Corps of Cadets faces internal issues

Training rooks takes every level of leadership relying on each other to make the best decisions. Cadre and commandants work together to take care of recruits and to train them. But sometimes even the trainers have to pause to mend internal issues.

That’s been the case with meetings during the fall semester of 2017-2018 in order to fix concerns with communication and trust issues between the cadre and commandants.

The training of first-year cadets, known as recruits or rooks, takes place in two battalions. These battalions consist of three companies, which each consist of three platoons, the place where recruits are trained by cadre.

Each battalion has an AC (assistant commandant), a SEA (senior enlisted advisor), and a TAC NCO (tactical NCO). The commandants help facilitate training through the cadre, enforce disciplinary measures, as well as mentor and aid cadre in their leadership of recruits.

“My overall job is to coach, mentor, advise the leaders. Although I work specifically with the Corps of Cadets, I will work with anyone because you guys are our future,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Geraldo Mercado, the SEA (senior enlisted advisor) of 4th battalion.

Before Rook Orientation Week, cadre return to campus roughly three weeks early to attend the NCO Academy, a training period where upcoming cadre go through instruction on physical training and on handling various situations that may occur with recruits – such as disrespect. After the end of NCO Academy training, cadre began to notice a change in their interactions with the commandants.

“Starting out this year, it felt as though we were backed by the commandants. They would let us run the show to an extent,” said Jenine, a cadre member who requested to be anonymous.

“What did change is how the cadre took to the learning in the NCO Academy, and how they’ve gone about conducting themselves since. It seems like there are some things they didn’t completely grasp,” said 1st Sgt. Craig Billings, 4th Battalions TAC NCO.

“The cadre in the corps feel that discipline is supposed to be very harsh and very hard.  A lot of the times they feel that discipline is trained through very rigorous, very tough, very strict rules. I think discipline is taught by holding people to standards, including cadre and upperclassmen.”

But Jenine recounted a time where a cadre member was berated in front of their recruits by a commandant. The cadre was instructing rooks to hang up an American flag during study hall, which is a period where rooks are to focus on academics.

“Berating someone in front of their subordinates creates a very bad and very hectic command climate. It’s basically showing the rooks he was incompetent as a leader. It creates a toxic command climate,” Jenine said.

“I might feel a little nervous around the commandants, but I’m still trying to do all I can to maintain a professional and environment, and teach them everything they need to know to become a recognized cadet.”

Jenine noted, however, that while this is not an isolated incident, it is not the case with every commandant.

“If they approach us professionally on issues, which a number of them do, we are more than apt to be compliant,” Jenine said.

Thomas Wagner, class of 2019, a 200-year old physics major and mathematics minor from Moorestown, N.J., has a different take on the commandants. When inspecting a squad, a commandant came to correct him, as well as speak to him about his role as cadre.

“He pointed out a lot of things that I didn’t think about when inspecting my own squad. He’s given me his life story on how his job has changed him, and I think that’s made a positive impact on me,” Wagner said.

However, Wagner made a point that there is room for improvement. “I would say they (the commandants) could be more helpful. We are the gears of the operation, it’s their job to oil the gears and make sure everything runs smoothly. I thought they would have more of a mentorship role. I feel like that would be more helpful in developing us as leaders.”

Wagner also noted how he and other cadre staff have been corrected on “Norwichisms,” a term that broadly defined ways of doing things unique to the school traditions. He noted that many Norwichisms have been taken away during his years as a cadet.

“Norwichism isn’t a bad term, Norwichisms are just a Norwich tradition. I know Norwichisms aren’t in the military or the civilian world. But this is neither the civilian or military, this is Norwich, this is a place that we chose to come to, and that we take a lot of pride in,” Wagner said.

Senior G.T. Sandefur, a 21-year-old studies of war and peace major from Dayton, Ohio, attended Air Force field training over the summer. He referenced some of the different things he had to do at training that aligned with Norwichisms he did as a recruit.

“We were to sit on the front six inches of the chair, back straight, chin up. I think they’re more intense at field training than at Norwich. We marched everywhere. We squared everywhere, we had to narrate columns when we marched,” Sandefur said.

Squaring refers to recruits marching in hall ways of their barracks (dorms) and the gutters on campus.

“I don’t think it’s something that happens anywhere else. “Killing your cup” at chow, is a Norwichism. The process of eating at attention. When I went through basic training I was allowed to converse quietly,” said Sgt. Billings. Billings also said that when reviewing different policies, commandants pay close attention to the practicality of actions.

“Killing your cup” refers to the action a recruit takes once they are finished with a drink at a meal. They tap the cup on the table, say “kill”, then place the cup down on its side.

“Perhaps what could be taught at dinner time is proper etiquette, how to conduct yourself with high-ranking officials and executives. Dinner is where people talk,” Billings said.

Mercado concedes adapting to new ways makes waves. “There are a lot of changes very quickly. People don’t take to change very fast. That throws a wrench in there. The key to success is communication,” said Mercado.

“One way is that I give the information to everybody (the cadre), but then I feel like I’m micromanaging. I’m also trying to let the cadre learn that communication is important, and that it’s up to them to pass information along,” Sgt. Billings said.

Cadre communicate with commandants for general information, conducting training, and disciplinary actions. But Wagner said that while commandants have an open door policy, many cadre are wary of using it.

“It’s because of previous incidents, it has a negative stigma to it. If I go in there, I’ll get chewed out maybe. We hear things we don’t want to hear, I don’t want to hear Norwichisms and Norwich traditions get bashed,” Wagner said.

“Whenever I see a cadre staff go to a SEA’s office, it’s almost always for a negative reason. A good way to bridge that gap would be to make that a positive thing too.”

“I do think that our relationship as a whole has gotten better. The issues that the cadets talk about are the same that they talk about in all the military schools,” Mercado said.

Mercado pointed out there is sound reasoning behind the methods of working with cadre.

“I’m working with people that are inexperienced, full of vigor, initiative, and a lot of drive. Where my experience comes in, is how to temper that. You don’t want to stifle the initiative, but you want them to think about and look at the big picture when they come to a decision they have to make,” Mercado said. “I love their resiliency. When they (cadre) make a mistake, they bounce back.”

Both commandants said that they rely heavily on their prior military experience to aid cadre.

“I think there’s a gap because I think there’s a lack of trust on both sides. We know that you guys lack experience, we on the other hand, have a lot of experience,” Billings said.

“I don’t like using the word immature, more so than the word inexperienced. For me, somebody coming here trying to get leadership experience, I don’t find that immature,” Mercado said. “The direction we need to have is to teach you and give you experience.”

Mercado recounted a time where he was asked what he would do different in the corps of cadets as a leader compared to his time in the Marine Corps.

“I wouldn’t do anything different. But I would acknowledge the audience I’m dealing with. I’m dealing with more, and a lot less experience. This institution is a place of learning, to get a degree, and move on. What you get out of that is incumbent on the individual. Leadership is about people, not about power. First and foremost as a leader, you have to love the people you lead.”

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