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Cadets learn leadership skills during weekend at Fort Custer

Robert Singer | Monday, September 28, 2009

Army ROTC cadets from Notre Dame, Holy Cross and Saint Mary’s College returned Sunday afternoon after a weekend-long training exercise at Fort Custer near Battle Creek, Mich., where they honed their skills in navigation, combat and leadership, senior cadet Scott Vitter said.

Daytime and nighttime land navigation, squad training exercises and leader reaction courses comprised the bulk of the weekend, which began for the 92 cadets at noon on Friday, Vitter said.

In the “real army,” junior cadet Geralyn Janke said, GPS and other systems aid land navigation, but to evaluate ROTC cadets and to prepare them for technology failures, they were given nothing but grid coordinates, a map, compass and protractor over the weekend to locate their target – an orange and white box somewhere in the woods.

Janke also said she participated in a leader reaction course. This exercise, according to Vitter, “tests a squad leader’s ability to formulate a plan on the spot and formulate it effectively with the peers in his squad.

“The one I led today was a simulated mine field,” Janke said. “We had two ammo boxes and two long poles to get across this mine field, and none of the cadets could touch the gravel ground. We had to get all the cadets and all the equipment to the other side.”

Senior cadet Marina Rodriguez explained the squad training exercises.

“The juniors take turns being the leader for the mission. They’re leading a mission that the squad must execute, then they make a plan to get them from the starting point to the end point,” she said. “The missions include a general attack, an ambush, attacking a fortified position, reacting to contact.”

Rodriguez also discussed how the Army prepares its cadets for carrying out missions in cultures that may seem unfamiliar.

“We try and have our enemy forces try to mimic the culture of what the current combat situation is in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said.

According to Rodriguez, “respecting their culture, and at the same time, doing it in a way that doesn’t affect the mission” was the goal of role-playing exercises that teamed ROTC cadets up with an “ally” from another culture to accomplish an objective.

“A lot of the times, we’d have to link up with a person from a made-up culture,” she said. “They’d have to link up with that person and get that person to work with them.”

Upper and lowerclassmen have different responsibilities as Army ROTC cadets, Vitter said.

“For the younger cadets, it was a time where they were learning and perfecting their skills at things like land navigation and other practical skills like movement during a squad training exercise, which we call STX,” he said. “It was a time for them to learn, improve and perfect their practical knowledge.”

As Army ROTC cadets progress through the program, they are granted additional leadership responsibilities at the field training exercise each year, Vitter said.

“The difference is night and day, as a soon-to-be-commissioned officer and as a freshman, sophomore and junior. The difference between execution and planning is enormous. You gain an appreciation for the logistical problems for coordinating a weekend for 92 cadets two hours away,” he said. “You don’t get to play as much, you don’t get to shoot people – it’s much more hands off.”

For junior cadets, according to Holy Cross junior Ned Flynn, the training exercise will go a long way toward preparing them for a Leader Development and Assessment Course next summer.

“It’s made me more confident and taught me more about myself and how to work as a team,” he said.

Upon graduation, cadets are commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army.

Army ROTC’s training exercise is held twice each year in the fall and spring.