ROTC cadets drill during STAKES, training strategy changing

Sept. 22, 2014

Nick Beadleston
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As the sun crested the bluffs behind UCCS, new ROTC cadets were already furiously in motion, vaulting over logs and crawling beneath barbed wire, all under the watchful eye of their senior leaders.


Recently, more than 75 cadets took part in this year’s STAKES training. The event involved several stages including orienteering, a rope bridge, a barbed wire low crawl and a battle buddy assault course.

The day’s training took place on the broken terrain north of the Four Diamond Sports Complex.

The assault course required teams of two cadets to advance under paintball fire from mock insurgents. The exercise was designed to enhance communication between cadets as they covered one another while moving forward.

The orientation portion of the event, in addition to teaching land navigation, was also designed to improve cohesion between squads of cadets. They were required to find as many points as possible within a given time.

For the first year cadets, this event was an introduction into military life and culture.

“It’s a challenge, but I like a challenge,” said first year Cadet Esai Hernandez. “I’ll stick through it, I won’t quit.”

Another first year cadet, Jesse Sprague, said the day was about learning essential discipline and getting in better shape. He spoke about the Army’s Warrior Spirit, a guiding set of ethos taught to the cadets.

“It tells you how to live your life out of the Army,” said Sprague.

He indicated he plans to stick with ROTC, but is not yet sure if he wants to eventually commission as an officer.

Second year cadets were tasked with learning a different set of skills for the day. Many got their first tastes of military leadership, as they began to fill low-level command roles. “I love being a leader,” said second year Cadet Mackenzie Korbus.

Korbus, who also plays soccer, said she enjoys taking the leadership she has learned in sports and applying it to directing the cadets under her.

“That’s the best way to learn how to be a leader, to be thrown into it,” said second year Cadet Kayla Lemons.

Lemons is a member of the CSU-Pueblo ROTC unit, which periodically trains with the UCCS program.

While first and second year cadets were having fun and breaking a little sweat, upperclass cadets were receiving pivotal, career building training behind the scenes.

They were responsible for the day’s planning and execution, as well as reporting to the unit’s cadre, made up of active duty Army officers and enlisted personnel.

“The emphasis now is the seniors,” said Lt. Col. Mark Thompson, who heads the university’s ROTC program. “It’s about making sure they continue their training and develop to be officers.”

He indicated the Army’s ROTC program is moving away from recruiting large numbers and focusing on producing fewer, more well-rounded officers.

Thompson said now the goal is to “really focus them on the Army doctrine of mission command.” He described this as being able to complete tasks and missions while receiving less detailed instructions from senior leadership.

This new training strategy differs from past years, when the focus of UCCS ROTC has been on preparing younger cadets for attending the Fort Knox Leadership and Development and Assessment Course, between their junior and senior years.

The emphasis for the training shift toward creating more adaptive leaders has come from the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“It’s modernized how we train cadets,” Thompson said. “What we’re trying to do now is train these officers on changing circumstances.”

“We don’t know what these guys are going to be doing in 10 years.”