Their day began at 4:45 a.m. Saturday. That’s when Kansas State Army ROTC cadets were loaded onto buses to head out to Fort Riley.
By 7 a.m., freshman and sophomore cadets were climbing over and crawling under various obstacles while senior cadets encouraged and instructed them, and junior cadets participated in their own field leadership reaction course.
At 11 a.m., it was time to eat lunch, followed by roughly five hours of daytime land navigation training. At 6:30 p.m., dinner was distributed, followed again by roughly four hours of nighttime land navigation training.
For the cadets, sleep came at midnight or so, with wake-up at 5 a.m. to start Sunday’s planned squad tactical exercises. On Sunday, it was also the junior cadets’ turns to crawl in the dirt and demonstrate their body strength and possible fear of heights on the obstacle course.
Capt. Ryan Gardner, Army ROTC public affairs officer and senior in family studies, said the weekend’s training emphasizes the development of courage and overcoming fear, and forces cadets to think creatively and collectively.
Many cadets found the obstacles involving heights to be the most challenging. For some it was because they found their own height to be a disadvantage while others disliked the distance between themselves and the ground.
Cadet Shantell Dixon, a sophomore, said cadets help each other complete the obstacles.
The cadets participated in the course during the brisk morning hours, but Dixon said she warmed up pretty quickly completing the course.
Cheryl Cleary, senior in social work, said the senior cadets who designed the obstacles wanted to incorporate fun aspects into the course. She said one of the most entertaining obstacles Saturday morning was when cadets had to perform 15 push-ups, place a bat perpendicular to the ground and run around it 10 times with their forehands pressed to it, then try to run over a wooden wall.
Disorientation won a few rounds.
Jim Culbertson, an officer with Kansas National Guard, and Joe Masarik, a retired Army veteran, mentored the cadets for the training. They said the exercises prepare the freshman through junior cadets for the Leadership Course Development Assessment (LDAC) at Fort Lewis in Washington, which cadets go to in their junior year.
They said the LDAC is where the cadets, along with cadets from all over the nation, are evaluated on their skills. The evaluations help determine which jobs the cadets will perform in the future.
For their meals, cadets ate MREs, or meals, ready to eat, which come in plastic packaging and consist of a main dish, side and snack or dessert. The meals are heated with a little packet containing a chemical that heats when water is added.
Though the food packets indicate the main course, like chicken fajitas or veggie burger, it’s a bit of a surprise what’s in each MRE and cadets spend mealtime trading sides and desserts.
Downtime during lunch was also spent reading and sleeping, with cadets reminded to always keep their rifles close to them, even when napping.
Morgan Moxley, a freshman, said one of her favorite parts of joining ROTC is the bonding, which she said is different from normal friendships because of the pain you go through together.
She said the hardest obstacle for her was when cadets were made to flip over a wooden beam several feet off the ground, but she said she was excited to test her skills at the land navigation site and see how she has improved.
Overnight, the cadets slept on cots in a barebones building at the land navigation site, which is in a mock village designed to train in urban warfare.
Lt. Col. Scott Bridegam, professor of military science and commander of the program, said ROTC is unique in that in four years, cadets go from learning how to follow to knowing how to lead. He said that at a very young age, cadets are placed in charge of 40 to 50 people.
But, he said that as much as they try to make the training fun , the nation is entrusting them with one of the biggest responsibilities there is.
Bridegam said many of the cadets are 18 or 19 years old and have lived in a country that has been at war for more than half their lives but they’re still willing to join and serve.
In April, cadets will go to a larger training camp that will include battalions from other colleges. The Kansas State Army ROTC Battalion has 140 cadets. Their motto is “Wildcat Strong.”