|Survival of the fittest in Funks Grove, ROTC cadet training|
|Written by Lee Strubinger, Daily Vidette Reporter|
|Monday, 16 April 2012 10:38|
Historic Route 66 runs straight through Bloomington–Normal, all the way to Springfield and beyond to Los Angeles, Calif. But less than a 20 minute drive from ISU, down this landmark road, lies the Sugar Grove Nature Center.
Rain filled in the potholes of that worn-down highway as Cadet Sebastian Coates, physical education major, and I drove southwest toward the nature preserve in Funks Grove. The ISU Army ROTC hosted a field training exercise day out in the woods where they conducted battle drills and later set up tents for a nights stay in the woods.
In ISU’s ROTC program, cadets spend the first three years learning and preparing for what is called the Leadership Development and Assessment Course in Ft. Lewis, Wash. The assessment takes place during the summer between junior and senior year. Every cadet in every ROTC around the country goes to this five-week camp to be graded on things such as leadership, confidence, mental agility, and a myriad of other skills needed to lead a group of soldiers.
“The battle drills they are doing out at Funks Grove, that is a portion of their assessment in Ft. Lewis. Not everyone in the Army becomes combat arms or infantry; we have a lot of nurses and support branches as well. It’s a way to get an equal, level assessment process, so everyone learns the basic soldier tactics that everyone should know,” Coates said.
We took a right at the big white sign, telling us that one-fourth of a mile down the road was real maple syrup, drove over railroad tracks, twisted and turned down the road as bright green trees towered over the car, giving that green aura that only comes from a rainy spring afternoon.
The ROTC program trains cadets how to lead. Graduates from this program will become officers in the Army, whether it is in the National Guard, the reserves, of as active duty. Think of what they are learning as being a school administrator over a group of teachers, they have a little more weight on their shoulders.
About 100 yards into the rolling hills of the nature preserve, Coates and I walked into a squad during the middle of a lane, which is a different section of the battle course. The squad was closing in on a collection of brush, looking to make contact with the enemy. The phrase “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” becomes all the more relevant in this situation.
“You don’t want to lose contact with the enemy,” James Keith, training officer, said. “Because if you do, they have the advantage and can surprise you.”
Raindrops covered the cadets’ protective eyewear as they closed in on the opposition. They came out of the brush with paintball guns, surprising the squad. They secured the area, but much to their surprise, another enemy ran through the shrubbery, ambushing their squad.
This weekend was set up to train both freshmen and sophomores, which the ROTC calls the crawl portion. One must learn to walk before they can run, and this kind of training prepares the cadets for a vast amount of surprises that can happen in real world situations. This reminds those who are learning the importance of security, that is the first thing that must be set up after taking over an area.
The rain would come and go, but the sun refused to show until the evening when training was over.
Each squad had been training since 8 a.m. Covered in mud, nourished on only a few bits from their MREs, Meals Ready to Eat, which is a compact pack of dried food that can be prepared with little water, after their last mission, which was to effectively destroy a bunker nestled in the woods, the squad headed back to the nature preserve cabin.
“I definitely love the rain, love the mud, love crawling through the grass and getting wet,” Cadet Arthur Avery, sophomore history education major, said. “You got to learn that, or it is not going to be much fun.”
During the ROTC training this past weekend, Avery was a squad leader on the first lane, and a team leader for two other lanes. Leading a group of cadets through a training course is a difficult thing to learn, especially in the real world when it can mean the life or death of a squad member, or oneself.
“It’s difficult to keep track of all the pieces. Including yourself, that’s nine to 10 people that you have to keep track of, make sure they are in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing,” Avery said. “My people communicated really well and we were able to keep our unity and cohesion well the whole time.”
In the evening, cadets learned how to set up a makeshift tent with their Army ponchos. This is where they would be sleeping under the stars as the bulk of the weekend’s storm moved up north.
“The reason I am [making the cadets sleep outside], is that when they go to the camp in Washington, they will be alone at night in the woods,” Lt. Col. Stacy Seaworth, ROTC department director, said. “I don’t want that to be the first time that they are alone in the dark, in the woods.”
At the end of the day, Coates and I sped back up Route 66, toward campus as the cadets set up their tents, preparing themselves for the coming storm.