Put to the test
ROTC members learn new skills during training
Crisp snow crunched beneath the boots of the squad of cadets as they trekked through the otherwise-silent forest of Fort Custer Training Center in Battle Creek, Mich.
Political science and pre-law junior Brendan Grace was at the head of the squad. He had already briefed the eight members on the mission at hand and how they would reach their endpoint. Seemingly every enemy scenario had been addressed to prepare the cadets for the worst before they started walking.
One unexpected complication for the squad arose when the tranquility of the forest was suddenly shattered by the sound of gunshots.
Grace and his platoon were partaking in their first Saturday STX Lane. The exercise typically acts as a mock mission, thrusting cadets into leadership roles and testing their ability to handle unexpected complications in the field.
The exercise was one aspect of the MSU Army ROTC’s participation in the Combined Field Training Exercise camp at Fort Custer last weekend. From March 28 to 30, contracted ROTC cadets from MSU, University of Michigan and Central Michigan University gathered together on the army base for in-depth field training and leadership exercises.
International relations and Spanish freshman Matt Giacona climbs under a fallen tree during a land navigation exercise March 29, 2014, at Fort Custer Training Center in Battle Creek, Mich. Freshman cadets were given a series of points to plot out and find in groups of four. Danyelle Morrow/The State News
Combined Field Training Exercise
Freshman, sophomore, junior and senior cadets all had different roles throughout the weekend. Although freshmen kept to themselves for their training, sophomore and junior cadets worked with cadets from the other attending universities.
“You pick up on the things that other schools may be better or worse at,” Grace said. “It helps you improve yourself and your school overall.”
In past years, Eastern Michigan University, Western Michigan University and Notre Dame University have also participated in the camp.
Criminal justice senior Amanda Dolsen said her experience as a senior at the Combined Field Training Exercise was like looking behind the scenes at the camp she had attended since her sophomore year.
Seniors did not participate in training and instead overlooked the processes for the younger cadets. Some managed personnel, others kept up with supplies and others participated as safety officers, among other jobs.
“It’s like a really big puzzle and everyone has their own piece,” Dolsen said.
The day’s routine
Each day began before the sun rose — James Madison and Spanish freshman Matt Giacona said everyone was awake by 5:30 a.m.
Cadets followed a Garrison leadership routine, meaning squad leadership rotated each day to give everyone a chance to step into the leading role.
Squad leaders prepared other cadets for the day’s activities before it was time to clean the barracks. Once floors were mopped spotless and beds were made, everyone gathered beneath the still dark sky for morning formations.
By 7:30 a.m., cadets had eaten their breakfast Meal, Ready-to-Eat. The various meals came with a main course, side, dessert and drink additive.
“They’re high-energy and well-rounded meals,” Giacona said. “But they don’t taste that good. They’re really just meant to keep us going.”
Once the cadets fueled up, everyone piled into the buses to start their different training exercises for the day. Cadets kept moving between exercises and meals until 10:30 p.m., when it was time for the lights to go out.
The cycle started over again every day for the remainder of the weekend.
Grace has attended the camp ever since his freshman year. Now a junior, he said he had a chance to take the reins with more of a leadership role than before.
"(At MSU) you get content and fall into a routine,” he said. “This forces you to get out of your safety zone.”
Saturday’s events for the sophomores and juniors began with STX Lanes. Different schools mixed into different squads of around eight members before hiking deep into the woods.
Grace said STX Lanes are meant to run cadets through different attack and ambush scenarios they could encounter while on an actual battlefield. He was the first of his squad to lead a STX Lane that day.
Cadets were armed with rifles loaded with blanks. Although there was no threat of danger or injury outside of the treacherous terrain of thorns and snow, the squad was “attacked” by two enemies who opened fire on them on their way to their destination. The STX Lane simulation came to an end when the two enemies were shot down and searched for supplies.
Since the STX Lanes were made up of fewer members, Grace said the squads became close-knit while working together.
“By the end of STX, you really get to know your squad and form a bond with them,” he said. “You see yourselves work together a lot better. It’s a lot of fun.”
Sophomores and juniors also participated in patrols later in the evening. Patrols were set up similarly to STX Lanes, though they were made up of platoons of around 40 members rather than smaller squads.
Although the veteran members worked through attack and ambush scenarios, freshmen took part in different simulation activities. Giacona had a chance to participate in everything from virtual shooting scenarios to an elaborate obstacle course challenge during the weekend.
He said the most trying experience for himself was the land navigation challenge. For a few hours, teams of four used a map, compass and protractor to maneuver through the forest and find seven scattered points. Two members keep a pace count to monitor the team’s traveled distance, another operates the compass and the final member reads the map.
His favorite activity was during the last day of camp, when cadets had to work together to clear buildings. Smoke grenades were set off as squads breached the houses, adding a realistic element to the challenge.
Because he has only been involved in the Army ROTC program for a couple months, he said he wasn’t sure what to expect while attending the camp. He added that surrounding himself with so many professionals who had a wide array of skills helped his confidence in his own abilities grow.
“I feel like I went in with 20 percent and came out with 80 percent,” he said. “It’s such a diverse group of people and just surrounding yourself with them helps you pick up on a lot that you’d normally miss.”