My day as a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadet didn’t start off easily. I not only needed to be at Hickey Gym by 6:15 a.m., but I had to be ready to work out.
For those of you who haven’t seen 6:15 a.m. since high school ended, it’s cold, dark and foggy. Fifteen minutes later, I headed out to the field with the cadet I was shadowing for the day, Ian Wheelis, a junior exercise biology major. We lined up with the rest of the cadets and for the next half hour were led through various calisthenics and exercises.
In typical military fashion, everything had a strict order to it. The leader called out the exercise we were to do. We then repeated it and did it in precise synchronization (well, everyone else was in sync – I might have been a bit off the entire time).
We then broke off into three running groups. Wheelis was in the fastest group, Alpha, and they took off running towards South Davis. Since my running skills are not quite ready for the demands of Alpha, I biked alongside. They ran, in perfect synchronization, in two side-by-side lines through the empty campus and bike paths.
As they ran, they started several military call-and-response chants. One was based on the classic “left, left, left right left” that you all know. Another extolled the enjoyable benefits of PT (“I say PT you say is great. PT!” “Is great!” “PT!” “Is great!”). The last one, about using napalm on mothers and children, left me a bit confused. Before turning back to campus, we stopped and did pushups and sit-ups on the lawn of a business park.
PT ended as we got back to campus. I followed Wheelis over to the pull up bar, where all M3s (third-years) are required to practice after PT in preparation for the Leadership and Development Assessment (LDAC) course this summer. He nonchalantly did 27 pull-ups in a row.
LDAC, which proceeds all cadets’ third year, assesses and evaluates cadets’ leadership abilities in different types of missions. Wheelis said the third year is the most intense year of ROTC because of LDAC preparations. Cadets’ performance at LDAC helps determine their positions after graduation.
Although Wheelis is in the most demanding year of the program, he said he is still able to juggle the demands of ROTC, an internship and his job as a volunteer firefighter. The time management that being in ROTC requires actually helped raise his grades, he said.
A few hours after PT, I was back at Hickey Gym with Wheelis for a military science class. The small class of 10 camouflage-clad cadets started off with a discussion on the events in Egypt. After clarifying some basic facts about the revolt, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Frederic Lau passed out a midterm review guide – possible topics included offensive operations, reconnaissance and ambush vocabulary.
The remainder of the class was dedicated to learning how to write army orders. It turns out that there is a precise way to write all parts of an army order – and we learned how. I was surprised by the amount of joking around between SFC Lau and the cadets. The classroom was not quite as stoic as I expected.
Wheelis always knew he wanted to be in the military. However, as a youth, he dreamed of going into the marines. He never planned on joining ROTC in college either, but when he arrived at UC Davis, he decided to complete a trial quarter of ROTC. Even though it wasn’t the marines, he decided to stick with it.
Joseph Miller, a senior English major in his fourth year of ROTC, also never originally planned on joining the program in college. Miller, unlike Wheelis, never wanted to join the military as a kid. But in high school, he realized he wanted to do something different from his peers.
“The military seemed like a place where it would never matter who my parents were, what car I drove or what clothes I wore,” he said. “I could be successful through working hard and nothing else.”
Miller originally wanted to enlist in the army, but ended up attending a military academy in South Carolina where he was in ROTC for two years.
“I became pretty disillusioned with the entire concept of an academy,” Miller said. So he left, enlisted in the Army Reserve, transferred to UC Davis and entered the ROTC program in order to become an officer.
Several hours after the military science class, I was back at Hickey Gym where Wheelis, who had a class conflict with the military labs, handed me over to Megan Shellnutt, a senior comparative literature major and fourth year cadet. Shellnut explained that labs typically help first- to third-year cadets prepare for LDAC, and that she was helping out and evaluating the younger cadets.
Shellnut said the point of the labs is to teach tactics and do drills.
The drill began after driving out to an isolated field near the raptor center. Today’s scenario was to conduct an ambush on an enemy.
I followed the two teams under the railroad tracks, where Shellnut gave the orders to the squad leader who then conveyed the orders to the rest of her team. While the squad leader made a map of how the orders where to be carried out, six cadets lay on the ground and surrounded the area with mock guns.
After planning and practicing the ambush, the cadets advanced slowly, guns out, on the lookout.
The team selected a location then moved, silently and stealthily, through the bushes with guns ready. I crashed through the bushes behind them, surely revealing their location while discovering it’s tricky to stay silent and hidden.
“Bang bang bang bang!”
The cadets shouted and leapt into action when the “enemy” walked into their view. The two teams quickly downed the enemy but two cadets were “injured” when the enemy detonated a bomb.
The action subsided and the fourth-year cadets and SFC Lau led a debriefing. Areas for improvement included camouflaging helmets and doing more thorough searches of the enemy (the cadets missed two large knives).
Three hours later and I was wiped out – but luckily, finally done with my ROTC responsibilities for the day.
The hefty commitments of ROTC are worth all the work, Shellnut said. She said the advantages of the program include learning communication skills and gaining the confidence to make and express difficult decisions.
The worst part?
“PT at 6:30 a.m.,” she said.
My day might have been a typical day in ROTC, but Miller, Shellnut and Wheelis all agreed that there’s no such thing as a typical day after graduation. Shellnut wants to go into military intelligence, Wheelis wants to be a physical therapist and Miller wants to go to explosive ordinance disposal school.
KELLY KRAG-ARNOLD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.