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Summer training benefits University ROTC participants

Bridget Keating | Tuesday, August 29, 2006

As senior Ryan Larson landed in Fort Lewis, Wash. for an Army leadership assessment camp, he felt prepared for the challenges that lay ahead.

“I felt … confident that the training program at Notre Dame prepared me for success and knew I’d face few surprises.”

Now back on campus for the academic year, course work and busy schedules pale to compare to the rigors of the challenges Larson and his fellow Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) faced during the summer.

Students enrolled in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs at Notre Dame balance a full course load with physical and classroom military training, as well as extracurricular involvement – and the work continues when school is out of session.

While most students digress from such a demanding schedule during the summer months, ROTC cadets and midshipmen dive into various required and voluntary training and leadership programs in preparation for futures in their respective branches.

Each branch participates in competitive programs that allow students from colleges across the country to gather to demonstrate their abilities. Often summer results are factored into a formula that contributes to placement upon commissioning.

Major Gary Masapollo likened Army summer commitment to the “bowl game” of Army ROTC. The most crucial step for any AROTC student is the completion of Warrior Forge Leadership Development Assessment Course (LDAC), he said.

Notre Dame AROTC focuses heavily on cadet readiness for camp because camp scores can amount to half of their entire four-year grade, Masapollo said.

In addition, scores influence a cadet’s selection opportunities upon commissioning. Strong Scholar Athlete Leader profiles include a high academic record – including military studies – and involvement in athletics, community service and other activities.

To ensure solid performances from Notre Dame participants, current juniors prepare throughout the year. At the start of the school year, seniors – who have already completed camp – serve as mentors to those getting ready.

Masapollo said Notre Dame consistently produces cadets that score high above the national average.

Field training in Michigan, one of the many training steps, allows leaders to create camp- type situations to teach and test the students. Masapollo said these leaders are like a “coaching staff” that prepares the team by incorporating “game-like scenarios.”

Battalion executive officer Ryan Larson recently completed LDAC and attained the coveted Recondo Badge – an honor awarded to a small number of camp graduates who exceed standards in all areas.

“Our curriculum focuses on all the right things, most notably those aspects most pertinent to LDAC success,” he said.

Back on campus, Larson and returning cadets are able to make small changes to everyday practices to strengthen the battalion’s success.

Air Force ROTC must successfully complete field training after sophomore year. This program combines basic training with leadership development where detailed evaluations affect future placement.

The rigors of field training include strict schedules, intense diet and exercise regimes and high standards of military decorum. The demands often lead to a large number of students failing to complete the camp.

Notre Dame AFROTC prepares cadets with labs that range from training and camp life to physical demands – and even drills on how to properly make a bed. Such training is a stepping stone to leadership positions for juniors returning to campus.

“Notre Dame has a good reputation not only as a school, but also as a unit that is looked up to,” said Captain Amy Bellenbaum, commandant of cadets.

Senior John Paul Adrian, cadet wing commander, is one such example. Upon completion of field training, Adrian qualified to return as a training assistant and earned first place in the process.

“It was an absolutely great experience,” he said. “I wish I could go back.”

Bellenbaum said cadets like Adrian who return to assist are “treated with respect on the officer level.”

For those in Naval ROTC, structured summer programs evolve from year to year, beginning with a four-week indoctrination into naval life after freshman year. Midshipmen spend a week in each of the various outlets of the Navy, including one week with the Marine Corps.

Sophomore and junior summers are spent on a cruise anywhere in the world on a variety of Navy vessels with responsibilities growing with experience. Midshipmen learn rank, military lifestyle, and, as junior officers, hone seamanship skills.

Foreign exchange summers are also an option. Senior Erin Smith, naval battalion commanding officer, worked with the French Navy.

“We get to learn how our allies run things, learn what they have to offer and share our perspective,” she said. “Despite the language barrier, I observed differing relationships among officers and enlisted men compared to the U.S. Navy.”

Captain Mike Neller said summer training is important because it is hard to replicate life in the fleet at Notre Dame.

“Midshipmen go out and experience it for themselves,” he said. “It puts everything in perspective.”

Service selection relies on a performance formula comprised heavily of GPA followed by extracurricular involvement. Notre Dame students succeed as officers, as the University is known for producing technical advanced midshipmen, Neller said.

The University’s close relationship with the Navy goes back to World War II when – at its peak – 1,100 officers were commissioned every 90 days. At the time this number was second only to the United States Naval Academy.

Neller praised the caliber of Notre Dame students and said half of NROTC students study abroad – something the program encourages.

Junior computer engineering major Chris Babcock successfully combined Naval duties with international study as he spent almost four weeks on USS Mustin and traveled to London for the engineering study abroad program.

“Summer cruises, which are our internships for the military, are invaluable because you are in the actual fleet and get first hand experience that a textbook or PowerPoint cannot convey,” he said.

Unique experiences to the Marine Corps include Mountain Warfare training in Bridgeport, Calif. and Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico, Virginia. OCS is a commissioning requirement.

“Midshipmen mature a great deal because of interaction with active duty Marines, shared pride in what they are doing and [in] garnering experience,” Major Tyrone Theriot said.

Theriot said program strengths are a testament of the “high caliber students that Notre Dame admits, as well as the individuals who are committed to serve their country.”