Thursday, July 23, 2015 –
FORT KNOX, Ky. - Thousands of Reserve and active duty officers, noncommissioned officers and junior enlisted Soldiers assembled at Fort Knox for the second time since the program moved from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, to execute the largest annual leader training event in the Army; Cadet Summer Training.
Beginning around mid-May and continuing to the end of summer, approximately 5000 cadre of Soldiers assigned to U.S. Army Cadet Command, as well as active duty and reserve Soldiers, come out to support the training, said Lt. Col. Joshua Gillen, 8th Brigade, Reserve Officer Training Course (ROTC), U.S. Army Cadet Command and the professor of Military Sciences at California Polytechnic State University. He is also this years' Deputy Chief of Staff for CST, a position held by a different field grade officer each year.
The students, all affiliated with ROTC programs at their universities, have come to Fort Knox to complete one of two CST programs required for their commission this summer.
The number of cadets that will complete some type of training during their time at Fort Knox is astounding, especially when the cadre is only given about three months to complete their mission. Gillen explained, the cadets are assigned to any one of the Cadet Leader Course’s 10 regiments or the nine Cadet Initial Entry Training Regiments, which he then broke down numerically.
“Overall you're looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of 640 cadets per regiment of CLC” Gillen said, “What you have in CIET (per regiment) is 240 to 260 cadets. When you combine everything that's 10 regiments of CLC and nine of CIET you're very quickly approaching 10,000 cadets that have come through some form of regimental training this summer.”
Upon their arrival at CST, the cadets are broken down into the two different CST programs based on their current year of college. Gillen explained that the CLC regiments are cadets finishing their junior year at college and getting ready to start their senior year, generally the summer between their junior and senior year. The CIET regiments are comprised of freshmen to sophomore or sophomore to junior cadets. It’s designed for those cadets with very little to no military experience, in order to indoctrinate them to the Army.
After being introduced to the basics of military doctrine at their schools, Gillen explained, they held some type of leadership position. As the cadets move up the ranks and through their education, they are tasked with greater responsibilities, similar to what’s expected as they progress through their careers in either the active or reserve components of the Army.
“As juniors they will typically be squad leaders, platoon leaders, platoon sergeants, company commanders and first sergeants for the cadet organization on campus” Gillen said, “As they finish the Cadet Summer Training and return to campus as seniors, they are usually placed in battalion leadership in the cadet battalion on campus.”
The ROTC, as well as the CST programs, has been a part of the Army's officer training doctrine for many years. But like most training programs, both officer and enlisted, they have been altered in order to adapt to the ever-changing nature of warfare, especially with the lessons learned from Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
“One of the things that we have worked very hard to do in Cadet Command is (to) transition from simply teaching the mechanics of how we run a squad or platoon to an environment where the cadets are learning critical thinking (and) problem solving (skills) in a dynamic, changing environment,” Gillen said.
This is what his commanding general's mission is meant to accomplish. To create confident leaders who are comfortable and act in an ethical manner while performing their duties in a chaotic environment.
The training cadets receive is comprehensive and encompasses everything from solving complex, practical problems as a team to perfecting basic Soldier skills. Skills such as marksmanship and Individual Movement Techniques (IMT), which enables teams to move tactically on the battlefield while providing cover fire for each other. Skills are taught and practiced in individual areas commonly called lanes by the cadre who man them. Cadets receive hands-on training in order to master the skills they will need to teach as well as lead Soldiers in these lanes.
While ROTC personnel are the primary instructors, a major portion of the mission is carried out by noncommissioned officers, such as Sgt. 1st Class Aaron L. Masters, an instructor with B Company, 1st Battalion, 334th Regiment, 104th Training Division (LT). For Masters, this will be his fourth rotation as an instructor at CST.
Masters had just completed a combat deployment to Afghanistan, but shortly after he arrived at his current unit, he attended the Army Basic Instructor Course (ABIC) at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, and became an instructor. With his newly acquired skill set, he went to work doing what noncommissioned officers are best known for, training Soldiers. He originally began training cadets when CST was conducted at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), prior to its move to Fort Knox. Now in his fourth year as an instructor at CST, he teaches an average of 150 cadets a day.
“We taught first aid for the first couple of years (at JBLM) and then we taught first aid here last year,” said Masters, “So it was a nice change of pace to train cadets on hand grenades this year.”
Masters said that his company and B Company, also assigned to his regiment, put their combined numbers at approximately 200 Soldiers to ease the workload. Even with the combined efforts, the initial missions necessitated a grueling schedule and extended Annual Training (AT) orders. The majority of Army Reserve Soldiers normally serve an average of two weeks.
“Those were long days. We had 29 day AT orders and the days were literally almost 12-hours long,” Masters said, “We'd come in and set up. When the cadets arrived, we took them through the classes followed by testing, which took a significant amount of time.
Running the hand grenade assault course and IMT lane mission this year has made for slightly shorter work days. Masters makes it clear that he is passionate about his job and that it is not about the work. He cares deeply about making sure that each and every cadet coming through his lanes understands the lessons completely.
Master admits that while most of the cadets are very young, they are also very bright. He wants to encourage them to embrace working closely with noncommissioned officers (NCO s) not only as subordinates but as mentors.
“I'm influencing the next leaders so that future lieutenants can say, I remember that NCO who taught me this (skill). I want that relationship between officer and NCO to be close.” Masters said.
Masters would also have some words of wisdom for the cadets if he were given an opportunity to deliver them.
“Trust your NCOs. They're good people, they've got the experience,” said Masters, “Your NCOs will make or break you.”
Having completed both the CIET and the CLC training cycles, the cadets are normally commissioned at their universities upon completing their studies and being awarded their degree. However, there are cases where circumstances dictate that some cadets receive their commissions sooner.
“For whatever reason between their junior and senior year, some cadets are not able to attend CST,” Gillen said, “Some may have an internship that's required for their degree or they were injured and not able to attend on their normal time line. So every year we have a small percentage of cadets attending CST that are considered end of camp or end of course commissionees.”
Gillen added, these cadets have already graduated with degrees so finishing any training they have left, will meet all the requirements, therefore, making them fully eligible to be commissioned. By concluding their training and the fulfillment of all the requirements pays off.
A journey that began with a desire to lead Soldiers becomes reality, the result of a great deal of time, sweat and hard work. While many of the newly commissioned second lieutenants are young, there are some that had added challenges through this journey. The challenges, however, brought out their drive to press on in spite of the obstacles. Such was the case for newly-commissioned 2nd Lt. Christopher Reeves.
Reeves is a prior enlisted Soldier that held the rank of sergeant. He is a former combat medic with a combat deployment to Afghanistan and a humanitarian deployment to Haiti. After graduating from Arkansas Tech University at the age of 41, he had to apply for a waiver in order to be given the opportunity to transition from the enlisted ranks to officer. Eventually it was approved and so began his transition from enlisted to his commissioning as an officer in the Nursing Corps.
For many who see age as being a disadvantage, Reeve saw it as an opportunity to share his experience as a seasoned non-commissioned officer with his fellow cadets.
“I was able to help them see (things) from an NCO's perspective and how they as future officers could interact with their NCOs to bring out the experience that the NCO corps has.” Reeves said.
With all the seriousness needed for his new level of responsibility, he could not help feeling a great deal of joy, especially when at last, he had attained what he had fought so hard to get, for so long.
“I'm absolutely excited. It’s been a long road but it’s been a worthwhile journey,” Reeves said, “But I'm excited to start the next phase of my career."