April 26, 2012

ROTC cadets capture top spot in field exercises

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Though they battled heavy rain, dense vegetation, and swollen creeks, cadets with Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s U.S. Army Reserve Officers Training Corps excelled earlier this month in field training exercises.

Sixteen third-year cadets finished first among eight teams in a three-day event, April 13-15, at the Weldon Springs Army Reserve Training Center in Weldon Springs, Mo.  The event helps prepare cadets for the upcoming Leadership Development and Assessment Camp (LDAC) this summer at Fort Lewis in Pierce County, Wash.  The LDAC is a “capstone” in a cadet’s ROTC career. Their performance during the 28-day camp and scholastic grade point average are key factors in determining their individual career fields once they earn commission as a U.S. Army officer, said Lt. Col. Eric Roberts, director of the University’s Army ROTC.

The cadets finished ahead of units from Missouri University of Science and Technology, SIU Edwardsville, Missouri State University, University of Missouri, Truman State University, Washington University, and Lincoln University.  SIU Carbondale was first in both night land navigation and peer evaluations.

“I am extremely pleased.  I can’t say I was overly surprised,” Roberts said.  “I have a good, quality group here and have some outstanding cadre members.  This gives them some bragging rights, and it speaks volumes for the program and motivation of the cadets themselves.”

The cadets were third in day land navigation.  This is the first opportunity cadets had to work with cadets from other universities and the exercises put cadets in leadership positions, Roberts said.

In night land navigation, cadets had three hours to map grid coordinates on a military map and navigate 500 to 600 meters to each point, using only a directional compass and, at night, a red lens flashlight, Roberts said.  Heavy rains and dense woods contributed to the challenges, he said.

Roberts said he is particularly proud of where SIU Carbondale cadets ranked in peer evaluations.  The cadets were part of an 11-member squad with cadets from other schools, and they rate each other on performance and leadership potential. While it might be easier to fool an evaluator on leadership potential for one hour, it is more difficult to fool the other squad members “because they see you the rest of the time,” Roberts said.

“They earned high marks for being good leaders and great team players,” he said.

There are approximately 87 cadets in the Army ROTC program at SIU Carbondale.  There are approximately 270 ROTC units at universities and colleges across the nation, including nine in Illinois.

“These kids put in so much work outside of the normal academic requirements,” Roberts said.  “They are full-time students, some of them have part-time jobs, and we put all this other stuff on them with the ROTC.  The fact that they can balance all of that speaks volumes of their character and time management skills.”