Pitt ROTC preps for combat
Marcus Clem | Collegio Writer
In pitch black darkness on the night of Sept. 15, a senior cadet, known as an MS4, dressed in Middle Eastern attire, tossed a glow-stick in the air. The glow-stick acted as the only illumination for the surrounding area as he called out a simulated explosion.
Supervising cadets then informed all in the surrounding area that they were dead at the hands of a suicide bomber that they incorrectly prevented from approaching their position.
Unfortunately for the Pittsburg State Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadets, this was only the start of a simulated assault by the senior class. Black-shirted MS4s, playing the role of the Opposing Force (OpFor), poured out of the deep woods.
Most of the cadets manning the walls of the thread-bare Tactical Training Base (TTB) in Camp Clark, a small Missouri National Guard post located near Nevada, Mo., were prepared for something like this. This is the Fall Field Training Exercise (FTX). They had completed a day’s worth of intensive tactical training that began at 4:30 a.m. and were now on guard duty at 9:30 p.m.
However, the human body can only be alert for so long, and the attack was still a surprise. Casualties mounted on both sides as training supervisors selected cadets to be “dead.” A field interrogation simulation took place as senior Devon Griffin was bound and grilled for information about other senior plans. “Bodies” lined the road leading into the main sleeping area, a completely exposed gravel surface bordered by wooden walls.
Finally, as the chaos settled, the defending cadets prevailed, and returned immediately to their watch posts. A “fire watch” was required to be on duty throughout the night.
This was my weekend. This is their life.
Lt. Col. Christopher Lambert is the leader of the active-duty Army cadre of noncommissioned officers and the officers charged with overseeing the cadets’ training. He says these cadets are still students who are not yet in the real Army. Most of them do not wear a uniform on a day-to-day basis and most of them live on campus.
To me, that is even more impressive than if they faced these challenges every day. As students, they must adjust to the seemingly impossible lifestyle of studying for a full-time schedule of courses, as well as the physical and educational training required by ROTC. Attendance at this annual training at Camp Clark is not mandatory but it is highly recommended and the leadership takes note of who didn’t show. In a military organization, that is critical.
Everything in ROTC is earned through tireless effort, and I didn’t have to go to the FTX to know that it takes a special person to step up and do it. Making par will earn a commission as an officer in the United States Army or National Guard, in four years, but excellence is stressed throughout the process, and is rewarded with scholarships and specialized training.
This is not to say that cadets do not get to have fun. Attend any home football game at the university and you will see what I mean. Even during serious training events such as the simulation I described, laughter regularly permeates through the ranks as wisecracking cadets remark on the misfortune that they have volunteered to experience without a second thought.
Somehow they squeeze in secondary jobs and other responsibilities such as those of Rhyan Tridle, senior in nursing, who wants to be an Army medical officer. She has been through four years of extensive medical training and the challenges of the ROTC program.
It seems impossible, but one thing cadets do learn is how to get productive rest out of as little as six hours of sleep, and often less. They have to, and at events like the FTX, they have to do that outside, unless they “get lucky” like this year and are granted a night’s stay on a concrete floor with a roof. In the early morning, that same structure must be cleaned to the standard in which it was found, and it was. Outside of a few errant scraps of meals-ready-to-eat or expended paintballs found about the site where I participated in a simulated defense of some re-purposed shipping containers, Camp Clark has virtually no sign that the cadets were ever there.
Despite all of this, despite my best effort, I could not find a single cadet who could tell me genuinely that they were doing anything less than what they wanted, and most said that they had a blast.
Though I am glad to be returned to my safe and simple life in the civilization of Pittsburg, and I am feeling the pain of my unsuccessful and, in hindsight, certainly hopeless effort to keep up with these people over the two nights I spent with them, I have to say: I did too.