FORT KNOX, Ky. (April 10, 2014) -- When the last graduation ceremony for Army ROTC's 2014 Leader Development Assessment Course concludes on Brooks Parade Field here in August, this rite of passage will mark the end of LDAC's first iteration at its new home.
The move from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., to Fort Knox is the first step in Cadet Command's overall initiative to transform the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps program of instruction. Ultimately, the result will be Army leaders who are prepared with the critical-thinking skills they'll need to operate and react successfully in the increasingly complex environments in which the Army is likely to find itself in the future.
While the location has changed, LDAC's mission hasn't. The 29-day training event is still the capstone event in the program to develop Cadets' leadership skills and evaluate their officer potential. Cadets will still march, rappel and take turns leading their peers through small-unit scenarios, just as they did at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
However, starting this summer the collocation of LDAC and the leader's training course, or LTC, will provide the first opportunity for the older Cadets to sharpen their leadership skills on the younger attendees. Over the next few years, both LDAC and LTC will evolve into the new summer training model for all Army ROTC cadets.
Most Cadets attend LDAC between their junior and senior years, after contracting to join the Army. Cadets must successfully complete LDAC to be commissioned as Army officers through ROTC.
Senior cadets who previously attended LDAC will mentor younger Cadets preparing to attend the course so they can successfully apply in the field what they've learned in the ROTC classroom.
While most Cadets encounter their first lengthy field training at LDAC, some Cadets will bring skills and knowledge gained through deployment as an enlisted Soldier.
Cadet Christopher Whitaker, a junior at the University of Louisville, has experience as an enlisted Soldier. During one assignment, he served as an observer/controller at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. He said that Cadets need to pay attention to skills and tasks introduced during the first two years of ROTC, such as how to prepare and execute operation orders.
Whitaker looks forward to land navigation and physical training at LDAC. "The senior Cadets have been great in showing us how to be successful at LDAC and be successful as leaders."
Cadets must work together as teams to succeed at LDAC, said Lt. Col. Richard Smith, professor of military science at Iowa State University in Ames. "Cadets can't just memorize what they're supposed to do or go off of a checklist. They have to apply the skill or task, whether it's pitching an operations order to their squad or roommate or rehearsing before a lab.
"That practice will build confidence in their leadership abilities," Smith continued. "Cadets who are military science IIIs (juniors) have to take the opportunity now to lead. Everyone can earn an 'E' (exceeds the standard) at LDAC, but they can't earn it alone."
There's a multitude of factors that go into preparation, Smith said, such as extra physical training, briefing operation orders to one another, and participating in and teaching supplementary instruction classes, plus learning to lead.
As MS III Cadets rotate through positions such as squad leader, first sergeant, company commander, MS IVs will mentor, teach, counsel them, and guide them.
"That's a big thing that we've been trying to hit on this year to get these Cadets prepared; make sure they understand the 'why' of making better decisions," said Cadet Anthony Cox, a senior at Iowa State. "If the Cadets understand the 'why,' they'll have better results."
Cox said the best advice he can offer is to believe in and to trust themselves and they will do well. He graduated LDAC in 2013 and then attended airborne school ("jump school") and air assault school.
"LDAC made me believe in myself even more and trust my own abilities and be confident in myself," Cox said. "LDAC also helped with my people skills and being able to interact with other Cadets from other schools whom I had never met before. It was great to see a random group of people come together and work as a team.
"Even though we were all competing to be ranked higher than everyone else, LDAC showed us how to be a team to further develop ourselves."
Cox sees the parallel between meeting Cadets from other schools at LDAC and people he will work with and lead at his first duty station. "I may not know anyone at all. But, I still need to be that confident leader and to interact with other Soldiers and help lead them. In a way, I'm nervous, but I''m also excited that I will do well."
While making new friends was his favorite part of LDAC, late nights and early mornings were his least favorite. However, those long days would not keep him from going through LDAC again. "As a whole, I enjoyed the experience."
"Our mentors keep reiterating the team aspect and that's what we're doing a lot of here to prepare for LDAC," said Cadet Jason Sadowski, Iowa State. "We can't go in thinking of ourselves; we need to think of ourselves as a team. Once we get that, leadership becomes easier and people look up to you. If you put the mission before yourself, the mission will be a success."
Sadowski's excited about attending LDAC. He enjoys training scenarios that make him think on his feet. He's already familiar with Fort Knox, having spent some time here preparing for a Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency mission to Croatia. "The summer weather at Knox was pretty warm and humid."
Summer temperatures here can range from the mid-80s to the upper 90s. High temps combined with significant humidity can create an uncomfortable atmosphere that can take a toil on Cadets and cadre. To help mitigate heat injuries, LDAC instructors will present classes on heat injury prevention.
Megan Ripperger is another Iowa State Cadet on her way to LDAC. While she is the first in her family to choose military service, she said that her parents were initially surprised at her choice, but they now support her decision.
Ripperger said that rotating through leadership positions was overwhelming at first; she felt she wasn't ready. But she has learned to jump in and apply herself. "You have to give it your all because you have to keep going and learn from your mistakes. You can't look back and say that 'I made that mistake.' You have to keep going forward and make improvements from there. And that's the best way to learn."