Fall Army ROTC FTX deemed a success

Major Ethan Orr, at left, instructs Army ROTC cadets on FTX.                          Jon Wriston Photo

As we draw close to Thanksgiving break, Norwich’s Army ROTC cadets can relax a little more with their fall FTX (Field Training Exercise) out of the way for the semester.

“It’s the first time that all the Military Science (MS) groups come together,” said Sgt. Maj. Sherwood Gatz, the senior military instructor for Army ROTC.

For the MSIVs (Senior Army cadets) it is the pivotal point of their time in ROTC. Planning a training event tests their preparedness and problem-solving as future junior officers.

The MSIVs in the battalion staff are assigned a role “just like a regular Army unit,” Gatz said. They are the backbone of the planning process and in the student leadership of the lower MS levels.

“We make sure their information is correct and logistics and supplies is locked in tight before they actually give out how the FTX is going to go,” Gatz explained.

The Army staff are careful not to interfere too much with the cadets as they want them to learn from their mistakes.

“I’ll only chime in when it’s really going off the intended path,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Walker, an MS1 instructor for Army ROTC.

The MSIV cadets begin their FTX planning as early as April. This gives them time to learn their staff duties as well as consolidate lessons learned and goals for the training they’ll be responsible for.

“Our planning began as early as last semester,” said Charles Dodos, a 21-year old senior studies in war and peace major, from Worcester, Mass.

In the beginning things started off smoothly as “we had a very good blueprint,” Dodos said. But, he added, “This semester things got very complicated.”

What seemed to create the most problems was the fact that “numbers fluctuate,” Dodos said. With cadets changing units and dropping out, it’s easy to see how that can create a challenging task in tracking people down.

“When numbers in the personnel area fluctuate, that means S4, supply, they have to tailor to the needs and the supply requests of that number of individuals,” Dodos said.

Military units can run into problems if they don’t have enough supplies. Soldiers or cadets can go hungry, become dehydrated, or in a war zone, run out of ammunition.

“One person can make the difference between ‘we have enough supplies,’ or ‘maybe we need to look at our planning again’,” Dodos said.

Outside of the Army department’s goal to train the MSIVs, the other main effort in the FTX is directed at the MSIIIs.

“The primary target audience is our MSIIIs who will attend advance camp this coming summer,” said Col. Jeremy Miller,, the professor of Military Science for Army ROTC at Norwich.

The purpose of the FTX is primarily to “give them (cadets) tactical situations where they can apply leadership,” Miller said.

Other than providing the MSIIIs a chance to lead, the objective is to get everyone practicing fieldcraft and learning how to take care of themselves and each other in the field.

For many cadets, it’s their first time “carrying a rifle, cleaning a rifle, securing a rifle,” Gatz said – which is one of the most fundamental soldiering tasks.

“The mission was to essentially train MS1s, IIs, and IIIs the basics of how to react to contact,” Dodos said.

The outdoor portion of the FTX can sometimes be the biggest hurdle for many of the underclassmen. For some, this was their first time camping.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for all the year groups to learn to survive and take care of themselves and execute military operations in a tough environment, a field environment,” Miller said.

In past years several issues have continually plagued FTX training events, and one of the most notable has been communications.

“In past years communications has been an issue, this year they were ideal,” Dodos said. Before moving out to train, “they tested communications to make sure they worked,” Gatz said.

Training experiences appeared to be much better this year compared to the reviews of last year. “When we did our AAR (After Action Review), we learned that people had a lot of fun on the mountain compared to the last FTX,” Dodos said.

“The quality of the training I think was better,” Walker agreed. “The enthusiasm even down to the MS 1 and II level was higher than I’ve ever seen before.”

The time allotted for training sometimes allowed cadets to do a training lane more than once.

“Instead of doing just six lanes a day they did maybe two or three runs on the same lane before they went to the next,” Dodos said.

The extra time also allowed more cadets to step into leadership roles more often. “More than ever they were really involved and learned a lot more than in previous years,” Walker said.

“We accomplished our goal where people felt like they were trained very well,” Dodos said. “The overall review was that it was a very positive experience.”

As a whole, the entire Army department seemed to be pleased with the result of the FTX training exercise, which included some volunteers from the civilian student body.

“The execution of it went off decently well,” said Benjamin Ferguson, 21, a senior studies in war and peace major from Stuttgart, Germany.

Ferguson and several other civilian students are all members of the National Guard and volunteered their time to help train some of America’s future leaders.

“We use the crawl, walk, run methodology, so this was kind of our crawl into walk, so when we get to the spring, we’ll start out walking then run by the end of the spring FTX,” Miller said.

Between military lab on Tuesday and another FTX, Army cadets will be busy preparing for their future years as cadets and eventually advance camp, and ultimately commissioning.

“This FTX exceeded our expectations in a lot of ways,” Miller said. “I think they did an outstanding job.”

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