Cadets participate in state’s largest ROTC field exercise

Photo by Brigham BertholdReading Time: 3 minutes

The threat of rain hovered just above the bone-dry landscape as hundreds of students worked to perfect tactical leadership. Berated by gusts of sand-filled wind and the evaluations of senior instructors, each student felt pressure to perform.

Six of Utah’s Reserve Officer Training Corps programs coordinate the training of 264 cadets at the FARM shooting range near Fairfield, Utah, April 6-8. The spring semester field training exercise is the state’s largest combined training exercise.

A multi-faceted approach to the event allowed each cadet a chance to learn and grow. For many, it would be their last.

“This is a leadership development exercise,” said Maj. Jeff Hendricks, executive officer of BYU’s ROTC. “We use the field environment as a vehicle to train junior cadets in field craft and to train the upper-level cadets in leadership tactics.”

Training was designed as the final preparation for third-year cadets, academic juniors, prior to attending the U.S. Army Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC). Each summer, cadets from around the country travel to Fort Knox, Kentucky for comprehensive evaluation of their training. The U.S. Army uses performance results from LDAC to formulate the National Order of Merit List (OML). The OML ranks all ROTC seniors. A cadet’s ability to enter their specialty of choice relies heavily on their LDAC assessment.

In an effort to replicate LDAC conditions, students from each university were mixed with other students unknown to them. Similarly, cadets were evaluated by ROTC leadership from other universities.

“Maybe [a cadet] had an instructor from Weber State, but out here they have an evaluator for SUU,” said Hendricks. “So that gives them an opportunity to gain different perspectives. Sometimes it will highlight deficiencies.”

According to Maj. Michael Rhinehart, professor of military science at SUU, the purpose of the training was to prepare third-year cadets for LDAC and make sure the first and second-year cadets, academic freshmen and sophomores respectively, don’t have to endure more hardship than they are prepared for.

First and second-year cadets participated in basic rifle marksmanship, basic emergency medicine and basic land navigation. Every cadet in attendance had already learned these skills, even if only in the classroom.

Sixty-three third-year cadets conducted full-scale tactical operations in a small platoon-sized element of roughly 20 cadets. They were evaluated on leadership and tactical proficiency as they conducted ambushes, performed land navigation, responded to attack drills and led reconnaissance patrols.

“Having this opportunity to work with the other ROTC programs in Utah before we go [to LDAC] lets us get a feel for how it will be working with a bunch of cadets we don’t know,” said UVU cadet Lacey Stewart.

“Sometimes people aren’t going to have the same ideas as you and you’re going to have to learn how to be a follower,” said Stewart. “Learning how to be a follower, even though you may disagree with things, will make you a better leader.”

UVU cadet Kyle Masse said the training event helped highlight some things he needs to improve on before attending LDAC. Masse, who plans to spend his career as an air defense officer, said he wants to work on being more specific when issuing commands.

“I have a tendency to say, ‘the trees over there,’ and that’s not very descriptive,” said Masse. “I have learned to be more specific in my descriptions.”

Fourth-year cadets, academic seniors, were responsible for planning the event. These cadets attended LDAC the previous summer and each have qualified to earn a commission as a U.S. Army officer. With recent experience at LDAC, seniors were used to help replicate those conditions.

“Students, MSIVs, are running the lanes,” said Masse. “They are throwing us curve balls and we are working to respond to those variables.”

“As this is a leadership development exercise, we want to see how the seniors plan, organize and execute an operation that’s larger than just their school, their scope,” said Hendricks.

“The MSIVs, in less than three weeks, are going to be second lieutenants,” said Rhinehart. “In as little as six weeks, they could be put in a position where they are responsible to put together something like this.”

Professors of military science provided instruction as needed, evaluated MSIII cadets during their lanes and facilitated solutions beyond the resources and abilities of MSIVs.

“When you ask a [20-something] year old cadet to organize and execute a training like this,” said Rhinehart, “they haven’t had the experience of knowing all the boxes to check to make sure you have a good product. At the end of the day the cadre are responsible for that.”

Of the 264 cadets in attendance, 58 are preparing to become commissioned officers by the end of this semester. six of them will commission from UVU.