers non-traditional, ROTC and veterans. Contact her at [email protected]