By Rachael TolliverJuly 24, 2012
FORT KNOX, Ky. (July 24, 2012) -- As the summer months began and many college students prepare for a summer of part-time employment or an extra semester of classes, more than 20 cadets from colleges across the U.S. traveled to Spain to train with soldiers at its mountain school as part of the U.S. Army ROTCs Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program.
For the cadets this trip was part of a historical mission because U.S Army cadets had never been to Spain to train with the Spanish military.
For three weeks, the cadets trained at the Spanish mountain school in Jaca Spain, located at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains. They trained alongside Spanish Mountain soldiers and their light infantry.
The Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency, or CULP, program allows Cadets to travel to foreign countries on humanitarian, English teaching or military-to-military missions. In this way the Cadets can learn that theirs is not the only culture in the world, they can better understand different value systems and the different ways other people do things which in turn will make them better at adapting in different theaters of engagement, and they will learn the nuances of different languages.
Lt. Col. Jerzy Zubr, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, liaison officer for the Spanish Army TRADOC counterpart, said the idea for this opportunity came around about two years ago and started with a CULP trip to Portugal with more than 20 cadets.
"We heard about CULP through TRADOC channels and we decided to get the Cadets over to Europe," he explained. "This is a great opportunity for them to start building foreign relations and work with other militaries. We decided that since it went so well in Portugal that we would bring them to Spain."
He added that the Spanish army has been everywhere for engagement purposes, they are strong and reliable and are good friends of the United States.
"The expectations by the Spanish army, for physical preparation for Cadets on the mountain mission, were more than what was expected by the Cadets. But the cadets did great," Zubr explained. "They were working with soldiers who are recently deployed to Afghanistan. So they are working with real veterans and dealing with things we expect these young men and women to deal with in a year or two -- right around the corner. The experience has exceeded our expectations."
The bottom line, he added, is that we share more things that we do the same way then we do differently.
According to Cadet Allison Kamino, who attends Army ROTC at UC Berkeley, the Cadets shadowing mountain soldiers were first trained in the safety aspects of training on the mountain. Then they were taught the basics of working and maneuvering on a mountain. Two of their tasks included two field training exercises.
"I had blisters from the first FTX (a ruck march into the Pyrenees Mountains), and wasn't sure about how I would do on the second one," Kamino said. "But once we got to the top of the mountain and I could look back and see what I had just done, it gave me a great deal of confidence. I wasn't sure what I was going to be doing when we got here, but I found that I really enjoyed all of it."
The first FTX tested the cadets both physically and mentally. Not only did they have the daunting task of climbing one of the areas highest peaks, they had the opportunity to rappel down the side of part of the mountain, as well as rappelling into a cave near the top.
Additionally, the Cadets spent the night on the mountain top where the snow was still on the ground, then they hiked back down the mountain.
"There are so many great parts, to this trip," said Cadet Tom Banyacski of Norwich University. "Climbing Anayet, which is one of their highest peaks, was pretty awesome. Later we ran through the snow that is still on the peaks up there with the Spanish soldiers, and played in the drifts. It was a good interaction between us, and it was good training."
Although some of the Cadets were already versed in some of the techniques of mountain movement, they were required to learn the Spanish ways which, while similar, still required attention to detail.
Among the tasks the Cadets learned from their Spanish instructors while on the mountain were climbing skills, river crossing techniques using quickly assembled rope bridges, and rappelling.
"I learned a lot, like natural rock climbing as opposed to what we have at school," Banyacski explained. "The equipment they used is something else I leaned about, and the different ways you can do climbing things. I am part of a (mountain cold weather company) at school. We definitely learned a lot we will take back to MCW company at Norwich."
Food was something else in which the cadets experienced differences. The bag lunches the Cadets were handed while on FTX included a mini-loaf of French bread, a can of sardines or calamari in its ink, cheese for the bread, a desert pastry of some sort, and a can of soda. Banyacski and Komino said while they tried all the different food available to them throughout their trip, canned calamari in its ink was something they didn't care for.
As much as parts of the training were fun, it wasn't easy and the Cadets found themselves constantly challenged.
The last FTX took the cadets up into the mountains for two and a half days where they shadowed squads on patrol and learned to maintain a headquarters station.
But according to Cadet James Vetral who attends the University of Colorado at Boulder, the hardest part of the last FTX was the final ruck march down from the mountain in the dark.
"It was pretty long, and our feet were wet the whole time because of the creeks we hiked through and the rain," he explained. "The hardest part was going over rocks in the middle of the night with no light. We were on the edge of a cliff, with two foot wide rocks everywhere, and there was six inch by six inch rocks in-between. It was slippery, there was lightening and fog everywhere and we only slept a few hours. That was really the most difficult part."
However, he added, the Spanish are very safety conscious and had prepared the Cadets well.
Lt. Jesus Chicharro, of the Spanish Army infantry, said the Cadets worked well with the Spanish soldiers and he would look forward to the Cadets visit in the future.
"This group did well and our soldiers enjoyed working and training with them," he said. "It was an education for both sides. Knowing that these Cadets have trained with us, and knowing how they have been to school in the U.S. and what they have learned, I would be confident when I meet them down the road that they know what they are doing, and understand the tactics and how the Army operates."
But rock climbing and rappelling aren't the only things the cadets will take away from their time in the mountains.
"I learned that there is another way to do stuff. In the U.S. we do everything at a fast pace. But here in Spain, this is another developed country and they do things at a much more relaxed pace and they still get results," explained Cadet Yoel Polanco, University of South Florida." It is OJK to do stuff at a relaxed pace if you do it well. I am going to try to trust my Soldiers more and on that day I become an officer in the U.S. Army I will try to implement that -- to trust my Soldiers and not rely only on myself."