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Battalion entrenches in fall training exercises

Nicole Zook | Tuesday, October 4, 2005

While most Notre Dame students were parked in front of a big screen watching the football game, chowing down at a tailgate in West Lafayette or celebrating the Irish victory Saturday, a small section of the student body was hard at work without a television or hot dog in sight.

The Notre Dame Army ROTC “Fightin’ Irish” Battalion held its annual fall Field Training Exercise (FTX) during the weekend in Fort Custer, Mich. The event was completely planned and executed by cadets, a task Cadet Battalion Commander Tanner Fleck said took at least “five solid weeks of planning” by seniors.

“The first week before school let in, we had freshman orientation going on, but all the seniors also got working on this FTX,” Fleck said. “We had to reserve and coordinate with the National Guard to use all the facilities … It’s really a lot of work.

“We had to go up there and GPS all the points up there so that when the cadets go up they don’t get lost [during land navigation exercises]. It’s a lot of coordination.”

Senior cadets were also in charge of personnel issues, accountability, supplies, communications, arrangement of a medical evacuation plan in case of emergency and the set up for training underclassmen during the weekend.

The cadets left for Fort Custer Friday and trained from the time they departed to Sunday afternoon, when they returned to Notre Dame. Cadets were trained and evaluated in small unit leadership, night and day land navigation and squad situational tactics. They also learned to set up what are known as Tactical Assembly Areas (TAA), or “bivouacs.” These areas consisted of tents pitched in a field, where the cadets slept. But on Friday night, the cadets could not close their eyes for long.

After setting up TAAs for the night, the cadets had several classes in land navigation, in which they learned compass and map skills. The cadets were then sent out into the night to apply their new skills.

“We were given grid coordinates and our compasses and we had to go out and find an eight-digit grid coordinate,” freshman Allie Carrick said.

Carrick, who had never attended an FTX before, said the night land navigation was her favorite part of what she said was a “unique” experience.

Carrick also said for most freshmen, the most difficult event of the weekend was the “sticks lanes,” a full day of Squad Situational Tactics Exercises Saturday which required teams of 10 to 12 cadets to employ their tactical and technical skills to successfully complete obstacles.

“It was challenging, because we had a brief explanation on what [the obstacles] were, and those brief explanations didn’t really make much sense,” Carrick said.

Junior cadets, who served as squad leaders, gave the briefs and guided their squad through lanes to complete missions like reconnaissance, knocking out bunkers, ambushes and other unexpected battlefield obstacles.

“For the freshmen, it’s kind of like an introduction,” Fleck said. “They team up with upperclassmen. They are there for the experience, so there’s not quite the pressure to meet the standard and get evaluated, like the juniors are.”

Fleck said cadets are evaluated on these activities at camp after their junior year, and referred to the annual fall FTX as “their big chance” to prepare for assessment this summer.

“This FTX is the only time during the entire semester that we actually get to do that, because we don’t have sticks lanes [at Notre Dame],” he said. “This is their only preparation for the semester that we have. This first [FTX of the year] especially, they get to see where they are and what they need to work on.”

Fleck said the junior cadets, or MSIIIs, performed well and all earned “Satisfactory” evaluations.

“We want to get them up to ‘Excellent’s, or ‘E’s, before they get to camp,” he said. “So there’s a lot of pressure on the MSIIIs to show us what they’ve got.”

While the focus was mainly on evaluating junior cadets, Carrick said she felt the freshman class learned a lot as well.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a huge learning experience, and it was fun in a unique way,” Carrick said. “It’s really interesting because you’re learning – and it’s a new exposure, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.”

Fleck said the weekend was “very much” a success.

“As Battalion Commander, prior to leaving I put forth key tasks – what I want to see from the battalion when we get back,” he said. “We achieved all objectives. From the training point of view, it was a success.”

Fleck said cadets from all classes thought the event was a success, especially due to elements added this year for the first time like the battalion barbeque Saturday night and the return to campus Sunday afternoon instead of at night so students had more time to study. Fleck said all cadets are students first, and that an event like this is difficult training for students.

“It’s our capstone event for the semester because is the only time we can take the cadets out in to the field for training,” he said. “I don’t think the rest of the student body realizes what a big deal this really is. The training [the cadets] did over the weekend was actual Army training that you would do with your unit. We’re not soldiers yet, we’re ROTC kids. And the training they went out and did this weekend … for a student to go out and do that on top of their studies is really amazing.”