BYU Air Force cadets take off for field training

Staff lines up for a photo at field training from 2014. The field training is designed to simulate life on active duty in the military. (MSgt Maria D. Perrin)
Maxwell AFB Field Training Staff lines up for a photo at field training in 2014. The field training is designed to simulate life on active duty in the military. (MSgt Maria D. Perrin)

BYU Air Force ROTC cadets are headed to military field training this summer. The training is essential to prepare cadets for a future career in the military. BYU Air Force ROTC sends an average of 97 percent of its applicants every year; the national average varies from 50 to 80 percent a year.

More than 95 percent of BYU AFROTC cadets graduate from field training. This selection process consists of academics as well as involvement in the ROTC program and extracurricular activities.

“We break down the cadets into thirds,” said Air Force Captain Matthew Pinegar. “And the way our program works is if a cadet is below that bottom line, they get cut; there is no invite to field training.”

The program is strictly based on performance against fellow cadets, rather than average or recommended grades.

Field training for a cadet lasts four weeks, and they only have two chances to pass field training. Cadets can retake the four-week test the year following if they repeat their sophomore year in ROTC.

“The first two weeks of field training this year are at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama,” said Cadet Mitch Riley. “Here we will face challenges such as physical training tests, 4 a.m. uniform inspections, academic tests and leadership challenges.”

Riley is one of the 18 cadets who qualified to attend field training for BYU Air Force ROTC this year.

“Most people get sent home these first two weeks,” Riley said, “which can be devastating after dedicating two years to the program for this moment.”

The first two weeks of emotional and physical stress are a good indicator for cadets if a career in the military is good for them. Following these two weeks, the cadets then go to  Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

“Here we do what is like a mock deployment,” Riley said. “We really see what we will expect when deployed in the future.”

Many cadets from BYU are married and have children. These four weeks of training can be hard for the families and spouses, but it prepares them for future deployment as well.

“It was a challenge for my wife, girlfriend at the time, when I was away for the four weeks,” Cadet Jeremy Harmon said. “It is lonely, but she handled it well, and I knew she could support me and my future in the military after field training.”

Harmon proposed to his girlfriend after graduating from field training in the 2013–2014 school year. His wife is the president of the Spouses and Sweethearts club for Air Force ROTC members at BYU.

Spouses and Sweethearts provides activities for the spouses not only while the cadets are in Provo but also while they are away.

During the week the cadets are given a night to worship after all the tests and challenges.

“I know I will be looking forward to Saturday nights where we can have church services,” Riley said. “Through these tests and rough conditions, it will be nice to be able to feel the Spirit.”

Riley explained that there are missionary couples on base to help run the meetings and provide treats. The treats are coveted because cadets cannot bring sugar to training.

Major Mark Slik will attend field training with the 18 BYU cadets being sent this year. This will be his second time attending field training to help run the tests and mentor the cadets.

“Major Slik enables people to lead better than anyone I know,” Riley said. “He won’t solve all your problems, but he will teach you to learn and grow from them.”

The cadets are nervous but excited about field training coming up.

“I am glad I will have Major Slik there, but I hope I don’t see him there,” Riley said. “Because if I do then it means I have done something wrong.”

The cadets understand before entering field training that their mentors must show tough love and a level of professionalism while there. This year they are also shifting focus to test more leadership skills during field training.

“They have re-evaluated the purpose and preparation,” Pinegar said. “The focus this year will be more on how to work as a team and in leadership roles under physical and emotional stress.”

“It is easy to lead when the sky is clear,” Riley said. “It’s when the storm hits and everyone is under high stress where it is a real test.”

BYU Air Force ROTC has helped prepare its cadets for the high-stress environment of field training.

“We offer a Fall/Winter field training preparation class,” Pinegar said. “We used the curriculum designed for this class over two semesters and have cadets who have passed field training teach it.”

Harmon oversees all the cadets who teach field training preparation classes. They report to him, and he helps figure out ways to be more effective in preparing them for field training.

Cadets receive a report card for each challenge they complete over the four weeks at field training. The cadet maintains the average ranking of satisfactory while there, or they will not graduate. Also, cadets receive ranking at field training.

“When I first arrived I treated it as more of a competition,” Harmon said. “But I quickly realized it is those who use teamwork that thrive.”

Once the cadets graduate, they will contract to serve the United States in the Air Force for four years after graduation.

“We see a huge difference in the types of leaders they are and become when they go to field training,” said Master Sergeant Maria Perrin, from BYU AFROTC. “That’s what I saw last year when I attended.”

Pinegar recalls an introductory experience to field training when he joined ROTC. “One student who just recently returned from field training said it was the most fun he never wanted to have,” he said.

BYU will send cadets in groups during June and July. The cadets continue to train for one of the most unique application processes found in colleges around the States.

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