Dressed in camouflage Army fatigues and a Kevlar helmet, Andrew Church fixed his gaze on the horizon as a distant humming signaled the emergence of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter over the peak of the mountains.
The enormous piece of machinery touched down, generating a forceful wind that cleared the landing site of debris. It caused Church and his comrades to put their heads down to shield their eyes from the dirt and leaves circulating through the air before they ran in single file to the aircraft, strapped in and took off.
“It’s not very often you get to do something like this,” Church said.
A junior from Orange County, Calif., majoring in middle eastern studies, Church and his fellow Army ROTC cadets spent the cold early morning hours of Friday in the west parking lot of LaVell Edwards Stadium waiting to be picked up by a Blackhawk helicopter and transported to Camp Williams for a semi- annual field training exercise facilitated by the Army ROTC.
Church valued the chance to participate in such an event. “It’s good experience for the guys just starting out and it gives us an idea of how combat might be,” Church said. “We appreciate the opportunity we have to do something like this.”
The cadets were debriefed regarding helicopter safety, then airlifted in squads of eight to 10 to Camp Williams – 26 miles south of Salt Lake – in twenty-seven minute intervals throughout the day. In the end, just under 80 cadets were flown to the military training facility to participate in a range of activities to build leadership ability and increase understanding of military skills.
Major Ted Leblow explained the purpose of the event. “We’re trying to provide the cadets realistic training to prepare them to be officers,” Leblow said. “It’s leadership-focused training while also focusing on military tactics.”
The cadets were exposed to a wide range of activities promoting leadership and military strategies at the training.
When the cadets arrived at Camp Williams, still grouped in “chalks” of eight to ten, training immediately began with a round of basic rifle marksmanship. The squad then practiced tactile movement, including high crawl and low crawl, while attacked by paintballs representing enemy fire. This march was followed by a land navigation course that required the cadets to use a compass and coordinates to find specified points.
After a night navigation course and four hours of sleep on the cold hard ground, the cadets were awakened at 4 a.m. to simulate the raid of a bunker house to clear civilians out of a building and apprehend mock assailants. An obstacle course, grenade assault course and rappelling were also including in the training.
This practice is invaluable for many cadets.
“Some cadets are getting ready to attend a leadership development and assessment course this summer where they are ranked against cadets from across the nation to determine leadership potential,” said Liz Thomas, battalion commander for the Army ROTC. “This ranking decides what your first job in the Army is and whether it will be your first, second or third choice.”
The training exercise is important to the future of the cadets, some of whom are just beginning their Army ROTC experience. “This is my first training and I am really excited,” said David Brennan, a sophomore from Hood River, Ore., majoring in history teaching. “It took me a long time to decide if I wanted to join or not. As soon as I decided that I’d be OK going wherever the Army needed me, I joined.”
Within minutes, Brennan boarded the Blackhawk on his way to join his fellow ROTC members at Camp Williams and disappeared over the horizon.