By Terry Heifetz and Steve ArelJuly 14, 2010
FORT KNOX, Ky. (July 14, 2010) -- Waves of college students striving to become U.S. Army officers are spending an intense month at Fort Knox this summer with the annual Leader's Training Course, which marks its 45th anniversary this year.
In all, nearly 1,500 men and women will train at Knox this summer as part of the program put on by the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Seven groups of about 215 cadets each will cycle through the course over the next several weeks.
This summer's attendance is expected to be the second largest in a decade. Helping drive up the numbers are strong campus recruiting efforts, a desire by young men and women to serve their country and a weakened economy.
The course began in 1965, when it was called Basic Camp. It has been held at Fort Knox since its inception. The course, which has evolved over the years to focus more on leader development instead of basic Soldier skills, is considered one of the country's top leadership-development programs, testing cadets under stress and instilling qualities that last a lifetime.
"Students obtain skills they can apply not only in a military career but also in the civilian world - time management, organization and self-discipline," said Col. David Hubner Sr., commander of the Leader's Training Course. "These are traits they can apply in all walks of life, as a student and as a person. They take away much more than just military training."
Over the intense 29-day course, cadets learn a great deal about the Army, as well as themselves. They are placed in a variety of roles that test their ability to lead others, and the course instills participants with discipline, motivation, physical conditioning, self confidence and initiative.
Cadet Leah Wilkerson, a University of Tennessee student, said the course is helping her gain confidence in her physical and mental abilities for a future in military law enforcement.
"It's more challenging than I thought it would be," Wilkerson said. "Everything is so high speed. You always have to be on top of your game, always paying attention and always ready."
Readiness is part of the course's goal. It prepares college students with limited ROTC experience for the advanced senior ROTC program on their campuses - and ultimately commissioning as an Army officer - while giving them a peek at the life of a Soldier.
Cadet Bridger Opp, a student at the University of Colorado, already knows a little about the life of a Soldier. His father has served in both the Army and Air Force. Opp said the course's introduction to Army life reinforced his decision to pursue a career in the military.
"I really like it," he said. "I know this is exactly where I'm supposed to be."
The students represent schools from across the country, coming from as far away as Puerto Rico and Guam. Cadet Alexander Golenko is a Russian immigrant who attends the University of South Florida. He said the training is a first step in giving back to the country he now calls home.
"I want to be military because America has given me so much," Golenko said. "The freedom to do what I want; we've never gone without food, we always had something on the plate here, there were opportunities to go to great schools, to learn a different language. We never had that over there, and I want to give back because this country has given me so much."
ROTC produces more Army officers annually than any other commissioning source, including the United States Military Academy at West Point and Officer Candidate School. This summer's final group of cadets will graduate the course Aug. 7.
(Terry Heifetz and Steve Arel serve with U.S. Army ROTC Public Affairs)