FORT HOOD, Texas (July 13, 2016) -- For cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, the opportunity to obtain a world-class, top-tier education is unmatched. For these future Army leaders entering their senior year, the chance to shadow a lieutenant in the "real Army" is a unique facet made possible by the Army's Cadet Troop Leader Training program.
The 504th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas, has hosted two iterations of West Point cadets this summer, all of whom are considering the Military Intelligence branch when they commission as the Class of 2017. Interning with platoon leaders for three-week periods, these cadets are perfecting their leadership traits before becoming U.S. Army second lieutenants.
"Going back to West Point, I'll have another year to work on the things I know will be expected of me," said Cadet Jenny Niemann, a computer science major from Brookfield, Wisconsin. "I have time to take the experiences I've learned and work on making myself better, so that when I am a lieutenant I'm not just totally lost."
Niemann, whose family owns a candy and chocolate business passed down through four generations, hopes to become a Cyber Operations or Military Intelligence Officer. She said she had no knowledge about the Army before college, but "figured West Point was one of the best options."
West Point cadets typically enter the CTLT program between their junior and senior years. Cadets rank their top branch choice and top five locations, and are matched with lieutenants in Army units worldwide. U.S. Army Cadet Command, which oversees Army ROTC programs at colleges and universities, also conducts CTLT for its ROTC cadets.
For Cadet Emma Spell, the program is an "immersion experience" designed to give cadets a real-world look at Army culture and their own leadership techniques. She too hopes to become a Military Intelligence officer.
"I think the purpose is to not only expose (cadets) to a branch and to see what being an actual officer in that branch is like, but also to expose (cadets) to the 'real Army' and to see how a post functions and a real army unit works," Spell, a sociology major from Lewes, Delaware, said. "It gives you a heads-up on what to be prepared for in the real Army."
Both cadets shadowed company executive officers -- lieutenants who are the second-in-command and manage logistics, supply, maintenance and training operations -- which allowed them the opportunity to learn firsthand about company logistics.
Cadet Spell said she gained a respect for these officers who often are behind-the-scenes, but play a critical role in a company's functions.
"We've learned a lot about property and how everything functions -- (Modified Tables of Organization and Equipment), all the acronyms and (Department of the Army) Forms," Spell said. "So it's been cool to see how much an XO actually does and how important their job is."
2nd Lt. Catherine McCaw hosted Cadet Spell and serves as the executive officer for A Company, 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion. She said the Cadet Troop Leader Training program offers a "day-in-the-life" experience for cadets to learn about their intended branch.
"CTLT is important because it is the first look into the day-to-day life of a junior officer," McCaw, a native of Evergreen, Colorado, said. "Cadets are afforded a glimpse into what they'll be doing after graduation."
McCaw said her experiences in CTLT as a ROTC cadet at California State University, Fullerton, led her to the Military Intelligence branch.
"When I was a cadet, CTLT was the determining factor for how I ranked my branches," McCaw said.
Niemann joked that her time with a lieutenant was somewhat unnerving with her unfamiliarity of Army acronyms and daily operations.
"It's been awkward at some times, because you're just kind of following (the lieutenants) around, just asking a bunch of questions, but that's kind of what it's supposed to be," Niemann said
Cadet Spell said the three-week job shadow also allowed her an opportunity to interact with, and learn from, enlisted Soldiers and Noncommissioned Officers within the company. She said while at West Point, cadets do not often see a lot of enlisted Soldiers, since many of the school's functions are officer-driven.
"After being here, I'm so much more excited to get out to the 'real Army' and see how everything actually functions and getting to be around real Soldiers. We don't really see too many Soldiers at West Point -- it's mainly officers," Spell said.
It also served as a learning experience for the enlisted Soldiers that each cadet interacts with, Spell said. Since cadets have no official military rank, there often is confusion about addressing cadets with military courtesies.
"We're kind of the awkward middle man, because we're not officers and we're not enlisted, so Soldiers don't know if they have to salute us and they're calling me 'ma'am,' but I haven't earned 'ma'am' yet," Spell said.
2nd Lt. McCaw said the chance to interact with Soldiers is unmatched in a cadet environment, where much of the training is with other cadets.
"I think as a cadet, you're told so often what it will be like to working with Soldiers, and to be in the Army on a daily basis, but there's really nothing that can compare to actually jumping in and doing it," McCaw said.
For both Cadets Niemann and Spell, job shadowing Military Intelligence officers in a MI brigade allowed them to see the importance of Military Intelligence to the U.S. Army, and how much MI officers value their profession.
"I think the MI mission is really important to give Soldiers on the ground the knowledge ahead of time to help them in any way possible before they go into possibly an ugly situation and to prepare them as much as possible," Spell said.
"I like the fact that (MI officers) pride themselves on being intellectual," Niemann said. "I know the MI officers I've talked to are generally well-rounded and they care about their jobs and education."
The West Point Class of 2017 will submit their branch preferences in September and receive their results in November. They will commission as second lieutenants, May 27, 2017.