The senior cadets from the University of Montana and Carroll College have been through it all before. This weekend, however, it’s their turn to teach the younger students participating in ROTC how to complete the exercises during their fall FTX (Army speak for “field training exercise”) at Fort Harrison.

“My responsibility here is I’m in charge of the obstacle course, to make sure all the cadets are prepared,” said Cadet Thomas Murgel, a nursing student at Carroll College. “It’s a little different for me (being the teacher).”

Minutes later, Murgel and another cadet were instructing their comrades to remove objects from their pockets, which can fall out or poke or otherwise injure them as they attack the obstacle course. The cadets received a quick run-through before taking on each obstacle, which are as easy as crossing a narrow bridge and as difficult as scaling high towers that push some soldiers’ physical and emotional limits.

Having blasted through the rest of the course, Carroll cadets Eric Parks and Seth Pattee were the first to take on one of the last stations, a roughly 30-foot-tall ladder with rungs that get only farther apart as they reach the top.

Parks bounded up it with ease, while Pattee took a second to catch his breath before making his way up.

“It didn’t scare me, it’s just tough,” said Pattee, who was winded after making his way through all the obstacles.

The course is just one station that the cadets, broken into four squad-size groups of a dozen or so, took part in Saturday.

While Murgel was prepping his students, the cracks from M-16 rifles echoed down the firing range. The cadets would also go through a land navigation course (plodding through the grasses to find points on a map), and spend time in a FOB (forward operating base) designed to replicate the living conditions that soldiers will see when deployed in war zones.

Today, they’ll get to use some of the high-tech gear that Army soldiers use to train, including a simulator for getting out of a rolled-over Humvee.

For the cadets, the opportunity to practice at Fort Harrison is particularly special. Prior FTXs have been at Lubrecht Forest, where there is no FOB setup and training facilities are a little more primitive.

“The pop-up targets is one of the most exciting parts (at Fort Harrison) because we’ve never gotten to do much with them; we’ve only shot at stationary or paper targets,” said Cadet Russell Greenfield, a senior at UM’s School of Journalism. “They’ve been trying to get it here for a while, but we haven’t had the availability.

“We had the opportunity (this weekend) and jumped at it.”

An intern with the Army’s public affairs office, Greenfield was even getting in a little extra experience as he took the lead in coordinating media personnel — a job usually reserved for a commissioned officer. With the Independent Record present and an individual from UM also filming a documentary, he was getting used to escorting journalists around.

Though cadre are present to give guidance to the cadets and instruct them when needed, the senior cadets are, for the most part, in charge. After all, cadets are expected to eventually graduate, be commissioned and become leaders in their military fields. 

“As an MS4 (senior), you’re expected to know what you’re doing,” said Cadet Caitlin Lynch, a political science major at UM.

She said the senior cadets began preparing for the FTX at the beginning of the semester (there is one in the fall and one in the spring) and have worked hard to coordinate with Carroll College. The two schools are both part of the Grizzly Battalion and have been planning together via video conference calls on Skype.

“This is the first year we really integrated Carroll into our chain of command,” Lynch said.

While the older cadets are concerned with how operations are going, the younger cadets are just learning the ropes. Many haven’t been through basic training or any form of advanced courses. 

“I feel like it’s a lot more real-world,” said Carroll cadet Samantha Clement, who was participating in her third FTX. “You learn more during an FTX.

“It’s on. You actually have loaded weapons, not just talking about them.”


Jeff Windmueller: 447-4005 or jeff.windmueller@helenair.com

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