Tue 23 Oct 2012
From the Jefferson County Union on October 22, 2012:
UW-Whitewater ROTC Cadet Leaders Learn in the Field
Story by Tom Ganser
WHITEWATER – Cadets in the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Blackhawk Battalion recently put into practice leadership lessons they’ve learned in the classroom.
During their Field Leadership Reaction Course on Oct. 10, UW-Whitewater’s disc golf course was transformed into three sites designed to simulate challenging tasks faced by servicepersons: transporting an injured soldier along a narrow path with limited visibility, crossing a ravine by rope and harnesses to rescue an injured soldier, and crossing an area safely without detonating landmines.
Cadet Benjamin Pelc, a computer science major and biology minor from Florence, emphasized the close relationship between classroom training and field experiences for officers-in-training.
“I do not think that one is more important than the other,” Pelc said. “In fact, you need to have both to complement each other.”
Pelc participates in the Simultaneous Membership Program and actively drills with a Reserve unit while being a contracted candidate in the UW-Whitewater Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).
In the exercise, the cadets are divided into squads and squad leaders are given a mission to accomplish in just 15 minutes. The tasks require the squad to work together as a team to overcome a challenge or obstacle that one person working alone cannot solve.
“The missions are purposely time constrained in order to evaluate the ability of the leaders to make quick decisions and think on their feet,” said Mick Nyenhuis, senior military science instructor.
Cadets are equipped with battle gear and carry “demilitarized M16s,” referred to informally as “rubber ducks” because they are made primarily of hard rubber.
The exercise begins with instructions issued through the chain of command in an operations order. The order includes details about the situation, the mission, the execution (fulfilling the commander’s intent and desired end state), the logistics (supplies, equipment, etc.), and command and control (who is in charge and communication plan).
“The orders are tailored as they pass down the chain of command in order to be specific to the unit receiving them,” Nyenhuis said.
He continued: “A company may be given a mission that requires several distinct tasks to complete. The company commander breaks the tasks apart and assigns specific tasks to each of his/her subordinate platoons, who will then do the same for their subordinate squads.”
After receiving the orders, the squad leader follows troop-leading procedures. This includes receiving the mission, issuing the order to the two most senior members of the squad, making a tentative plan, starting necessary movement, reconnoitering (making a military observation), finalizing the plan, issuing the operations order, and supervising the mission planning and execution.
Following the completion of the mission or reaching the 15-minute time limit, an after-action review (AAR) is conducted. The purpose of the AAR, Nyenhuis said, is “to bring out the good, the bad and the ugly so we can sustain the things we do well and learn from our mistakes.”
A cadet in his or her senior year at UW-Whitewater serves as the evaluator. The evaluation focuses on leadership and leadership tasks and not necessarily on the overall success of the mission.
Sometimes a team leader or another squad member steps up to keep the mission on track, despite the poor performance of the squad leader in explaining the mission or supervising the squad’s actions.
Or, a squad leader can do everything the right way, but outside circumstances beyond the leader’s control might prevent a successful mission outcome.
“Sometimes we purposely set the condition for mission failure to evaluate how a leader reacts to adversity and setbacks,” Nyenhuis added.
For Pelc, serving as an evaluator was an important learning experience.
“During my role as an evaluator, I notice that I am drawing on my experience of being evaluated to look for where the junior cadets now being evaluated can improve,” he reflected. “This helps me not only improve the evaluated cadets, but also to continue to improve myself as I am becoming more critical of my own actions as well those of the junior cadets.”
The cadre instructors review the evaluations and use them to complete a more comprehensive leadership evaluation at the end of the cadet’s junior year.
The UW-Whitewater Warhawk Battalion ROTC program currently serves 41 students. Twenty are “contracted cadets” who have taken an oath to accept a commission as an Army officer after graduation.
The other 21 students are in the process of meeting qualifications for contracting: meeting medical qualifications for service in the armed forces, passing the Army physical fitness test, maintaining a gradepoint average above 2.0 and preferably over 2.5 on at least 30 college credit hours, and exhibiting the moral and ethical character that the American people expect of their military leaders.
Practically speaking, Nyenhuis said, this means “staying out of trouble, demonstrating good judgment and the ability to follow directions, and being trustworthy.”