While most UT students were soundly sleeping or getting home from their night out, ROTC students were just waking up to begin their first day at Camp Blanding. Camp Blanding in northern Florida is the annual Spring Field Training Exercise (FTX) for schools from all over Florida and even Puerto Rico.
These cadets were crawling through the wet dirt, bursting into dark buildings, climbing in war tanks, shooting at attackers from bushes and carrying bodies to safety.
To prepare for the trip, some cadets ate match heads so the sulfur would keep the ticks off. Each soldier had a ruck which is a backpack that weighs about 35 pounds and carried everything they would need with them.
Most soldiers tried to pack light by only wearing one pair of clothes for the whole trip. They also brought other things like their Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs), designed to fill up soldiers for long periods of time, and some baby wipes, needed to stay clean while out in the forest without showers.
During the first night, some of the cadets began their land navigation tests by going into the middle of the dark forest at night and using a compass to find land marks set up around the campground.
Each cadet had to do the land navigation drill once during the day and once at night.
The cadets slept outside the majority of the weekend and got up before the sun to begin their drill rehearsals.
While still pitch dark, these cadets were given information about their enemy and had to use only a sand table (four sticks made into a map) to plot their attack. The cadets had to make their own sand kits and used props to represent the cadets and the enemy. Some cadets’ props were more appropriate than others, like one of Sergeant Franklin Davila’s cadets that used Darth Vader as the enemy.
However, other cadets, like senior Grady Denton’s, were stuck using plastic kittens to plan their attack strategies.
“We want to keep it fun so the younger cadets stay with the program,” said Patrick O’Sullivan, Director of the UT Army ROTC program.
UT stood out from the other schools for two reasons.The first is that the UT ROTC was chosen along with one other Eastern school to be in the Army Strong campaign, so UT cadets could be found on posters on the campsite, as well as all the other places the army promotes. The second reason shined through their performance during the drills.
Their preparation for the event showed through their presentation in all of the exercises.
UT’s very own senior cadet Christopher Coyle won an award for Outstanding Performance in FTX.
The cadets stayed positive the whole trip even though they were all exhausted, hungry and sweaty. Adrenaline is what these soldiers run on.
They feel they have to have a sense of humor to make it through the tough times they have and fill face in the Army.
“You have to make the best out of the bad situations because everyone is suffering, not just you. So we joke around a lot to make light out of the bad, and it really brings us closer” said senior cadet J.K. Karlsson.
The cadets stick close together and have each other’s back during everything that they go through. “We’re like a fraternity and sorority,” said senior cadet Elizabeth Larke. “We are all really close.”