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Soldiers in the making: ROTC members put in work over weekend at Fort Custer

AUGUSTA, Mich. — While other Central Michigan University students relaxed and refueled for the upcoming week, ROTC students put in work over the weekend for combined field training exercises.

After the two-hour trip from campus, cadets found their destination at Fort Custer in Augusta and were introduced to the barracks and other cadets.

LeRoy Military Science senior and cadet captain John-Mark Grabow said the weekend was preparation for cadets going to the Leadership Development Assessment Course, which requires cadets to work with others they did not know before.

“Being able to work with people you have never met before on very short amount of time is really invaluable,” he said. “We give them a day for them to meet each other, and they are forced to do missions that really encourage them to form a kind of camaraderie in order to accomplish the task at hand.”

After a cadet’s junior year, they go to LDAC in Fort Lewis, Wash., near Seattle, in the summer and meet with other ROTC cadets from all over the nation, Grabow said.

“It’s a four-week long evaluation period where cadets are tested over what they have learned the past three years,” Garbow said. “They grade them and send the scores home, and the scores determine where they might go.”

The other cadets preparing for LDAC came from Eastern Michigan University, Western Michigan University, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the University of Notre Dame. Ferris State University also made the trip, being one of the satellite schools of CMU.

The cadets were hampered by the declining temperatures that stayed in the 30s, which, for Commerce Military Science senior and CMU cadet captain Andrew Prueter, was a big change from last spring.

“Last year, the temperature fluctuated between 65 and 80 degrees,” Prueter said. “Which, with a lot of the cold and wet weather, it can change the obstacles as far as climate and atmosphere.”

With no snow last year in the CFTX, Prueter said he would prefer to be hot and sweaty, because it would require less equipment and easier mobility.

The subtleties of warfare

The first bus ride full of cadets traveled along a slim dirt road late Friday afternoon, dodging the numerous potholes and mud, keeping the speed to a minimum.

The candor between the cadets remained genial as they readied themselves for the beginning of what would be three days of field simulations, pre-packaged meals and sleep deprivation within the confines of Fort Custer.

An M4 carbine rifle was handed out to every cadet, each marked with a serial number. At the end of the last exercise, weapons were brought to a separate bunker, where they were cleaned thoroughly and inspected.

Although each magazine handed out was filled with blanks, the end of the M4 rifle had a Blank Firing Adapter put on to ensure safety.

“The weapons don’t fire anything, but are just meant to keep everything as realistic as possible,” Prueter said.

Cadets had to stay on their toes when it came to their weapon, because if the gun was not within an arms length, a senior cadet would come take it.

The first squad tactical exercise the cadets would perform after being split up among other university ROTC cadets was land navigation.

“We give them grid coordinates, a map, protractor and a compass, and with those items, they plot where they are and how to get to each destination point,” Grabow said. “Everyone is given a briefing and the area they should be working in.”

From there, cadets are given an extra 15 minutes to plot out their grid points before their time begins, where they have three hours to find the five grid points while it’s dark, using a flashlight with a red filter only.

Carson City Military Science senior and cadet captain Weston Waldron explained the exercise best as finding a needle in a haystack when it is dark.

“It’s always a good idea to spend extra time on it, because if you mess one up, you might mess up the others, too,” Waldron said.

With the addition of snow and mud, it was the prickers that came into play, with several cadets coming back with scratches on their hands and faces.

Standish Military Science sophomore Karina Pierce had plenty of experience with the outdoors and was allowed to team up for land navigation because she was not a junior.

“We found three out of five grid points,” Pierce said. “Probably could have found the fourth one, but we wouldn’t have made it back in time.”

Pierce and her fellow cadets received blisters from some of the boots that had not been broken in yet. This was a regular occurrence for some of the cadets.

With five hours of sleep a night, Pierce was not complaining, even when it came to the quality of the mattress.

“They don’t bother me; if you’re tired, then you’ll pass out right away,” Pierce said, smiling down at the mattress. “At least I’m not outside in the cold.”

After cadets from each university were divided evenly into Area Operations with names such as AO Chip and AO Eagle, the cadets were able to meet one another before braving the harsh terrain together.

“It’s actually been really nice with cadets from other schools,” Pierce said. “They’re on the same level, and we get all the same training, so it’s easy to incorporate and train together.”

On Saturday, each squad was given small missions, where they might be requested to knock out a bunker, to recon an area or to conduct an ambush.

Each squad was given an operations order for the lane, where they simulate gunfire, as well as searching the enemy after they have been terminated, Prueter said.

“It’s a learning experience, where they are evaluated and walk through what was done right and wrong,” Prueter said. “The focus of this weekend is understanding operations orders, executing STX lanes and patrolling. It’s more for getting the realistic experience.”

There were two ambush sites the cadets took part in, where they were to set up along a road and wait for opposing forces to walk through the kill zone.

The opposing forces were more often than not portrayed by a senior cadet, wearing black, who had already participated in CFTX last year, Prueter said.

The six STX lanes included movement to contact, knock out a bunker, squad attack, reconnaissance and ambush one and two.

“Recon is hard, because you don’t want to be seen or heard, and, out here, it is really impossible to do,” Prueter said. “These lanes are only two hours; in real life, recon lasts a lot longer.”

On the bus ride home, all but three cadets were fast asleep, some taking positions that would normally be accomplished by contortionists only.

The main objective for the cadets was to learn to trust someone and establish a working relationship.

As the bus carrying the cheering CMU cadets pulled in front of Finch Fieldhouse around 6 p.m. on Sunday, the main objective was met and completed.

The next story in this series will focus on a Tawas cadet.

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