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Army cadets rough out field training exercises

Christian Myers | Monday, March 28, 2011

Three Blackhawk helicopters descended on South Bend Airport Friday to transport the Army ROTC Fightin’ Irish Battalion to Fort Custer in Michigan, where the cadets joined other ROTC battalions for a field training exercise (FTX).

Taking off in Blackhawks was an auspicious start to a very important weekend for the cadets in the battalion, according to senior cadet Christopher Bennet. Seniors handle the planning and organizing of the FTX and the juniors take part in the exercise, along with a few underclassmen.

For the junior cadets, the FTX was a big part of their preparation for the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) they will be completing this summer at Fort Lewis, Wash.

“This weekend is a dress rehearsal for the thirty days the cadets will spend at Fort Lewis this summer,” Lieutenant Colonel Jon Crist said.

According to Crist, the LDAC is an important factor in a cadet’s national ranking and eventual job when they enter the army as a second lieutenant.

While packing supplies for the weekend, juniors expressed enthusiasm about putting the skills they’ve learned into practice.

“It should be a lot of fun. It’s good training for what we will actually be doing in the army,” Saint Mary’s junior Jane McNaughton said. “I’m looking forward to going to the FTX in helicopters instead of the minivans we usually use.”

“I’m excited to get some much needed experience before this summer,” junior Trevor Waliszewski, Sergeant Major in charge of all juniors and upperclassmen, said. “It will be a real life experience of what it takes to lead soldiers.”

However, the cadets showed concern over the fact they won’t have time for academics over the weekend.

“It’s going to be a full weekend,” junior Josh Sandler said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to apply the things we’ve been learning, but at the same time, our classes don’t stop. In three words I’d describe it as worthwhile, but inconvenient.”

The few underclassmen that participated are also training for the LDAC, but won’t go through the course until they are juniors.

Meanwhile, seniors gained valuable experience planning and coordinating the types of drills they will be in charge of as second lieutenants, Bennet said.

Before departing, the cadets took many pictures in front of the Blackhawks and were enthusiastic about the chance to ride in a helicopter, which for many of them was a first.

“We found out about the Blackhawks on Monday and I’ve been excited since then,” sophomore Mike Dompierre said. “It’s my first time riding in a helicopter.”

The cadets almost had the opportunity to take a group picture with an unexpected visitor at the airport: former University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer, who was only able to take a few quick photos with individuals before leaving. Meyer attended the 2011 Coaches Clinic at the Loftus Sports Center Saturday.

The flight crew of each Blackhawk then briefed the cadets on helicopter safety procedures, Bennet said. This included the strange but serious requirement that if any cadet gets sick, they must pull the front of their shirt over their mouth, which prevents their fellow cadets and the helicopter from needing to be cleaned.

Once the cadets arrived at Fort Custer, they were joined by fellow students from Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Michigan State and Michigan.

All of the cadets were placed into units of about 10 cadets each, Bennet said. Working with cadets from other schools, the juniors learned skills that should help them in their preparation for the LDAC this summer, where they will also be working in mixed units.

Over the course of the weekend, the cadets completed six simulated missions with their assigned units, he said. To ensure that all junior cadets had an opportunity to lead, each unit was composed of five or six junior cadets with underclassmen making up the rest of the unit.

The missions included move-to-contact drills in which cadets simulate a strategic rendezvous, ambush drills, land navigation drills in which cadets use a map, compass and protractor to navigate the woodland terrain and other standard tactical drills.

The cadres from each battalion evaluated cadets, he said. The criteria for evaluation were leadership, decision-making and operating under pressure. During the LDAC, cadets will be evaluated on the same criteria, as well as physical fitness and various military skills.

Between their own review and the evaluations of the cadres, the cadets received a good idea of what to work on for this summer. Senior Colin Raymond, who completed essentially the same FTX last year, said this experience is very helpful for getting an idea of how other schools prepare their cadets and seeing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Fightin’ Irish Battalion.

According to Raymond, it was also good for individuals to work on their weaknesses.

“Personally, I struggled with land navigation at night,” Raymond said. “It was a good opportunity to get more practice at that.”

Senior Alex Barbuto, the battalion’s operations and training officer, or S3, took the lead in planning the exercise. He consulted last year’s plan and incorporated suggestions and requirements from Crist and from Michigan State’s Army ROTC, which was in charge of the weekend overall.

Barbuto and the other seniors then took the plan and addressed the logistical needs of the cadets from the Fightin’ Irish Battalion that participated in the exercise.