Army ROTC field training exercise brings injuries, complaints

Cadets in the field during the recent controversial field training exercise.

Cadets in the field during the recent controversial field training exercise.

A department-wide field training exercise Oct. 14 with the Norwich University Army ROTC resulted in numerous injuries and organizational problems, according to extensive reports from student participants among the 680 Army ROTC cadets of all class years.

Army ROTC officials at Norwich, asked to comment on the problems with the exercise and injuries to cadets, denied any knowledge and promptly escorted this reporter out of their offices on the bottom floor of Jackman Hall.

However, an informal survey and anonymous interviews of students in the FTX was conducted via social media. It not only confirmed extensive problems but detailed numerous injuries suffered during the exercise, which a sophomore army cadet called “overall, a giant charlie foxtrot,” using military slang.

Because ROTC officials declined to comment, a social media survey was used to ask for comments and rating of the exercise. A total of 94 responses were recorded, 42 percent of them from sophomore MS2 cadets. The comments revealed that those participating not only felt that the “planning and organization was horrendous,” but confirmed that numerous cadets ended up in the infirmary, mostly for physical injuries and hypothermia.

According to a sophomore MS2 cadet, who like most of those surveyed, wished to remain anonymous: “The FTX felt completely unorganized. There was no battalion roster for the rifles, which causing training to be interrupted multiple times to get accountability… There was not enough ammo, and freshman did not get rifles at all.” The sophomore cadets appeared to be less apprehensive than others when asked to comment on the exercise.
Fifteen MS4 cadets, comprising seniors who were supervising the field exercise, answered the survey and echoed concerns about organization. MS4 Steve Thomas said, “At first I myself as a MS4 had no idea what was going on even as we arrived that Friday morning. Once the rotations began, though, the whole process went extremely well and the time lines … started to make sense.”

Feeding 680 cadets three meals a day while conducting a training mission is never an easy task. The MS4’s noted they received very little guidance from Army cadre, and all considered, said Thomas, “It should be considered a miracle that a bunch of 21-year-olds pulled this off.”

Based on the interviews and survey, the participants felt there was a strong feeling of disorganization and even incompetent leadership, which lead to a staggering amount of injuries over the course of the FTX weekend. According on an anonymous MS4, “There were a lot of injuries – 30 kids had hypothermia, total injured was 175, ” a number that according to the responses from the survey and interviews came from the Army Department leadership.

(Update: After the story was published, Co. Jeremy Miller, professor of military science/Army, responded by email to provide an account of ROTC figures on the training exercise, noting “inaccuracies” in The Guidon. Col. Miller said 660 Cadets attended the FTX, and the following injuries were noted: Forty-three Cadets were sent to the infirmary or were excused from training, not 175 as students reported. Of those, 10 were not injuries, rather they were unrelated issues: “flu symptoms”, family emergencies that caused them to leave training, etc. Two Cadets complained of being cold and were sent to the infirmary. Neither were hypothermic, despite the article’s claim of 30 such cases. One cadet returned to training and the other was sent to the barracks for rest.
Col. Miller also said: 21 (3 percent of the FTX participants ) were minor lower body injuries (sore knees, twisted ankles, etc). All cadets returned to full program participation after the conclusion of the FTX. The remaining 10 injuries were “other” type incidents (headache, toenail, etc). One Cadet received a head injury when his battle buddy slung his rifle across his back, striking him in the head. Out of an abundance of caution, we called an ambulance. The Cadet has returned to full academic and military participation.)

According to the survey information, a large amount of the injuries occurred among juniors in the exercise (MS3), which caused a domino effect of lackluster leadership due to the underclassmen having to fill the positions of their out-of-action upperclassmen.

Said one participant: “I was responsible for watching over my section, watching lanes, and watching over the areas that were short on MS3s. They left because they were injured, and a lot of MS2’s had to step up, and they didn’t know how to do it.” This was partly caused by the fact that in prior years, the cadets did not have as much responsibility and free rein to coordinate and run the exercise.

The survey conducted a poll to rate the FTX leadership. On a scale from zero as the lowest to 100, the leadership was graded at an average of 59. As MS4 Chase Bullen explained, “This was the first FTX that has ever been cadet-planned. As a result there were going to be some pains during the execution, but all things considered I felt the battalion did a great job with little guidance.”

Asked to rate the successfulness of the FTX on a scale of zero to 10, the 94 participants who responded gave the exercise a 4.5, pointing to a lack of preparation as a big factor in why this score is so low. The lack of walkthroughs and inspections seemed to be the downfall of the FTX. A sophomore MS2 cadet said “I do think there was not enough instruction prior to the FTX on general skills needed. Like taking apart M16s, packing rucks and conducting lanes.” Another MS2 said the hypothermia was the result of a failure to ensure participants had the correct gear. “A lot of people did not bring their warmest layer of their sleeping bag,” the cadet said.

The leadership mentioned to take all three layers, but some cadets decided to apparently “pull out the third layer because they knew it was going to be heavy.”
Based on the survey, many injuries were directly related to not being physically fit to endure a weekend outdoors in the wilderness, though some also felt cadets just were not tough enough. Physical injuries were 62 percent of all the injuries witnessed and recorded in the survey taken.

Comments from the survey ranged from “Combination of cold weather, lack of supply, and large amounts of rucking,” to “Cadets not wanting to put out and finding a way to get out.” Other comments also blamed “fat kids on mountains” and “weak-minded, entitled mindsets.”
However, there also appeared to be a disgruntled theme that leadership at the top was lacking in the exercise and subordinates were not getting direction. An MS2 who wished to remain anonymous said, “Some of these sh–bags needed to get their head on straight, mainly the MSIV’S. A majority of the fours were good, solid people. They work hard to make the Army department better, to make the cadets better and give us actual practice with army sh–. Others sit like kings on a perch and raise their noses at MS3s and below.”
Some cadets mentioned there were moments of low morale, and this was compounded, said one MS4 who commented: “It was upsetting to see the MS1s (freshman Army ROTC cadets), who were OPFOR (Opposing Force), circle around a fire roasting marshmallows, while the rest of the battalion was stuck out in the cold.”

According to the responses, the MS1s seemed to feel left out in the exercise, as most attention was given to the MS2s and MS3s, based on their comments

There could be a silver lining in all of this however, as suggested by an MS1. “The FTX was not well planned out. It kept changing and they never stuck to the op-order that was planned out for us. Although we seemed confused, so did the leadership as they scrambled to put some quick things together to make it look like we were actually doing something.” This constant chaos had the leadership struggling, but also learning valuable improvisational and hip-pocket leadership skills that could have only occurred on such a disorganized event, the cadet suggested.

In fact, some participants suggested there was a purpose behind the chaos on the exercise, and that a lot of the criticism was misguided or came from wimps who needed to man up. An MS3 who wished to remain anonymous, said, “Col. Miller is going to make men out of NU AROTC. Get on board, or get out.”

Another MS3 agreed with that view. “New colonel has the right idea. Trim the fat while conducting valuable training. An MS2 said “It was great, people need to stop demonizing it. Suck it up, you’re in the Army.” Another MS2 remarked, “The Army just isn’t for them.”

While many problems plagued the field exercise, those with experience in Army FTX noted that the events tend to be tougher and battle the elements more than other ROTC branches. As Thomas explained: “This isn’t no Marine Corps FEX where only 36 cadets and a detachment from RPI show up and go on speedy hikes and sleep in tents every night and only spend one night in the field, or a Navy cj where they go visit a museum – so props to the staff that made this happen as well as it did.”

Comments

  1. Dumb mistakes…

    You should’ve slept in the barracks.
    Conduct PCCs/PCIs (layout) for PT the previous day.

    Lesson learned…
    It takes zero effort to suffer.

  2. It’s the real world Millennials, time to suck it up, conduct your TLPs, act like a leader and step up when those around you crumble. Take some disciplined initiative and plan in depth, your potential to be successful reside on each leader’s ability to network and perform with integrity and a composed temperament. Nothing is ever going to be handed to you as an Officer, you will have to be uncomfortable and on edge to truly understand your limits and how you conduct yourself in adverse situations. Come together, network with each other, be constructive with your ideas, and seek mentorship. Be smart with your reasoning, don’t just bitch about it.

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