Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Summer Schools

One of the best parts of being a cadet is that there are opportunities available that are not as common in the Regular Army. One such benefit is the option to attend summer training (and sometimes winter training, depending on the slots available and your school’s winter break schedule). Limited slots are given to ROTC programs to send cadets to various Army schools. Often an Order of Merit List based on Army Physical Fitness Test scores, leadership abilities, and college Grade Point Average is referenced to determine which cadets get first dibs on the training slots. In my book there are multiple tips on how to dominate the physical training test, excel at leadership positions, and perform well at school.
                The schools vary greatly. There are the badge schools, where, upon competition of the training, you earn a military badge that can be worn on your uniform for the rest of your time in service. These schools include Airborne, Pathfinder, and Air Assault schools, among others. There are also training centers and opportunities that do not award badges, but are no less fulfilling and beneficial. This includes Mountain Warfare, Robin Sage, and the Cultural Understanding and Language Program (the name may have changed since it first began).
                Which school you choose to complete is completely up to you, the slots available, and whether or not you have earned a slot. Most of my friends chose the badge schools so they could proudly adorn their uniform and show others that they were able to complete the training. Of those schools, the most popular were Air Assault (rappelling from a helicopter) and Airborne (parachuting from an airplane). I was initially offered an Air Assault slot my sophomore year, but eventually turned it down to apply to CULP. Fortunately I was selected and I spent three weeks in Slovakia the following summer. The trip included mountain biking, touring castles, a river boat cruise, going to a water park, hiking up a mountain, and spending a week with Slovak cadets at their military academy. For me the choice between the badge or travelling was simple: How often do you get a all-inclusive trip to another nation for free?
                After my junior year I was offered an Airborne slot, but chose to give it to another cadet so I could take part in Cadet Troop Leadership Training in Germany for four weeks. Again, it came down to me wanting to travel as much as possible for free. I feel that was the correct decision for me. I volunteered for other schools before becoming an officer, and after completing the Basic Officer Leadership Course I was sent to Airborne school, which goes to show that there is still a chance you can earn military badges after ROTC, if you choose to take that risk and wait.
                Clearly there are many training opportunities within ROTC and every cadet will have unique preferences. The trick is to ensure you are performing well as a cadet. As long as you continue to put in the effort you, too, can spend a portion of your summer learning a new skill or culture and have a great time doing it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

ROTC is the Real Deal

Being currently deployed to Afghanistan, I have much time to reflect on several topics. The success of this book has shown me that there is real interest on the part of universities and cadets to be the best they can be. These cadets, who likely include you, the reader, understand something that many doubt: That ROTC IS the real Army!

I can’t begin to recount all the times one of my fellow cadets would assert that ROTC was not the real Army. That it didn’t really matter. These same cadets were also much less likely to finish high on the OML and may have been trying to comfort themselves for not performing as well as they would have liked. The fact is that ROTC is, indeed, the real Army. Now, my ROTC experience bore little resemblance to my time here in the 82D Airborne, but that doesn’t really prove much.

What the naysayers don’t understand is that ROTC has a huge effect on the Army, playing a vital role in producing officers. That is what clearly makes it a part of the real Army. If you do not take the training seriously, if you just try to skim by, you are doing your future soldiers, your platoons, a grave injustice. Yes, I know, in the regular Army there are undeniable stark differences, but, again, that does not make ROTC any less valid.

Cadets owe it to their future subordinates to be physically fit (why the APFT is highly regarded on the OML), to be adaptable (why STX and FLRC lanes are worth so many points), to be intelligent and cultured (why GPA and cultural experience are essential to a top OML ranking), etc. The ribbons you will earn as a cadet cannot be worn on your regular or reserve Army dress blues, but the standards of what is and needs to be expected of a cadet is different from the decorations emphasized as an officer. Amassing cadet ribbons shows dedication, dependability, and discipline. Similar ribbons simply don’t exist in the regular Army. To select and identify high quality cadets who will one day lead soldiers into combat, ribbons for GPA, APFT scores, and extracurricular activities are needed. They show that those cadets actually care about their performance, that they are dedicated and competitive, they know how to manage their time, they are multi-dimensional, etc. These are traits that make successful officers. The kind who are constantly striving to better themselves. If you can’t demonstrate these qualities as a cadet, why should the Army believe you will begin to as an officer?

Those who say ROTC isn’t the real Army undermine the training values to be gained during labs and Field Training Exercises. Worse yet, that attitude can be contagious, resulting in ROTC battalions that are content with producing mediocre cadets. Aside from being a poor example for others, they also miss out on special opportunities, and sink their chances of getting their first branch choice, possibly ending up in one of their least-desired jobs.

Being a great cadet doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a great officer, but it does mean it’s more likely. It shows they have leadership abilities, and it opens the door to many possibilities that I will discuss in my next entry. The next time you hear someone saying how ROTC isn’t the real Army, shrug them off. They cheapen the quality training to be gained as a cadet. If it is because the training isn’t good, then be that catalyst of change, demanding higher standards from yourself and others. Be the cadet/soldier you expect others to be. In short, lead by example. Keep your head up, keep trying your best, and you will be rewarded in many ways, not the least of which is by acquiring the skill to one day be a successful officer.