Notes from Ft. Lewis
CMS head swim coach Charlie Griffiths journals his experience in an Army cadet command course
“Okay, sir. Get your feet shoulder-width apart. Now, bend at the waist. Bring the rope in your right fist slightly out, and fall backwardsand don’t look down!”
That was good advice, because the next thing I knew, my feet were shoulder-width apart and I was bent at the waist; but, interestingly, my legs were suspended, horizontally, 30 feet in the air. A split second later, I had rappelled to the ground, feet tingling from the adrenaline rush. I nonchalantly returned my military-issue combat helmet and untied the rope Swiss Seat strangling my waist. I looked at my watch. Yep, I’d done more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.
CMS women’s soccer coach, Keri Sanchez, and I traveled to Fort Lewis, Wash., to participate in the U.S. Army Cadet Command Leadership Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) Educator Visit, July 17-20. Lt. Col. Jeff Douville, professor of military science and leadership at CMC, had invited us to join more than 80 college administrators and professors from around the United States at ROTC’s Warrior Forge, as the LDAC is known.
Between June and August this year, nearly 5,000 cadets will go through Warrior Forge, a required step for cadets training for a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. The 33-day cycle is designed to test cadets physically, but more importantly, to sharpen their leadership skills as they progress toward an Army commission. Most ROTC cadets at Warrior Forge are about to enter their senior year in college, including a few CMC students who graduated from the LDAC the week before our arrival.
The first night, Keri and I met with Maj. Robert Kirkland, executive officer for CMC’s Golden Lion’s Battalion, who briefed us on what to expect over the coming days: a combination of presentations and opportunities to participate in training exercises similar to those experienced by cadets.
Our first full day was an unusually warm Monday for northwest Washington and the cadets felt it as they were put through the paces of the Confidence Course. Because it involved a constant battery of running, jumping, crawling, and climbing, the Army might do well in renaming it the Exhaustion Course. With teams being judged by the swiftness of their slowest member, the air was loud with encouragement throughout the course.
The Confidence Course was not as loud, however, as our next stop: the rifle range. Following a full set of safety instructions, we each were dropped in a foxhole and told to shoot our M-16 20 times at a tiny target 25 meters away. They say a good craftsman never blames his tools, but I have no problem crediting my handful of bulls-eyes on the gun’s accurate sights.
By then, it was time for the magical MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), the Army’s term for a bag lunch. It took a while to figure out how to heat my cheese tortellini in its own bag, but I must admit it wasn’t as bad as I had expected.
After lunch we were told that, on a daily basis, the cadets are put in leadership positions in new and stressful environments. Following each stationranging from field leadership to hand grenadesthey are evaluated and offered feedback for improvement before the next leadership opportunity. Armed with that knowledge, it was time to watch more ROTC training.
On the Slide for Life, cadets ascend a 50-foot tower, then glide down a zip-line and release before landing in a freezing lake. In recent years, Educator Visit participants like us were allowed to give it a try, but not this time. With “safety-first” as the mantra of the visit, Keri and I watched the cadets. Some bulleted down with perfect form; some mistimed their releases and crashed; one confident cadet wore a rubber floatie.
The first day concluded with a mess-hall dinner with cadets scheduled to graduate the next day. I suspect the timing was a wise public relations move because these cadets looked happier than another group we saw returning from three days of sleeping in the woods. I ate with cadet Elizabeth Bond from Villanova University, who had passed Airborne school last summer and, after commissioning next year, plans to serve as a nurse near the front line of combat zones.
Our next full day saw us at the rappelling tower, which cadets assured us was the most “fun” part of their entire Warrior Forge experience. We also witnessed the graduation ceremony for those cadets we had dined with the night before.
Our final site that day was the Field Leader Reaction Course, a team-building activity that required some minor physicality, but emphasized creative problem-solving skills and teamwork in a consequence-rich environment. My team was charged with the task of getting a unit of eight people and two boxes across a mock minefield and over a simulated gorge, with only three wooden planks to aid us. Again it struck me: hadn’t I already done more than most people do all day?
The ROTC cadets, however, were just getting started . . .