The incredibly sharp “crack” of a rifle is both blood-chilling and heart-pumping. Witnessing the immense power behind each shot fired is enough to bring goose bumps to the flesh of the novice gun range attendee. Standing next to cadets while they fire 30 machinegun rounds as fast as they want is almost enough to make an adrenaline junkie overdose. “Shooters, place your weapons on semi-automatic and fire at will,” the range master said over the loudspeakers.
The cadets were each given a 30-round ammo belt to shoot as quickly or slowly as they desired. Some were finished in a mere few seconds, leaving all targets standing. Others were more precise with their bullet placement, leaving very few untouched.
“The goal of the shooting day is weapons familiarization,” Major Brett Martin said. “Besides, it’s so much fun to blast off a bunch of rounds for the heck of it.”
After the gun range, we followed the other half of the cadets into the woods, where they were beginning an ambush exercise.
“First they’re going to establish an Objective Rally Point,” Martin said. “This is where they drop their unnecessary, cumbersome gear about 30 meters from the objective. After that, they’ll continue with the mission, in this case the ambush. As soon as that’s completed they’ll meet back at the ORP, get their gear and high-tail it out of there. “
Martin explains how everything is going to happen as we walk behind the squad, stepping carefully around branches and other potentially noisy surroundings. Stealth is mandatory when performing an ambush. We lie down, getting as low to the ground as possible, taking cover behind some moderately sized trees.
Everyone remains still as two “targets” walk down the path. The cadets are all relatively hidden from sight of the road. There are no movements or noises until a simulation hand grenade is thrown at the oncoming enemy.
As soon as the mock explosive detonates, the cadets jump to their feet and rush toward the “casualties,” giving cover fire when needed and paying careful attention to their surroundings. They don’t know if more enemies are down the path or not, so speed is vital.
Once the area is clear of danger, a smoke grenade is ignited, giving off huge plumes of bright purple smoke. The squad then immediately evacuates, heading back to the ORP.
“In ROTC, we use the crawl-walk-run method,” Martin said. “Right now, these cadets are walking. Sure, I could point out a hundred different things they didn’t do perfectly, but for now they are doing things on their own. That’s how they really learn.”
Afterward, the squad talks about the mission’s execution. They cover what was done correctly, what was done incorrectly and what they can do to improve next time.
“The more you sweat in training, the less you’ll bleed in combat,” Sergeant First Class Brian Joyner said in passing. “They’d better be sweating their tails off out here!”
With a successful mission behind them and the sun starting to set, the cadets get in the shuttle vans and head back to the dining hall for spaghetti, green beans, corn, rolls and icebox pie. The cadets deserved the much needed sustenance for an entire day spent learning how to put their lives on the line for their country.