FORT HOOD, Texas -- Units across the installation partnered with Texas Christian University and Baylor University’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs to host a multi-day Task-Force-level field training exercise (FTX) from March 30th through April 2nd, 2023 to give over 160 cadets a taste of the operational Army and prepare them for their culminating training evaluation. The four days included basic rifle marksmanship, land navigation, unit capabilities demonstrations, individual and team medical training, squad and platoon tactics, and finished with a 12-mile ruck march.
Though the seeds were planted for this partnership approximately five years ago, this is only the second year Fort Hood has hosted training of this scale for the cadets. The cadets are not typically afforded access to this equipment or the chance to apply these skills in their day-to-day experience in the classroom.
“We don’t have this opportunity ever,” said Cadet Madison Harwell, a junior at Baylor University. “I’m really excited to put it all into work here because we’ve been training for three years. But now I get to execute.”
The cadets and cadre members explained how this FTX at Fort Hood will directly translate to their five-week culminating Cadet Summer Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
“I shoot a lot on my own, but this is actually the first time I’ve shot in a military setting,” said Cadet Luke Taylor, a junior at Texas Christian University. He expressed anticipation about the opportunity to qualify on the rifle on the first day of the FTX, given that this would be required in their summer training where the stakes are higher. Their performance ratings among ROTC peers from across the nation determines the career opportunities available.
“You go there, qualify on the rifle, do a fitness test, get garrison leadership and you’re in the field for the last two weeks running tactical lanes, being evaluated on the Troop Leading Procedures,” Taylor said.
“This (exercise) is essentially the final four for ROTC,” described Maj. Jeffrey Thompson, assistant professor of military science at Baylor University. “This is the next step in the tournament before all the cadets go out to Fort Knox. Fort Hood is a great installation; we have so many different resources the cadets are going to observe. And hopefully they can put that in their toolkit.”
For some cadets, it was their first time firing a weapon; for many, their first time interacting with such a diverse array of active-duty officers, NCOs, and Soldiers and seeing a ‘day in the life’ of a leader in the operational force.
“Embrace it and soak up as much as possible here,” Thompson encouraged the future officers. “Engage with the units. Ask the questions about the different branches,” he said.
The familiarization with the different military occupational specialties will shape their branch and component preferences as these cadets prepare to commission soon.
“The dream would be to branch detail Military Intelligence and do a couple years of Infantry before that,” Taylor shared. “Having an active-duty deployment with a combat arms unit is something I’d really like to do. I’d learn a lot about myself, the Army, and leadership. My dad did (military intelligence) for 20 years in the Army, so I want to follow in his footsteps.”
With so many different experiences and backgrounds represented, the cadets were eager to tell their stories about what drew them to pursue the Army. For Taylor, it was growing up around the military culture -- both his desire to emulate his father and other mentors who inspired him, serving as “a great example of how to be a good man, a good leader, and a good Soldier.”
When speaking to what he hopes the cadets get out of this experience, Thompson said, “Confidence in their ability. Confidence in their training thus far. An appreciation for what they’re asked to do. An appreciation for their service to the nation.”
Sgt. Nathan Nguyen, a Combat Engineer in the 59th Combat Engineer Company Armor (CEC-A), 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, offered his advice to the soon-to-be officers, “Be flexible.” He emphasized that when leading under pressure, remember, “You have people to your left and right next to you that can help you out as well. Especially the enlisted side.”
For these cadets who are balancing a traditional college experience with limited hours of military education integrated throughout, the consecutive days in the field -- rain and all -- gave them a taste of the more rigorous types of training and operations they will be a part of throughout their careers.
Cadet Rachel Nelson, a Texas Christian University senior, had the dual opportunity to be both a planner and participant in this year’s training events. She noted the feeling of accomplishment in being able to say, “I’ve just spent my weekend doing this. Not many of your civilian friends could say the same.”