Nov 4, 2009
AFROTC = stress, and why that’s okay
Posted in: Academics & Research
C/4C Claire Nieman '13
On Sunday, 25 October, the cadets of MIT's Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) Detachment 365, including myself, traveled over to Hanscom Air Force Base (about a 30 minute drive) for the fall semester's FLX, or Field Leadership Exercise. Over the past five weeks, we had been learning skills to help us in this exercise. From low crawling to how to challenge intruders, we had to know it all so that the FLX could test our leadership and problem-solving abilities.
But first, let me start with a little background. The question I get asked most often about AFROTC is "but what do you do every week?" Cadets in Det 365 have 1-2 hours of class every week, where we learn about the Air Force and its history, customs, and practices. Every year the focus shifts a little bit, focusing first towards Field Training between sophomore and junior year, and after that towards working and living as an Air Force officer. As a freshman, I'm in AS.100, and right now we're learning about team building. It's fairly low-key, but it covers topics we'll need to be comfortable with in future years.
On Tuesdays from 3:10-5:10 pm (or 1510-1710 hrs, as we like to say), we have Leadership Lab, or LLAB, which is where we really get to practice our skills. LLAB is run by the juniors, seniors, and fifth-years, and is designed to teach the freshmen and sophomores useful skills and to let the upperclassmen get practice leading a group. So far we've had a couple mini-field exercises (out on Briggs Field, if you see people in camouflage carrying fake rifles, that's us) as well as teaching us marching and ceremonial customs.
To top off all that excitement, two mornings and one afternoon a week we have required physical training, or PT, to keep us strong and looking sweet in our uniforms.
So anyways, back to this Sunday's FLX. After learning these skills (and having to read a 23-page document teaching us more skills), it was time to test them out. We drove (transited, in military speak) to Hanscom AFB where we met up with the AFROTC detachment from UMass Lowell. Hanscom already had a simulated forward operating base set up, much like a base that would be set up during wartime, complete with gates, tents, and a command center. The freshman and sophomore cadets were split up into teams and assigned various specialties, from Medical to Security Forces. Obviously, we didn't have to know every skill in those areas, but we were expected to make use of the ones we had been taught in order to complete our missions. After about 25 minutes, we rotated stations so that we could get a chance at everything.
The command "Begin exercise. Begin exercise." came over the loudspeaker, and we were ready to go. The upperclassmen, as well as the cadre (active duty officers that run the ROTC programs) acted as "shadows" to evaluate and assist us. Some cadets also role played by acting as members of the press, civilian contractors, injured people, or protesters, and thus forced us to make decisions about how to appropriately handle each situation.
For example, when I was on the Medical team, there was a simulated base attack, and some of the cadets were "injured" at various locations around the base. We only had two stretchers, which needed to be carried by four people, and so we had to split up into teams and make sure that every injured person was accounted for and "treated" according to their injuries. Sometimes we would be indecisive or get something wrong, and that's when an upperclass shadow would step in to give us advice on what to do. We kept getting calls on our one radio about people we needed to go pick up, so on top of having a lot of responsibility, we only had one source of communication between us and the command center. We had to collaborate and constantly assess our surroundings to make sure we could do the best job possible.
It's situations like this that are common to many of our leadership exercises, and it's definitely helpful to be able to practice handling stressful situations in a controlled environment before we confront them in the real world. So, even though it was pretty stressful at times, and at the end of the day I was exhausted, I can honestly say that I enjoyed it.
Air Force ROTC will test you by putting you in situations you probably could have avoided in any other case, but overcoming these challenges has been tremendously motivating to me and many of my fellow cadets. The general theory behind these challenges, big and small, from field exercises to making sure your uniform is perfect, is that if we can handle these things we can handle our jobs as future military leaders. It certainly hasn't been easy, especially on top of adjusting to the intensity of regular MIT, but by the end of my four years here I am 100% sure I will be ready for a career in the Air Force.