FORT KNOX, Ky.— For each, the challenge was different. For Cadet Maxwell Galbraith of Liberty University, it was surprise leadership positions; for Cadet Alyssa Dickey of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte it was Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high yield Explosives, or CBRNE, and going through the gas chamber; and Cadet Lauren Collins of the Virginia Military Institute pointed to the challenge of road marches as she knocked out an early morning Army Combat Fitness Test during Cadet Summer Training 2021.
To assist Cadets in developing the skills to negotiate the myriad challenges and perform at their best during CST, the Army embedded Master Resilience Trainers- Performance Experts (MRT-PEs) from its R2 Performance Centers with each Cadet company.
R2 Performance Centers are located at 32 CONUS and OCONUS locations where they provide performance enhancement, resilience, and mental skills training to Soldiers, Family members, Army Civilians, and units to include Special Operations units and the Army World Class Athlete Program. Staffed with MRT-PEs, who hold a degree in sports or performance psychology, kinesiology, or counseling, the centers focus on equipping individuals and units to optimize performance and succeed when met with challenges.
Emerson Gagnon, one of the 38 MRT-PEs supporting CST, is in his third year and says ROTC Cadre have gained a real appreciation for the skills the MRT-PEs provide, “Cadet Command gives us eight hours on the schedule to teach Cadets mental performance skills,” Emerson said. He noted that MRT-PEs are encouraged to work with Cadets both before, during, and after training.
These performance skills come in handy for the Cadets. Priya Ford, a Fort Carson, Colorado, MRT-PE experienced the results, “There were various training events...in which I spoke to Cadets as a company and one on one, where I provided them with skills they could use based on their needs for that specific event. Many took it upon themselves to not only listen and learn the skills, but then turn right around and use them in the moment. Numerous times they would come right back over to me and tell me excitedly, ‘these skills work!’”
In addition to providing training onsite, MRT-PEs also taught foundational classes that provided Cadets with skills to utilize in meeting multiple challenges.
Maegan Guevara, from Fort Knox’s R2 Performance Center, instructed Cadets on the importance of deliberate breathing and led teams through a competitive exercise, using a small stick to balance and stack items, that reinforced the lessons. Cadet Mi Nam Choe from Utah Valley University, and his teammates Eric DePompa from North Carolina State University and Marcel Bukuru, also of Utah Valley University, saw multiple benefits and uses to these exercises including helping an individual relax, find their center and escape, help with focusing on a task or challenge, and working through a weapons malfunction at the upcoming firing range.
MRT-PE Ross Simonson led a discussion on the importance of talking through the actions required to complete a task. This involves actually talking yourself through each step of a task that is necessary to successfully accomplishing it. Simonson explained that often, when failing a challenge, individuals rush right back and try again without thinking through the process. By focusing on the steps, it becomes easier to accomplish the task. To emphasize this process, Simonson divided up Cadets into teams and gave them a series of challenges where they had to incorporate and improve both individual and team skills.
While many of the challenges at CST are individual in nature, teamwork is critical to success. This year, after CST was canceled in 2020 due to COVID, teamwork, sharing, supporting, and learning from peers seemed even more important to Cadets than ever. Armed with performance skills from the MRT-PEs and supported by their teammates, over 6,500 ROTC Cadets met the challenges of CST.
CST serves as both a culminating assessment for senior Cadets called Advanced Camp and a challenging introductory exercise called Basic Camp designed for newer Cadets. According to U.S. Army Cadet Command, Advanced Camp is a 37-day training event designed to assess a Cadet’s ability to demonstrate proficiency in basic officer leadership tasks. It is the most significant training and evaluation event in ROTC. The training is complex, challenging, and rigorous and is conducted in a stressful training environment. Basic Camp is a 31-day training event designed to introduce Cadets to the Army. The objective is to develop leadership skills and train them on individual and junior leader tasks to develop and reinforce Warrior Ethos and the Army Values. Cadets leave CST with the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in ROTC, and ultimately the Army.
Cadets aren’t the only ones departing CST with great memories and an appreciation for what they learned, the experience also proved beneficial to the MRT-PEs, motivating them to take back lessons they learned and incorporate them into training at their home installations. “Although I already knew this was an important aspect to our role, I am leaving CST with a strong reminder of the power of buy-in just through face time and being there with Soldiers in their element,” said Ford. “This experience has reminded me that I need to push for more face time with units and allow them the opportunity to get to know me. I had a great time at CST and am hoping I get the opportunity to return next summer."