Hi, I am Cadet O’Brien. I am a Junior at MIT majoring in course 3 (Materials Science and Engineering) and an MSIII cadet in the Army ROTC program here at MIT. AROTC allows you to be pretty flexible in how involved you are in the program. You can do the minimum 3 times per week PT (physical training), one military class, and one leadership lab. But I’m not here to talk about minimum requirements. I like being as involved as possible, and I want to show you how awesome that can be.
Once a semester we go on FTX’s (Field Training Exercises). These are 3 day long ventures out into the field where we sleep under the stars at night (or under the rain) and during the day we practice our tactics. We are broken into squads of around 9 with people from other ROTC programs like Northeastern and BU who we have never met before, and set off with everything we brought with us (our sleeping bag, extra boots, dry socks, food, etc.) packed on our back.
Suddenly, there’s a mission. There’s an enemy bunker 400 meters away. You’ve got two hours to destroy it and be out of there. That means 10 minutes to come up with a plan. You plot the grid point on the map and plan the best way to attack. You brief your squad the Operations Order: the situation, your mission, how you’re going to do it, what support you have (if any), and the callsigns of higher, and passwords so you can identify friendlies. Each team has its purpose and they know what to do. A few rehearsals later, and it’s time to step off. Your squad moves in its formation through the woods, wrestling with branches and using hand signals to communicate. You come across an open area, which you saw on the map and devised a plan for. Everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to. Suddenly, a whistle… “INCOMING!!” you scream, and your squad hits the dirt. An ArtieSim (Artillery simulator) explodes somewhere by a tree. There’s little time: you yell out a distance and direction and your squad sprints that far as fast as they can. You consider yourself lucky, at least no one was hit. But you would know what to do if you hadn’t been so lucky. You move quickly into the woods and out of sight. Time to take out a bunker….
At the end of the mission, we talk about what was good, and what we should have handled better. These simulated missions are fun, but they prepare us for the day when we may have to take out a real enemy bunker. We put ourselves in this manufactured stress environment so that we can one day make the real life and death decisions.
During the summer, we have the option to be regular civilians, or to attend awesome schools like Airborne (parachuting out of planes) and Air Assault (rappelling out of helicopters). I spent my freshman summer at Airborne school in Ft. Benning, Georgia learning how to jump out of airplanes, the Army way. That means you go out the door by yourself, sometimes with a combat load dangling around your knees. It was incredibly fun and I met Army people from all over the country and enlisted members of other services.
For my sophomore summer, I applied to attend West Point’s summer training. I was placed in a company of West Point cadets and trained with them at Camp Buckner doing things like patrolling, land navigation (both day and night), marksmanship, urban tactics, and water confidence. We got to shoot howitzers for an entire day, and the training ended with a long run back to West Point’s main campus. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been able to train with the cadets at West Point. They were some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and I’m excited to be officers with them.
Now, Airborne and West Point were optional. This summer, I will be going to mandatory training called LDAC (Leadership Development Assessment Course) with AROTC cadets from all over the country. In order to be able to commission as an officer, we have to pass LDAC. We are graded on our leadership skills and at the end, we go on a simulated deployment where we conduct missions like the ones we practice during FTX’s.
In my experience, ROTC makes you appreciate things that other people take for granted, introduces you to many new faces, and makes you more confident in everything you do.