FORT SILL, Okla. -- More than 160 Army ROTC students from four Oklahoma universities trained at Fort Sill April 4-7, 2013, completing their Joint Field Training Exercise (JFTX), a critical step toward becoming Army officers.

Students from Cameron, Oklahoma, Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma State universities did land navigation, patrolling evaluations and situational training exercises (STX) combining students from the various schools into squads.

"This was the first chance for many of the students to work with people they don't know," said James Howarth, a fourth year ROTC cadet at Cameron.

The exercises prepared the third year ROTC students for their capstone Leadership Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., where students from all across the country will train together.

Throughout the training an underlying competition also took place. Results from the JFTX and LDAC along with grade point average, extra-curricular activities, volunteer work and other training schools attended will factor into a national order of merit score. That score will determine what opportunities ROTC graduates will have for careers in the Army.

A bird's eye view of Camp Eagle April 5 showed the ROTC students afield in their STX lanes rehearsing and completing scenarios such as medical treatments and communications or squad attack or ambush. During the 12 hours traipsing through Fort Sill's back country, the students' only breaks came between training scenarios in whatever woodlot or boulder field they happened upon.

"It means a lot to the schools that use Fort Sill to have this area for uninterrupted training," said Christian Gordon, a fourth year ROTC student from Cameron. "I know one student from the University of Central Oklahoma said they use a public park in Edmond to do their training and run into issues with other park users."

In contrast, Camp Eagle was anything but park-like as warmer temperatures brought ticks and rattlesnakes to mind, and the acreage allowed each training lane to operate unhindered from others.

Each STX scenario functioned independently as instructors told a squad leader what the next scenario involved when he or she got to it. Throughout they also told leaders to affect the authority of the one in charge: When briefing an operations order, stand in front of their seated squad members and display confidence in their plans. They reminded the students the Soldiers looking to them for leadership will become more confident themselves in following that leader into battle.

Completing the squad attack lane, about 12 ROTC students and a few instructors held an after action review. Eric Perez, an ROTC student at Cameron University, stepped away from his leadership position first to hear the things he did well and those that needed improving in the AAR. Then, he took a rock and listened to Mario Shepherd, an ROTC instructor from Cameron, critique what he saw.

Shepherd said the students put out a good effort, and just like any time a group comes together piece meal, team building develops over time.

"Some are very proficient, but most are where we expect them to be right now," he said, keeping in mind the age and experience of the students.

Perez said at first he was disappointed, but then drew from Shepherd's guidance and realized he needed to bounce back and get ready for the next challenge.

"I overlooked some small details, things that usually don't happen but did," he said. "It was a great experience everyone needs a setback now and then to better themselves Mr. Shepherd reminded me I have the knowledge to do it, I just need to apply it better."

Shepherd said what Perez learned mirrors what a lot of the students see when they are called to lead in a new situation.

"I hate to call them kids, but they are, and it's too easy to put them down with harsh language so I'm very careful how I choose my words and talk with them," he said. "I always address where they messed up but still end on a positive note; I'll help them identify problems but also offer solutions to get to the desired result."

Shepherd retired from the Army as a master sergeant and now has five years under his belt teaching at Cameron. He said year to year the students continue to impress him with their fitness and enthusiasm.

Settling down to a moment's rest between scenarios, some students dug into their MREs and another took his boots off and adjusted his socks. Rest would come later, especially for Edward Wilkinson, an OU ROTC student, whom instructors picked for the next training lane, a squad ambush.

Wilkinson listened to Jon Brodersen give the operations order for Operation Sparta. From the order, Wilkinson, and a squad member assisting him, had to extract information from the order specific to his squad and then develop his own operations order.

The leader-in-training faced a situation where his squad needed to prevent enemy forces from gaining intelligence on coalition forces positions. They were to lay an ambush, infiltrate the area undetected and complete the mission without disrupting civilian populations.

Armed with a terrain module kit, a visual aid his assistant laid out on the ground, Wilkinson communicated the mission to his squad members.

"Instructors won't tell the students how to do it, this is all about thinking on your feet, coming up with a way to complete the objective and accomplish the mission," said Joshua Wood, a fourth year ROTC student at Cameron.

Wilkinson then led his team through rehearsals of how he envisioned the mission would take place, this included rehearsals for squad members charged with treating and transporting wounded members, and others who would gather intelligence off enemy prisoners. Shortly thereafter the squad moved toward its objective while staying alert on all sides for enemy activity.

Eventually the squad reached its objective, a narrow, two-track road deep in the forest, and after some initial reconnaissance work, Wilkinson positioned his Soldiers to ambush a passing enemy battalion. The squad then opened fire on the column, rushed forward in attack and secured the area. Once they gathered intel and cared for the wounded, Wilkinson called up his members still securing the perimeter as all gathered to discuss what went right and what could be done better.

Fourth-year ROTC student cadre members and instructors led the review encouraging participation from the students. One instructor, posing as an enemy soldier, said the squad formed its ambush too close to the objective where he could see them before the attack began. He said the best objective rally points are positioned in places of good cover and concealment where the enemy wouldn't want to go.

Completing their after action review, the students geared up for their next STX challenge heading down the two-track road, their Army Combat Uniforms gradually melting into the colors and textures of the surrounding forest.

Security first
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Nenita Chambers, a third-year Army ROTC student at Cameron University in Lawton, pulls security while her squad leader, Edward Wilkinson, an Army ROTC student from the University of Oklahoma, prepares an operations order to ambush an enemy column of soldiers. The students completed a four-day Joint Field Training Exercise April 4-7, 2013, at Camp Eagle on Fort Sill, one more step toward graduation and a career as Army officers.

Leader's tools
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Tools, such as this terrain module kit help leaders-in-training Army ROTC students communicate operations orders for the situational training exercises they tackled April 5, 2013, at Camp Eagle on Fort Sill. The students learned skills and mannerisms to help them develop into the confident, self-assured officers the Army needs them to become to lead Soldiers.

Corrective counseling
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Mario Shepherd, an Army ROTC instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, counsels Eric Perez, a third year Army ROTC student also from Cameron, following a situational training exercise he led April 5, 2013. Shepherd, a retired Army master sergeant, has taught ROTC for five years and said he's careful in his efforts to correct, yet encourage, the future Army leaders.

Page last updated Thu April 11th, 2013 at 16:07