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The words of a leader

Wofford ROTC Southern Guards cadets share essays on their summer experiences.

CIET summer experience essay 
by Kathleen Barnes ’18, a psychology major from Hazel Green, Ala.

As first regiment cadets at CIET this summer, we got to be the guinea pigs. In other words, we heard the word FRAGO quite often. Adapting and overcoming was something we learned how to do quite quickly. However, with hiccups here and there, which are bound to happen anywhere, it was a very different experience and one where I learned to grow. 

I had three close battle buddies from my platoon. We grew very close, and they helped me push through the difficult days. We all encouraged each other when we became home sick, and we found ways to make each other smile. One thing that helped us was always looking forward to chow time. We knew there were three chow times a day, and then it was time for sleep. 

We were exposed to so many things in the 30 short days that we were there: M240B, the weapons range and learning to zero the M14; learning about the ChemCore and going through the gas chamber; land navigation and more. However, the thing I think I appreciated the most and the thing that may stay with me the longest is the collaboration and team work with people I had just met. For example, one of the first things we did during the month was a team-building course with about five different stations that we rotated through with our squad. We had a time limit to figure out how to complete each station. What encouraged me so much was how well everyone helped one another compete the course. Those who were weaker were cheered; those who were stronger used their abilities for the good of the group. We came together as one and completed the task. The cadets in charge stepped up, and the rest followed suit. After that day, I looked back and thought: I didn’t know these people existed a week ago, and now I am trusting them to hold me up and hugging them when we get the mission accomplished. It was such a rejuvenating and memorable feeling.

Going in to CIET, I had not a clue of what to expect. Honestly, I kind of liked it that way. I had no expectations and took things as they came. A lot of it was review from what I learned in my Wofford ROTC labs, but now I was actually able to apply the information in real situations. The experience as a whole is one that I will not forget. I learned so much. It was not how I expected to spend a month of my summer, but from the people I’ve met and the things I have learned, I wouldn’t go back and have it any other way.

ROTC Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program summer experience 
by Jason Cox ’19, a finance major from Spartanburg, S.C.

This summer I was afforded the opportunity to travel abroad to Madagascar for the U.S. Army ROTC Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program. During this trip I not only learned about the differences between first-world and third-world countries, but I experienced it. Throughout my three-week stay in Madagascar, I had the opportunity to engage with Malagasy officers, enlisted soldiers and locals. I have built relationships with many people in Madagascar and through this opportunity, gained insight on their culture and what it means to be a true Malagasy citizen.

It all started at Fort Knox where I and 61 other cadets arrived anxious to see what was in store for us. Once we stepped off the bus, we were immediately assigned leadership positions and told to get in formation. I was assigned to be the cadet platoon sergeant so I was in charge of about 30 people right off the bat. We spent the next four days at Fort Knox going through pre-deployment training. This included our medical briefs, finance briefs, security briefs and any other crucial information that we needed to know before departing for Madagascar. We also had to go through Soldier Readiness Processing to get any shots we needed. We had our blood drawn for testing to make sure we were all healthy and ready to go. Once we successfully completed our pre-deployment training at Fort Knox, we boarded our first plane. Just before taking off, I was told by my mission Commander that I was now my mission's cadet company commander and that I was in charge of getting myself and 61 other cadets across the world and into a foreign country. I never would have thought that at 19 years old, I would find myself in the situation that I did that day.

After 24 hours of flying, we finally arrived. We settled in and were given the rest of the day to relax. The following day we all formed up outside our hotel and were given a walk through of the capital city of Madagascar, where we would call home for the next three weeks. The name of the capital was Antananarivo, meaning “city of one thousand.” Once we were acquainted with our surroundings, we went back to our rooms to prepare for the days to come. We were divided up into six teams. Team 1 (my team) spent their time at the Malagasy Staff College teaching field grade officers about American culture and our military. We learned a great deal of information about their culture and military in return. We played basketball with them every other day as a way to build rapport and bond with them on a more personal level. Teams 2 and 6 spent much of their time going over tactics and maneuvers with the enlisted soldiers, while teams 3, 4 and 5 were at the Military Academy training cadets of the Malagasy armed forces. Although we all had a different mission while we were there, everyone was submersed into a new cultural environment, and we all learned so much from it.

In addition to working with our counterparts throughout the week, my team and I had the opportunity to travel around and sightsee on the weekends. I went to a professional rugby match to watch Madagascar play against Zambia, another African country. I also spent a weekend in the jungle sleeping in bungalows and was able to see lemurs in the wild! The markets that I visited had lots of handmade jewelry, clothes and household objects that were used and worn everyday by the local Malagasy people. I was able to visit several sacred tombs and learn about their importance. One of my favorite parts of the mission was when my platoon of 30 cadets ruck marched 12 miles up a mountain to the gun range where we shot AK-47s and Makarov pistols. It was an exhausting day but totally worth it. 

The most rewarding experience I had while overseas was on my last day in country. We attended a local orphanage, where we helped clean up the area by picking up trash, stacking bricks and firewood, and digging a trench around the building to act as a water barrier to prevent the building from flooding. This experience really changed my life and the way I view other cultures around the world. Before this trip, I took for granted so much and did not really understand how blessed I am to be an American. It opened my eyes to a whole new understanding of poverty in the world, where many people do not even have shoes for their feet, clothes for their bodies, food for their mouths or a government that will help them. It was such an enriching experience to be able to work at the orphanage and play with the 120 kids who were living there and being able to see their faces light up as they received the gift of physical touch and love that had been absent in their lives for so long.

After three short weeks, it was time to come home. We arrived back in Fort Knox, where we went through Reverse Soldier Readiness Processing to make sure that we were all still healthy and safe to go home. We went through our debriefings and said our goodbyes as we departed the airport to go our separate ways. Over the course of that month, I made some of my best friends, learned some valuable lessons, and ultimately gained a greater appreciation for America and the freedoms that we have, especially the little ones that we take for granted. I am very thankful for the Army ROTC for allowing me this great opportunity to learn more about other countries and their cultures. I would recommend this program to any cadet who would like to enjoy an experience similar to mine in the future.

Air Assault School summer experience essay
by Josh Pettit ’18, a finance major from Spartanburg, S.C.

As a rising junior I’ve competed on the ranger challenge team, participated in several field training exercises and experienced two challenging years of Wofford academics. Nothing, however, compares to my experience at Air Assault School because it was the first time I had ever been to a combat-oriented school and my first ‘real-world’ experience with the Army. 

I had I heard from my oldest brother, 1st Lieutenant Chris Pettit, that it would be difficult. He had been to Air Assault when he was cadet at Wofford, and he understood the challenges that I would face. I knew when I volunteered that Air Assault School would be both physically and mentally demanding and that I would have to train hard in order to prepare for the worst. I also knew that I had been given a great opportunity to learn more about the Army and more about myself, so I did not take this opportunity lightly. 

Air Assault is a combat insertion unit that uses helicopters to insert troops on the battlefield while providing aeromedical evacuation, close air support and resupply operations. Air Assault got its name from combining two different operations called vertical envelopment and air mobility. During the Vietnam War, the United States Army experimented with vertical envelopment and air mobility in order to fight the North Vietnamese. On Feb. 15, 1963, the experiment turned into reality when the 11th Air Assault Division was established at Fort Benning, Ga. On June 1, 1965, it was renamed the 1st Calvary Division and was declared an active fighting force. Today Air Assault operations support all branches of the military because it provides efficient mobility and stability. 

There are several Air Assault schools throughout the nation, but I was lucky enough to train at Fort Benning, where the first unit was activated. At Air Assault School, they divide the curriculum into three phases and assign everyone a roster number, which is used by the cadre for organization and accountability. Throughout the course, I along with every other student, was addressed as “Air Assault” or by my roster number, which was written on my helmet and canteen. We had to address the cadre as “Air Assault Sergeant,” and everywhere we went, we had to run and yell “Air Assault” when our left foot hit the ground. Before I was considered an Air Assault student, I had to complete “Zero Day,” a day designed to weed out undetermined soldiers. Zero Day requirements consisted of a two-mile run and obstacle course, as well as being other strenuous activities such as numerous diamond push-ups and Y-squats. In other words, they smoked us until they were tired, and then we were required to run two miles and complete the obstacle course.

Once I got through Zero Day, the Air Assault cadre immediately briefed us on what was expected in Phase I: Air Assault Operations. During Phase I, I was taught the history of Air Assault, rotary wing aircraft (helicopters), aircraft safety, aeromedical evacuation, combat assault, hand and arm signals, close combat attack and pathfinder operations. This was the most academically demanding phase because it involved so much information. We were still required to a lot of physical training. Every morning I had to get up at 5 a.m. for PT, basically another smoke session. One morning we had to do a four-mile run on some pretty tough terrain while being in formation and calling cadences. After that it was a challenge to stay awake in class and keep up with how fast they were putting out information.

In Phase II: Helicopter External Load Operations, or sling-load operations, I learned how to prepare, rig and inspect a variety of cargo such as an M998 HMMWV, A-22 Cargo bag and a cargo net. I was instructed on the amount of weight certain helicopters could lift, the type of cargo that was allowed by each helicopter and how sling-load operations were carried out. This was by far the hardest phase because of the detail. Also, we had to complete a six-mile road march in an hour and half, which was tough considering how hot it was in Georgia. We were tested on sling-load inspections, and it was important to pay attention to every detail because the equipment had to be rigged a certain way. It was my job to find three out of four deficiencies in two minutes or I fail the test. In order to pass this phase, I had to keep my cool and remember my inspection sequence even though it was a very stressful situation. 

Last but not least is Phase III: Rappelling was by far the best phase because it was hands-on and a lot fun. I learned how to tie a Swiss seat around my waist so that I would not fall off of the rope, how to rappel, and how an Air Assault Operation uses rappelling as a means to insert troops into battle. After being instructed on how to rappel, I had to demonstrate that I could properly rappel in light and heavy combat gear. I had to demonstrate several styles of rappelling and perform a 90-foot rappel out of a UH-60A Blackhawk, which was really cool. Although fun, rappelling was difficult, and I had to get over my fear of heights in order to earn my Air Assault wings. This part of Air Assault School is where you literally earn your wings so it was important that I got over my fear and succeed. 

The very last thing we had to complete before graduation was a 12-mile ruck march. We started at midnight and finished around 3 a.m., only a few hours before graduation. This event was single-handedly the hardest thing I have ever done because of the amount of hills on the course and how hot and humid it was, even at midnight. At the halfway mark we had to receive our Air Assault wings as motivation to finish the ruck march in time. This did motivate me, but I could not have done it without God who gave me the extra push to finish at the end. 

I grew up knowing that I could do all things through Christ, but never has it been clearer than on the ruck march. At mile marker eleven, when I was a mile from finishing, I was behind pace by two minutes and had an Air Assault Sergeant yelling at me saying I wouldn’t finish in time. I knew I was going to finish regardless if I made the time or not because that’s just who I am; I never quit. I ran to finish line as they were counting down, and I could believe it. I was cramping extremely bad and my feet were destroyed, but I fought the pain and ran the entire mile to finish on time. You could definitely say God was with me and gave me an extra push. 

My favorite things about Air Assault School were the relationships and friendships I built. Everyone had to embrace the pain and the Georgia heat, and those shared experiences brought us together. In particular, Cadet Dylan Bridgeman (a USC Upstate student and member of the Southern Guards ROTC Battalion), who accompanied me to Air Assault, was always there for me, and we had each other’s back the entire time. We studied together, ate together and made sure to check up on one another to see how we were doing. I also learned a lot from Bridgeman, and I'm thankful that we were able to go together. Like I said, I learned a lot about the Army and about myself so I am beyond thankful that I got the opportunity to go to Air Assault School. I am looking forward to the next opportunity that the Army will provide, and I am proud to be a solider. 

Fall 2016