At 3 a.m. on Nov. 3, Florida Tech Army ROTC cadets began preparing for the land navigation portion of their field training exercises. By 3:45 a.m, they set out onto the dark course.
The goal of the FTX, as field training exercises are referred to within ROTC, was to get cadets into a field environment where they could apply what they have learned, according to senior John Panik, the S3 of Panther Battalion.
The S3 is a leadership role that requires a significant commitment to the planning of Panther Battalion operations like FTX.
The FTX were cadet-led, with minimal intervention from the cadre, or the complement of instructors responsible for training cadets.
Panik said that this self-led method prepares cadets in the third year and beyond with direct experience to prepare them for their leadership roles as commissioned officers. First and second year cadets learn from them.
Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Crook, a military instructor with Army ROTC, elaborated on the requirements of the land navigation exercise.
“They had to find points in the night, turn in their points and check them,” Crook said. “And as the light came up, they had to find more points in the daylight.”
Panik said that land navigation is also an exercise in self-discipline, requiring cadets to maintain precision when plotting and staying on their paths.
Crook explained that in exercises like these, cadets are to treat instances of failure or incomplete success as learning opportunities. An after action report acts as a forum for cadets and cadre to go over successes and failures as a group, then formulate plans to improve.
“They saw where their errors were, so they had that immediate feedback of ‘This is what I did wrong, and this is what I can do better next time,’” said Sergeant First Class Jeremy Brandon, a military instructor with Army ROTC.
“It gave them a boost of confidence,” Brandon said. “They know what they need to do, and they also know how to go back and correct the errors that they made.”
Panik said that one of the duties of a leader is to address issues or challenges efficiently and correctly.
High temperatures presented one of these challenges on the morning of Nov. 2.
“We found it challenging to mitigate the heat,” Crook said, adding that cadets had a substantial amount of equipment to carry. “They had approximately 35 to 50 pounds on their back.”
They addressed the heat by taking a one-hour rest. Panik said that he came up with a plan to use the time wisely, bouncing it off of other leaders and putting it into place.
He emphasized the importance of being “able to keep a level head, not get frustrated, remain calm and being able to immediately start focusing on resolving the issue.”
“It’s one of those skills that’s hard to develop unless you’re in that situation,” Panik said.
Crook said multiple schools will meet for the spring semester’s field training exercises, which will focus on a platoon formation. The fall exercises focused on squad formation.
This training progression is targeted to cadets in the third year of the program.
“By the time we get to the end of the spring, we’ve put together all the pieces they’ll need to be successful at [cadet summer training] at Fort Knox,” Brandon said.
Crook explained that having multiple schools meet tests cadets’ ability to lead in a variety of situations.
“It gets easy to lead the same people,” Crook said. “It’s a challenge when you have to lead new people.”
“The [senior year] is almost like an internship in leadership,” Brandon said. “We’re giving them a job to do where they are putting into practice all the things we’ve been teaching them up to that point, and they have the responsibility of guiding and leading.”
This is intended to prepare cadets to be a commissioned lieutenant who is a “trained and ready” leader.
“A cadet in this program knows that our country is at war,” Crook said. “They know, upon graduation, they are going to serve in the Army. They know more than likely, they will serve in a combat area.”
He emphasized that the applications of their skills are real, and that their decision making will matter.
“They know that the skills that they’re learning, in a field training exercise today, for our seniors, could be six months from now when they’re on the battlefield,” Crook said.