Cadet Field Training (CFT) is not just for the U.S. Military Academy's Class of 2020 cadets.While most of the 1,250 CFT participants do attend USMA, approximately 50 ROTC cadets and eight Naval Academy midshipmen are also thrown into the mix, learning the ins and outs of U.S. Army training.Midshipman Clayton Pelzer decided to take the leap from sea to land to see what CFT was all about."The main reason that I'm here is that I want to learn things that the Army does, I want to have a wide base of knowledge for my military experience and it's just something that really interests me, how all these different things work and how the organizational structure is," he remarked.Pelzer knows that his Army field training will be vital as he looks toward the future."One of the big things about the armed forces is that it's moving more and more toward joint operations where we have to work together with other branches of the military," he said. "If I'm ever involved with the Army, I can know a lot of the resources that are available, how it works and functions, and I think that really applies to my future as a naval officer."After attending CFT, Pelzer will also take a "youngster" cruise with the U.S. Navy, a requirement for all midshipmen entering their second year at the Naval Academy.Midshipman Tom McGowan finished his cruise on USS The Sullivans, a destroyer out of Mayport, Florida, and went straight to CFT afterward."It's just crazy, the juxtaposition of it, you go from ship life where three days straight I was shadowing OSes (operations specialists), the people who run the radar, and so I didn't see the sun for three days straight, and then here, I haven't been indoors for three days straight," he said. "So it's completely the opposite, but I'm loving it, I'm having a bunch of fun."
McGowan decided to attend CFT as he has hopes of entering the Marine Corps upon graduating from the Naval Academy."There aren't too many experiences or ways that I can go out in the field and experience what the Marine Corps has to offer except for trainings like this," he explained. "This is a teaching environment where I'm actually learning how to do a lot of things in the field. We learned how to do call for fire and different infantry skills, and we're actually outside and sleeping in the field, so I get to really experience it first hand and see if it's for me or not."In addition to training, McGowan also made some unexpected relationships while at the rival academy."My experience has been a lot better than I would have expected to be treated, I guess, because of the Army-Navy football rivalry," he said. "I went in with no idea how to set up any (of my gear) and one cadet just went through it for three hours and set everything up perfectly and told me about everything. I have not had one bad experience with a cadet and I'm definitely going to bring that back to the Naval Academy… It's been pretty eye opening, stepping over the line."And while midshipmen are experiencing some brand new training, ROTC cadets from all over the country are getting the opportunity to apply their classroom-learned skills to the field.
"I was in my MS (military skills) class and they let us know there was this opportunity at West Point where we'd get to do artillery and all that cool stuff, and it would be based off GPA and PT score, and it was only offered to MS-2s (second year ROTC cadets going into their third year)," Morgan Spare, an ROTC cadet from the University of Cincinnati, explained.Since starting CFT, Spare says that she's been able to participate in trainings like land navigation, which she was able to do by herself for the first time."We first went off as a group, it was three days, and then we had buddy teams, and then we went off by ourselves," she explained. "And going by myself was just a really awesome opportunity for me because I've never been able to do that and I got to test my skills which was really cool."
ROTC cadets from other schools had similar experiences."We're learning about all this stuff in the classroom," ROTC Cadet Alexia Pearah, from the Florida Institute of Technology, said. "But here, you're completely submersed in it, you're out there and you're applying everything you've learned."After experiencing some of the highs and lows of CFT, Pearah came to find out that not everything could be learned on a chalkboard."I've learned more here than I probably ever have before, but it's the whole experience of it because you're getting into a lot of the 'suck,' too," she said. "Your feet are tired, you're rucking everywhere, but people are encouraging each other … we're learning so much through it."
Pearah, who will be starting her junior year in the fall, says that she plans on bringing the knowledge back with her."Really, I feel like this kind of training is priceless, I know I'm going to be way more prepared than the people who didn't come here," she said. "But it's going to be kind of like a domino effect, I can teach all the other ones and twos (younger ROTC cadets) all the stuff that I've learned."
Pearah's Florida Institute of Technology classmate and ROTC-mate Alicia Maldonado said that she will be recommending CFT to the younger cadets back at school."If they get the chance to come here, definitely do, meet some great people and get some great opportunities," she said, noting that she plans to reunite with some West Pointers in the near future.
"I've actually made plans already and we are going to meet up later in the year," she said. "Everyone has been super friendly and we've all gotten really close really fast."Midshipmen, ROTC cadets and USMA cadets will all be running back to West Point together on July 30 during CFT Runback.