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ROTC cadets travel for field training exercise

Nicole Michels | Tuesday, October 4, 2011

While most students spent the weekend relaxing or catching up on their homework, cadets in the Notre Dame Army ROTC battalion traveled to Fort Custer in Michigan for an intensive field training exercise (FTX).

Sophomore cadet Pat Bedard said the three-day trip gave ROTC members the chance to apply their classroom lessons to field situations.

“The battalion arrived at Fort Custer on Friday afternoon and then did a land navigation exercise, which was basically five hours in the morning finding points using essential navigational skills, teaching us how to use the wooded terrain to our advantage,” Bedard said.

The cadets worked on situational training exercises (STX) Saturday. The STX work included two hours of training for each of five exercises — reconnaissance, movement to contact, knocking out a bunker, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and ambushes, Bedard said.

“During the STX exercises, the seniors pretended to be the enemy,” Bedard said. “It was definitely a highlight of the weekend to get to shoot them with paintballs.”

The group practiced drills in the dark Saturday night.

Freshman cadet Colin O’Shea said this exercise, called night-land navigation, was the most difficult task for the students.

“Saturday’s night land navigation was the hardest part of the weekend,” O’Shea said. “During the day, land navigation was still hard because it was my second time doing it. I did pretty well, but being alone at night in the forest, in the dark, was extremely challenging.”

Junior cadet Kathleen Frechette led her group through a movement-to-contact exercise.

“The seniors were playing the enemy, and we were about 300 meters away,” Frechette said. “As the leader, I had to figure out what the mission was, how we’re going to conduct that. We’d move from where we were to try to attack the enemy. It was a practical application of what we’ve learned in class.”

Battalion commander Josh Sandler said he and other seniors organized the FTX trip and acted as the enemy in each of the training exercises.

Each junior cadet led a squad of sophomores and freshmen through the exercises. Sandler said the exercise is especially helpful for junior cadets because next year they will spend one month in a required Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC).

The course will test their leadership abilities, physical fitness and other useful skills.

“[This weekend was] like a mini LDAC,” Sandler said. “It’s trying to take 30 days worth of training and evaluations and cram them into one weekend.”

Sandler said he and the other seniors added exercises in garrison leadership, or planning for everyday needs for the men and women under a leader’s command, to this year’s FTX. Squad leaders now need to manage the day-to-day concerns of their group while everyone lives in close quarters.

“Now with the addition of garrison leadership … that’s 24 hours that you need to be on your game,” Sandler said. “It’s meant to be the addition of a huge amount of stress … While our previous FTXs have been good, they’ve been incomplete without this garrison leadership piece.

“My role as a [senior cadet and battalion commander] is to train [the younger cadets] to be better prepared than I was, and I feel that we have accomplished this.”

Junior cadet Ted Spinelli said he was glad the weekend exercise would prepare him for the LDAC in the summer.

“The [Leader Development and Assessment Course] is the apex of ROTC, the stepping-stone where a very large amount of our total performance in ROTC is established,” Spinelli said.

The LDAC determines the number of placement options in the Army for the senior cadets after graduation, Spinelli said.

“For me the most helpful part of the weekend was executing a patrol mission on Sunday, and developing a plan to execute that mission that was executed on the larger patrol or platoon-size scale,” Spinelli said. “The longer time allotment and more complex objective made this a more involved exercise, more similar to what we would be doing as officers in the army after school.”

Sandler said that while the weekend was challenging, the cadets in his battalion learned important lessons for their ROTC training during the FTX weekend.

“The most [difficult] part of the weekend was the constant physical discomfort,” Sandler said. “They don’t get to eat or sleep very much, and it’s very cold, wet and windy. That is a constant part of this training. But this is forcing them to be agile thinkers despite this discomfort. Teaching decision making under less-than-ideal conditions is how the Army prepares us to be leaders.”