FORT RILEY, Kan. — More than 250 ROTC cadets traveled to Fort Riley, Kansas by UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, bus and government-owned vehicles for a four-day field training exercise that took place April 20 through 23.
Cadets from Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, University of Central Missouri and Missouri Western State University participated in the FTX to assist them in building their tactical and leadership skills, as well as developing their personal confidence, said Lt. Col. Pete Gray, professor of Military Science at K-State. The primary focus of the FTX was on the Military Science Level III cadets, who are mostly juniors and seniors in college. For them, the training focused on aiding them in developing their leadership skills ahead of attending their five-week Advanced Camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where they will be mixed with cadets from universities all over the U.S. and evaluated on their performance.
“What we’re trying to do here is replicate that by bringing in multiple schools, getting them out into the type of training scenarios they’re going to see at Fort Knox and give them a chance to just show us their leadership skills and we evaluate them, we provide them feedback and provide the feedback to their schools,” Gray said.
Due to their Advanced Camp occurring in their third year, MS III is considered a key year in the cadet’s career, he said.
“That being their key year, they’re the focus of our training, so they’re doing tactical training almost exclusively,” Gray said. “They do it at the squad level and then we progress them to the platoon level.”
April 20 the cadets arrived and divided into two companies with MS IIIs being placed into Company A and MS I and MS IIs placed into Company B. During the day and night of April 21, both companies conducted day and night land navigation training in squad sized groups prior to breaking out into their company specific activities for April 22.
As the MS I through MS III trained, MS IV cadets took on command operations and opposing forces roles to assist the lower level cadets with cadre oversight.
“We really have two separate operations that are going on here,” Gray said. “The senior cadets, the MS IVs, they’re the ones who are commanding and controlling it with cadre oversight. I have a couple cadre in here overseeing them. We’ve planned it out, we’ve made sure we’ve covered all the details, but we turned it (over) to them and say ‘OK, we’ve got to move these guys from here to here. How are you guys going to do that?’ just to reinforce, give them tips on how we plan as senior officers, but give them a chance to exercise that higher level (command) element.”
For the MS IV cadets, the FTX lets them see and understand more about their future leadership roles because they weren’t moving fellow cadets from one location to another, they were also considering supply needs, food requirements, transportation, communication with the noncommissioned officers for headcounts and more.
The third day, April 22, the MS III cadets were challenged in situational training exercises as evaluators kept a close eye on their every move. The cadets conducted a large-scale platoon-level exercise under different scenarios, such as preparing to raid a village, clear buildings and eliminate threats. With each STX lane, different MS III cadets were tasked with taking on the leadership role in the scenario and evaluated by the cadre overseeing it.
As the MS IVs acted as commander operations and the MS III conducted STX lanes, the MS I and IIs pushed themselves physically and mentally on the rappel tower, confidence course and field leader’s reaction course.
“We also have underclass cadets our here, what we call MS Is and MS IIs,” Gray said. “Those are generally freshman and sophomores. A little bit younger in the program, so we do some tactical training with them, but the major focus with them is retention so that we have them when they get to their third year … They’re doing a couple things. They’re out on the rappel tower, they’re doing the obstacle course, or confidence course … and also some we call the field leaders reaction course which is a really small unit, squad level, it’s a free-thinking design … to get them in a leadership position where we’re not worried about being tactically correct or using all of our doctrinal terms, just give them a chance to exercise their leadership and take control of a small group.”
For Cadet Benjamin Lindsey, MS II, Wildcat Battalion at K-State, who is prior active duty, the FTX was a good way for the cadets to build confidence and develop connections with one another. He said they each learned something about themselves. In his case, with a grin, he said he learned he still can’t climb ropes.
“This course itself is a confidence course itself and really that’s what this entire FTX is meant to be,” Lindsey said. “It’s meant to build unit cohesion both at platoon level, the squad level and the company level. It’s meant to build confidence in your fellow squad members, your team members to get the job done.”
Cadet Brian Iversen, MS II, Wildcat Battalion at K-State, echoed Lindsey’s sentiment and said it was especially beneficial for them to be working with cadets from other battalions because of the networking and relationship building skills it teaches them, something he believes will be important after their commissioning.
“In the real Army, once we move on to commission, we’re going to be constantly meeting new faces, so just getting used to socializing, making friends and meeting other people and networking as a whole is important in the Army, so getting the chance to mimic that here in cadet land has been beneficial to us,” he said.
The cadets came to Fort Riley for their FTX because the K-State Wildcat Battalion was tasked with hosting it, Gray said. As the Wildcat cadets regularly train at the installation due to its proximity and abundant facilities, it made sense to hold the FTX here.
“I’ve been in the Army 18 and a half years and this has this most up to date, the finest facilities, the friendliest staff to help us design these exercises,” he said. “We want to get them on a post where we have the open land … It’s just 17 miles down the road where we have these world class facilities.”