ROTC cadets learn lessons in fighting and flight

ROTC cadets learn lessons in fighting and flight

Eagle Life editor

While other students were basking in the lake-side sun or grilling hamburgers with friends, Cadet Alex Smith prepared to jump from an airplane miles above the Georgia state terrain.

Armed with a parachute and determination, Smith said she tried to focus on following orders rather than her nerves.

“I tried to focus less on what I was thinking about and focus on what other people were doing. I had a cadet sitting next to me from another school who thought he was going to throw up, so I was kind of worried I was going to get throw-up on me,” Smith said, recalling her first jump.

“But I was in the middle of a line, so I really just said ‘Follow everybody out, follow everybody out,’ and that’s what I did. I just followed everybody else right out the door and made sure to do everything right that I’d been taught to do and when I opened my eyes, it was amazing. I had this huge view of woods and fields and a bunch of parachutes.”

Smith was one of several ROTC cadets nationwide who enrolled in summer programs offered by the U.S. Army. Schools like the Army’s Airborne School in Ft. Benning, Ga. offer training to ROTC cadets, enlisted army soldiers, non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers.

“It’s a lot of hard work to go to [an] airborne school and I kept telling myself ‘It’s going to be worth it, it’s going to be worth it.’ And it absolutely was,” Smith said. “I did five jumps. And that first jump as soon as I opened my eyes, I was like, it was totally worth every single piece of work I put into it … I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

“I met a lot of friends while I was there that I still keep in touch with, and they really helped me get through some of the harder parts,” Smith said. “Making friends with somebody and having a bond that ‘Oh, we jumped out of airplanes together’ is particularly special.”

Spencer Fox, another EWU ROTC cadet, was sent to Ft. Knox, Ky., where he enrolled in the U.S. Army leader’s training course. While at Ft. Knox, Fox was involved with Operation Bold Leader, Charlie Company Third Platoon from June 24 to July 23.

The Army leader’s training course is designed for academic juniors with no prior ROTC experience. Upon completion of the leader’s training course, cadets are eligible to enter into the third year of ROTC training.

At Ft. Knox, Fox arose daily at 5 a.m. for chow, followed by classroom time in which the cadets were taught such skills as military tactics and map reading. After lunch, the cadets gained field experience, learning such skills as repelling, navigation of obstacle courses, water survival, throwing grenades and surviving combat situations. According to Fox, the cadets’ days were packed, with one hour allotted for free time before bed.

At the end of his time at Ft. Knox, Fox was awarded the Bold Leader Warrior Spirit Award.

“[It] is presented to the outstanding cadet in each company who demonstrates inspirational leadership, warrior spirit and highest rating,” Fox said. “I was the highest rated cadet in the Company out of 172 cadets that graduated.”

“I really got a sense of what privates go through during boot camp and so I have a greater respect for the enlisted personnel … I think it made me a better leader, smarter, and helped me think on my feet,” Fox said. “You really have to think on your feet when you’re in a combat scenario and even in boot camp, you’ve got to be able to make the right decision as quickly as possible. … [The drill sergeants] really stress you out so that you can basically train yourself to make the right decision and the best decision under high mental and physical stress.”

“It made me a more well-rounded cadet and a more qualified second lieutenant. … I want to have as many experiences and go to as many schools as I can,” Smith said. “Each one is a learning experience.”

“I am really grateful. I had no idea I was going to get in a school slot and I have been really grateful for ROTC for letting me do something so freaking amazing,” said Smith. “They really helped me become a great person and I can really be proud of the things that I’ve done and I can’t be more appreciative of that.”