Executing mock missions on mini obstacle courses, learning the stances and tactics used when shooting an M4 assault rifle, rappelling down a 32-foot tower, and manning their way through the terrain during land and night navigation is what a weekend at Camp Pendleton Marine Base looks like for Cal State Fullertonâ€™s Reserve Officersâ€™ Training Corps (ROTC).
FTX, Field Training Exercise, is the title of the weekend where first-and-second-year cadets from the ROTC program experience a taste of what the army lifestyle is like. For third-year cadets, FTX gives them the opportunity to build camaraderie with the squads and build leadership skills, Cadet Command Sgt. Major Alejandra Alvarado said.
Every program such as FTX prepares the cadets for the next step in their training to become an officer.
In between their third and fourth year, cadets reach their defining moment at a four-week-long course they call LDAC, a Leadership Development and Assessment Course, which serves as their final test.
Their year in the program is referred to as MS1, MS2, MS3 and MS4. MS stands for Military Science.
â€œHow well they do in school, in leadership, in physical fitness and community service when training to become an officer is assessed at LDAC,â€ said MS4 Cadet Capt. Public Affairs Officer Steven Swaleh. â€œAll of that factors into what branch they are going to get when they graduate.â€
Branch can refer to two things, the branch of the military a person chooses, such as Air Force, Navy, Army or Marine Corps or which branch/job they choose within one of the previous listed branches of military. For example, a person can be in infantry, armory, field intelligence and many others.
When asked why these cadets chose the Army over the other branches, the majority said that it had the most job opportunities and variety as opposed to the others.
Although ROTC cadets train at CSUF in Physical Training (PT) every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, FTX provides them with more than the day-to-day does.
Their three-day exercise consisted of a set schedule. On Friday morning, mock executions of missions at a location called 12 Stalls on Camp Pendleton base were conducted. Their purpose was to give the MS3s practice at leading their squads and have the cadets practice strategy and critical thinking.
From there, mid-day Friday, they moved to a Rappel Tower at another location where cadets were given an opportunity to rappel down a 35-foot tower, which teaches them how to operate not only on land but vertically, with heights, to gain confidence.
Next to the tower, stations were set up for cadets to rotate through and be trained on various stances used when operating an M4 and breathing techniques when firing, which is called Pre-Marksmanship Training.
After this concluded, ROTC moved on to their barracks, but their day didnâ€™t end. Instead, training on weapons maintenance and land navigation continued until calling it a day at 9:30 p.m.
Saturday began at 5 a.m. and cadets started at the firing range, where they put the techniques they were taught the previous day to use and were able to unload an entire magazine of an M4 through various stations. At each station they were required to shoot a limited number of shots while taking specific stances.
In order to ensure safety, medics were on site and accompanied the CSUF ROTC throughout the entire weekend. One of the medics was 68W Sampson Nguyen.
Nguyen joined the National Guard three years ago and will be deployed in a month to Iraq. From his training as a medic he has learned valuable skills and life lessons.
â€œWhat Iâ€™ve learned the most from training is to just be compassionate to everyone because a patient is a patient in the end,â€ Sampson said. â€œThat has helped me a lot in the civilian world.â€
Their next exercise trained them on land navigation, where they were given a set course and had to find specific checkpoints. When they arrived at each checkpoint they had to staple a paper to verify they were there.
On Saturday night a navigation exercise was held and weapons were cleaned before retiring to their barracks. Sunday was a half day and consisted of another obstacle course and a Ruck March, in which the cadets were required to carry all their gear and lasted for around five miles.
Cadet Kyle Ramirez, 20, an MS3 and CSUF mechanical engineering major, joined ROTC for his sisters, to ensure a secure future for himself and because he had always wanted to serve his country.
â€œFTX has given me the chance to use my leadership skills and learn how to be a better mentor and trainer,â€ Ramirez said. â€œAfter I graduate Iâ€™m hoping for active duty and either signal core or engineering for my branch.â€
Cadet Raymond Camargo, 19, an MS2, shared his thoughts on joining ROTC.
â€œI didnâ€™t expect to meet that many people and build so much cohesion,â€ Camargo said. â€œI expected it to be strict and â€˜hooahâ€™ and â€˜go armyâ€™ but instead Iâ€™m learning how to be a leader and teammate. Iâ€™ve enjoyed myself here.â€
Camargo said he would definitely encourage CSUF students who are looking into ROTC to join and that there is a lot to be gained from the program.
Sgt. Alvarado, an MS4 and CSUF Middle Eastern history major, was previously enlisted for three-and-a-half years and has had two deployments. When comparing her deployments, she said her roughest one was in Iraq, where for the first month and a half all she and members she was stationed with ate were Meals Ready to Eat, and used a man-made bathroom.
Sgt. Alvaradoâ€™s experience with ROTC has been a positive one and it was her fourth time being at FTX.
â€œSome people are either cut out to enjoy the military or not and I personally have enjoyed it,â€ Sgt. Alvarado said. â€œI like what itâ€™s about, I like the mission to create great leaders in military.â€
Sgt. Alvarado hopes to become active duty and be stationed in Germany as soon as she can after graduating, but for now she is a reservist.
The next FTX will be held in the spring semester and will be more rough around the edges than the fall FTX.
â€œNext semester we will actually be conducting battle drills and sleeping outdoors at FTX,â€ Sgt. Alvarado said.
Although every cadet had their own personal reason for joining ROTC, be it for a secure future, to support their family, to pay for school, to serve their country or to follow in the footsteps of a father or grandpa, they all seemed to be in unison in the pride they felt with being in the program and to every command gave a resounding, â€œHooah!â€