FORT KNOX, Ky. -- Every summer, nearly 8,000 ROTC Cadets pack up their ruck sacks, lace up their boots and travel to Fort Knox, Kentucky for 31 days of rigorous training, designed to push them further than they have ever gone before.
Whether they're here for Basic or Advanced Camp, every single Cadet that has completed the arduous training exercises put forth by Cadet Summer Training (CST) has left stronger, wiser and better prepared for the road ahead.
From June 4 to Aug. 18, Cadets have participated in events such as foot marches, the rappel tower, the CS chamber, field training exercises and the Army Physical Fitness Test to better asses their physical and mental abilities, as well as their leadership attributes and competencies.
"Our goal is to provide a difficult, stressful and safe training experience," said CST Commandant, Col. Sean Barnes. "We want to show the Cadets what looks right from the level of an individual all the way up to a platoon level."
As commandant, Barnes was responsible for overseeing the operations of both Basic and Advanced Camp to ensure they ran smoothly.
With nearly 30 years in the military, his experience in the field and his understanding of the program, CST will continue to adapt and grow to ensure Cadets are receiving the best training possible.
"For Basic Camp, we're hoping Cadets have a better understanding of what they're getting into and to stress the importance of preparing yourself mentally and physically," explained Barnes. "As for Advanced Camp Cadets, we're hoping to give them the tools they need to succeed in the classroom as well as life after commissioning."
Barnes was optimistic about the results from this year's CST cycle.
"I think it went really well," said Barnes. "There were a few hiccups but when you look at the big picture, you take those hiccups and peel the onion back to see what you can do to better your systems."
"This could include modifying events to prevent injuries, adjusting the schedule depending on the weather and being proactive with recommendations from our safety council."
One highlight of CST, Barnes noted, was the star-studded list of VIPs that came to visit Cadets during their training. From Gen. Mark Milley, the Chief of Staff of the Army, to The Honorable Mark T. Esper, the Secretary of the Army, Cadets had the unique opportunity to interact with some the military's biggest names.
"TRADOC Commanding Gen. Stephen Townsend came and visited us and I think it was really cool watching him as he sat down for about an hour and a half with a Basic Camp Cadet, teaching her how to shoot a weapon," reflected Barnes.
In addition to overcoming the elements, the difficult terrain and the various training obstacles CST has to offer, Barnes believes Cadets will notice a sense of personal growth as they return to their respective universities.
"Learning how to communicate with your peers, learning when to speak and when to listen," said Barnes. "These things will help Cadets grow as leaders."
"I think how you learn about yourself and your abilities through this -- that is probably a bigger step than passing camp."
With Cadets' safety and well-being as a top priority, Barnes and his team have taken what they've learned from CST 2018 to better prepare for CST 2019.
"We've got all kinds of weather out here," said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Cashman, the Senior Enlisted Advisor for Cadet Summer Training. "We want to make sure Cadets are protected from lightning, that we're modifying training based on the heat and humidity and that the must-pass events aren't started in the heat of the day."
In addition to safety, Cashman also considered his own Basic Training experience to ensure Cadets get the most out of their 31 days at Fort Knox.
"In basic training, you're given two weeks to work on marksmanship," explained Cashman. This year, Cadets only had two days to participate in marksmanship. "Next year we're going to give them four days instead."
When asked about what Cadets should work on most before arriving for at CST, Cashman stressed the importance of preparing yourself physically.
"The more physically fit you are, the more mentally tough you're going to be," concluded Cashman. "If you know you can do something, mentally, you're there."
In running a program that graduates nearly 8,000 Cadets in under 90 days, Cashman is reminded of the true purpose of CST.
"It prepares Cadets to become a second lieutenant and life beyond that," said Cashman. "It teaches them the things you need to know, like fitness, leadership characteristics and attributes, the Army values and what it's like bringing together a team made up of people from all different backgrounds."
"Bringing that team together to complete a mission, I believe, is the key to what we're doing here."
As Army Doctrine changes and the CST leadership prepares for 2019, both Barnes and Cashman are eager to see what lessons will come from the next 8,000 Cadets who will call Fort Knox home and will eventually serve as our nation's leaders.