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Reporter goes behind the scenes to see what ROTC offers

October 11, 2007

Two hours east of River Falls lies a massive tract of government land known as Ft. McCoy. Two weekends per year, a group of students from the UW-River Falls Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) join other universities who participate in the ROTC and visit Ft. McCoy for a taste of what the Army has to offer.

On Oct. 6, I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon at Ft. McCoy with Kenny Yoo, the photographer from the Student Voice, under the supervision of members from the ROTC branch at UWRF.

John Carroll, 26, is a senior business administration major at UWRF and is also a cadet captain in the ROTC. As captain, Carroll said he is in charge of all of the UWRF cadets. On our trip we spent the majority of our time with Carroll.

For a person not all that familiar with the military, let alone a military fort, the first impressions of an area like Ft. McCoy touch on a wide range of feelings. Perimeter fencing, no-trespassing signs, signs warning about the potential of artillery crossing the road and a very official looking main-entrance with a security check-point give the place a strange vibe, but one thing is for sureā€”the place means business.

An area occupying more than 60,000 acres, Ft. McCoy is “a support installation, a ready and capable mobilization site, and is the Army’s only facility focused on providing Total Force Training,” according to globalsecurity.org.

Ft. McCoy is filled with various training sites, barracks, thick woods typical of Wisconsin, its very own gas station and convenience store, various administrative buildings and endless roads.

After checking in at the main gate and gathering security clearance, Yoo and I were quickly escorted by UWRF Professor of Military Science Maj. Tabb Benzinger and UWRF student Kyle Gruber to a Black Hawk helicopter-landing pad. Yoo and I were suppose to have the opportunity to travel in the “bird” as they refer to it in the military, but we were told that we had missed the safety briefing, along with another person, and we would not be allowed to fly. Despite our disappointment, we gathered what we could from watching these massive machines maneuver around the area; it was an impressive sight nonetheless.

As Yoo snapped photos and I observed the birds, Gruber rattled off some facts about the Black Hawk. He said it is run by twin jet engines with 75,000 pounds of thrust. That point was taken well into consideration as I held my hat with a secure grasp and dust blew into my eyes. There was a man with a device in his hand whom stood outside the bird as people loaded and unloaded. Gruber explained that he is the flight master, and he has the power to shut the entire machine off with the press of a button.

The Black Hawk’s primary purpose is to carry troops and provide logistical support, but the aircraft can also carry out medical evacuations and search and rescue missions, along with the potential for armed force, according to army-technology.com.

UWRF freshman cadet Kristin Glanz, 19, was one person who was able to take part in a flight.

“You got to see, like, all of the land everywhere,” Glanz said. “It was pretty cool.”

A trumpet abruptly sounded off through a loud speaker at noon, almost as if it was time to report for battle – but that was of course not the case. Instead, Carroll escorted us to a sandy training area known as the combatives pits. Here, cadets were being trained in hand-to-hand combat. The instructor gave students reasons why hand-to-hand combat might be necessary in a combat situation, such as a gun being jammed, no gun at all or an unexpected attack coming from around a corner. He also went on to give his definition of a warrior.

“In combat, a warrior is the person who takes the fight to the enemy – that’s the warrior,” he said.

UWRF freshman Amanda Parczak joined the ROTC this year after already being involved with the Army reserve. She said her favorite part of the weekend was the hand-to-hand combat training.

“It’s a good thing to know exactly how to defend yourself if you’re in any kind of situation where you don’t have any weapons,” Parczak said.

After watching the training in the combatives pits, we had the opportunity to take a break in the shade and grab a bite to eat. We didn’t have lunch, but we were given a complimentary meal courtesy of the Army. For anyone who has never had a “meal ready to eat (MRE),” it is quite the experience. The MRE is far from your mother’s home cooking, even if she has never cooked a day in her life. But I learned the point of an MRE is to provide soldiers with enough nutrition to keep them alive, so I quickly came to realize that taste is not a priority.

According to the MRE information Web site, “while everything in an MRE can be eaten cold, it usually tastes better warm.”

I had the cheese tortellini with pineapple pound cake, but much like a soldier I had neither the time nor space to heat my meal, because by the time I got around to opening it we were on a bus headed to our next location.

“Dahlke, you should see the face that you’re making right now,” Yoo said.

Yoo’s father was in the military, so occasionally he would bring home some MREs for his son. Yoo was fascinated with the MRE, as children often are by such obscure things. Yoo was quick to remember that he was fond of the jumbalaya, so he made sure to snatch that up before me.

The tortellini never really struck a soft spot on my palette, but the pound cake was somewhat tasty. Needless to say, it was all I had eaten and it got me through our next activity – land navigation.

We arrived at the land navigation course meeting point and instantly my eyes were drawn to a group of soldiers lying in the grass with M-16 rifles. Like the noon trumpet in the loud speaker, the soldiers toting the rifles made me contemplate real war. Carroll was quick to let me know that the rifles were merely rubber replicas, and I quickly bounced back to reality.

After relaxing for a short time and waiting for people to regroup at the meeting area, a man began describing what was going to happen with the land navigation training. The purpose of land navigation is to use a map, compass, protractor and azimuth to find a given set of points. In this case the points were located in the woods, identified by a wooden pole with an eight-digit grid coordinate.

“It’s kind of a glorified walk in the woods,” Carroll said. “But the point is, if you’re out in the middle of nowhere with no GPS [Global Positioning System] you can find your way out.”

Throughout the entire time at Ft. McCoy, safety was a recurring theme. Even though we may have only been taking a “glorified walk in the woods,” the man giving the land navigation briefing made sure to provide a safety briefing. He warned everyone about uneven terrain, wildlife, vegetation such as poison ivy, being accountable for people and above all, nutrition and hydration. There was plenty of water available and they constantly encouraged everyone to take advantage.

Glanz was having trouble keeping food down and has a history of heat problems, so she was deemed a “heat casualty,” basically meaning that she was at high risk for passing out or having some other type of heat-related problem. She was not allowed to participate.

We joined up with our group leader, known as a “lane walker,” and began our land navigation mission. We proceeded up a road for a short while, and then turned down a sandy path that led us into the woods. About 100 yards into the woods we found our first point; it was at least a partial success, but it was time for us to begin our journey back to civilization and out of the boundaries of Ft. McCoy.

Carroll showed us our way back to the land navigation meeting point where we were to catch a ride back to our vehicles. Along the way we discussed the experience and he explained the purpose of the weekend from the ROTC perspective.

“The focus of the weekend is to show freshman and sophomores what things are like,” Carroll said. “The goal is to just give them a taste and see if it’s something they’re interested in doing.”

We only stayed for an afternoon and were bombarded with a variety of activities, so it’s safe to say that newcomers are given a fair opportunity to get a taste of the Army, and not just in a MRE.