Cadets have many opportunities to experience leadership, learn and practice military skills, build comraderie, and learn new languages. The majority of these opportunities are funded by the Air Force or other scholarships in support of AFROTC. Our cadets talk about their experiences below.
I received the opportunity to participate in Expeditionary Survival and Evasion Training (ESET) during the summer of 2015. It is a ten-day program at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs that teaches cadets basic survival and evasion skills. All cadets at the Air Force Academy are required to complete it, but as an Air Force ROTC cadet, I volunteered for the opportunity. The program is run by senior cadet leadership at the Air Force Academy, but Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) instructors oversee the program and offer their expertise throughout. When I was first selected for the program, I did not know what to expect. The packing list was fairly extensive for a 10-day trip and even suggested bringing an extra pair of combat boots. My plane arrived in Colorado Springs where I met the other 16 Air Force ROTC cadets that were participating in that session of the program. We were then picked up and bussed to the Academy, where we were each issued gear and assigned a room with an Academy cadet. We were given the evening to tour the campus and meet our roommates, and the next morning we were split up into firing teams. On the first full day, a veteran SERE instructor briefed us on principles of basic survival and evasion. He was very thorough, and the briefing was very interesting and informative. We were let out early, and I went with a group of cadets to hike Eagle’s Peak, a nearby summit. The hike was fun and the view was spectacular, but I must admit that my enthusiasm for trekking mountainous terrain dwindled before the trip was over.
We spent the next few days in Jacks Valley, training in IED/UXO detection, Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT), basic survival and evasion, firearm proficiency (M9 and M16), land navigation, and small unit tactics. Throughout the training, I learned many useful skills while building a great relationship with the cadets in my firing team. Even when we were doing something that was not fun, we still made a great time of it using a perfect combination of cynicism and camaraderie. On the evening that the training phase was complete, many of us went out into town to have our “last supper” as we knew we would be going without food for at least a day afterward. The last half of the program consisted of two exercises: a survival and evasion exercise and a mock deployment. During the survival and evasion exercise we were given coordinates via radio, where we were to travel to a specific time. Our objective was to make it to each location without being detected, which we did successfully. During the two days of this exercise the only food that we had was rabbit that we killed and stewed. It was not very appetizing to say the least, but we ate enough to curb our hunger. Finally, after spending two nights in the woods, we were made it to the location where we were to be picked up. We then spent two days at Forward Operating Base (FOB) where we were evaluated in MOUT and small unit tactics. By far, the best part about making it to the FOB was receiving our two MRE’s for the day, which several cadets finished in one sitting. We spent much of our time at the FOB patrolling the area, and by the time it was over, we were all tired of hiking through the mountains. Finally, after the exercise was over, my firing team went out to eat at a local burger joint. We were so hungry that we ordered a pizza next door and ate it while waiting for our table.
Overall, the trip was a fantastic experience: I learned a great deal about survival and evasion, as well as other important military skills, but what truly made ESET phenomenal was the people I met and the friendships that I made. I would not trade the experience for anything and would certainly go back if given the chance. Although I am in ROTC and Mississippi State University, and they are at the Air Force Academy, we will all be serving in the same Air Force together.
Coming into AFROTC my freshman year I was an out of state student and very introverted. I did not know anyone in my flight or AS class and it was hard to get to know people during PT (physical training) or class. After a few weeks of flight meetings and going to Blue Knights and other non-PMT events I was making more friends in AFROTC than I thought I would. The friendships I have formed with these cadets are some of the strongest friendships I have here at Mississippi State and I know that I can trust each and every one of them without a doubt. My friends have seen me at my worst and have brought out the best characteristics in myself that I did not realize I had until meeting them.
Forming strong amazing friendships is not the only thing AFROTC has given me over the past year. I have learned life skills that have helped me in my other classes as well as outside of school that are invaluable to being a well-rounded person. One of these lessons is the importance of time management. Without time management I would not be able to balance 16-17 credit hours, a Detachment job, an Arnold Air Society job, my sorority, and multiple other extracurricular events. Having this skill is critical not only for school work but will also be beneficial to me in my career. Another lesson AFROTC has given me through the year has been excellence in all we do, which is a core value of the Air Force. I have taken that and strived to be the best cadet, the best student, and the best friend I can be.
With these lessons and the friendships I have made I feel I am a much better person than what I would be without them. I have friends who will hold me to a higher standard in my academics and personal life. I have learned valuable lessons that not only help with academics but will be an asset to me once I commission. Without AFROTC I would still be a shy, introverted girl who did not know many people, but now I can proudly say that joining AFROTC has changed my life for the better.
Through the last 2 years in ROTC, I have learned many valuable lessons. All of which can be applied in everyday life. Management and leadership are two principles that I have learned to prioritize and consider in everything I do including school, work, and ROTC. I had to learn the difference between management and leadership, and when to use each.
Manage yourself. Management is a tedious assessment for me. I believed for a long time that I needed to manage my teams and take control of every task and job that needed to be done. I found that this would divide my team and create tense team relations. Management definitely does not always work in team situations but it can certainly work and is necessary for personal organization. I found through ROTC and through Field Training that plotting my day and making an agenda would keep me organized and properly use time. Managing my day was so effective that I brought into my life outside of ROTC, plotting my school days and the times between classes. Management is something that requires you to look at the big picture and plan every little task until the puzzle is complete. Once you've planned the smaller tasks in your day you execute and go about your business. Though tedious, it is now a very important part of my life.
Lead your people. When you are the leader of a given organized team you have one job to do, lead. Leading means different things to different people. For me, leading is something that you do by setting the example. You show your ability to make calls even in tough situations, your bearing and positivity in stressful situations, and your focus on the mission. My leadership style is one that requires me to set an example and be a lifting spirit. I know I can get discouraged quickly when I'm lead by negative leaders so I strive to be the positivity at all times. Influence is a great way to get people to follow you. When people want to follow something they will do so as long as it seems to align with their personal goals and if it appears positive. Smiles and looking at the bright side can lift your team to achieve greatness. Thinking positively and maintaining a positive attitude through verbal and nonverbal communication will decide the success of your team. No matter if I work, or lead a group leadership problem I need to maintain a positive attitude to keep my followers morale high and achieve our goals.
During the summer of 2016, I was selected to attend Field Training which is a requirement to enter the Professional Officer Course. Field Training requires cadets to be evaluated on leadership, professional qualities, and discipline. It lasted for 23 days, and it was one of the most worthwhile and incredible experiences I have had. For the first half of Field Training, I was at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and for the last eleven days, I was at Camp Shelby, Mississippi for the mock deployment portion of Field Training. I was put into a flight with 18 other Air Force ROTC cadets from around the nation, and we had to grow together as leaders and followers despite the fact that we knew nothing about each other.
Our days during Field Training were exceptionally busy. We did numerous activities such as physical training, marching, leadership projects, combatives, and deployment exercises. There were cadets in the flight who were chosen to hold specific jobs, and those cadets would be evaluated on how well they led their flight through these jobs. When I was at Maxwell AFB, I was the Flight Commander which meant that I was responsible for overseeing all cadets in my flight as well as making sure that the flight arrived to daily activities on time. I was selected for a larger leadership role at Camp Shelby when I become the Cadet Wing Commander of the entire encampment. This position required me to oversee the conduct of all 300 cadets that were at Camp Shelby. These jobs were stressful, but they taught me effective leadership, flexibility and time management, and the importance of decision making and how it impacts the team.
I felt incredibly accomplished when I graduated from Field Training. It was one of the biggest challenges that I have faced through my time in the Air Force ROTC program, and it greatly contributed to my personal growth and development. I learned about what it takes to be an Air Force officer not only from the officers and cadet training assistants who trained me, but also from the cadets in my flight who taught me effective followership. I left Field Training with 18 close friends, unforgettable experiences, and a greater understanding of who I am as a leader.
This past summer, I was selected to attend Field Engineering Readiness Laboratory (FERL) at the US Air Force Academy (USAFA). This is a 3-week, hands on program focused towards Civil Engineering (CE) majors. As a cadet in ROTC, getting to go to USAFA for part of the summer is an outstanding opportunity to learn with and interact with other cadets from all over the nation.
The main goal of FERL is to teach cadets what Civil Engineering is like in the Air Force. For 3 weeks, I got to build houses, pave roads, pour concrete, drive bull dozers and dump trucks, and work alongside enlisted individuals who do this sort of work every day in the Air Force. While there was a lot of academic time, there was also plenty of time spent swinging hammers, welding, and breaking concrete beams. On the weekends, we were allowed to go wherever and do whatever we wanted. For me, this involved hiking up several mountains, going to a Colorado Rockies game, and exploring the beauty of the Colorado Springs area in the summertime. Needless to say, I had an amazing time both learning and exploring.
For most people, the only summer program they do in ROTC is Field Training. I am extremely glad that I got to go and experience this wonderful program, and it made for one of the best summer breaks I could’ve asked for.
You will find success in AFROTC and in the classroom but it will take discipline and personal responsibility. As you make this transition from high school to college, I am jealous of you. I am jealous of all the people you will meet, all the football celebrations you will enjoy, and all the knowledge you will gain. As a senior cadet I walk around our campus and often stop to absorb our university’s rich history and traditions. The drill field is the center piece of the campus; where cadets of the past and present have come together to practice military drill. This is where YOU will follow in the footsteps of great military leaders. Davis Wade stadium has been home to college football’s most exciting games; where MSU jumped to #1 in the nation in 2014. This is where YOU will call home on fall Saturday nights. Walker Hall is home to the Department of Aerospace Engineering, which is a national leader in composites and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) research. If you choose a degree in Aeronautical or Astronautical Engineering, YOU will be involved with practical research in areas that are the future of Aerospace Engineering.
I have called Mississippi State home for 5 years now and it has gone too fast. From a cadet 4th class to Cadet Wing Commander, I have met a plethora of people and that is what makes our detachment so great. We have students coming to our detachment from all over the nation the diversity of our people is our strength. Just like the Air Force, the diversity of our team brings in new ideas, skillsets, and intellect. It is common at Detachment 425 to find yourself being pushed to your limits both physically and intellectually. With a detachment filled with some of the nation’s top high school graduates, it is your task to be their leader. This responsibility may sound exciting or intimidating and that is OK! We have a team of experienced Air Force officers and enlisted personnel committed to your AFROTC development. What sets our detachment apart is our southern hospitality. We strive to create a family atmosphere by providing a mentorship program, multiple intramural sports teams, and a family/alumni weekend. The family/alumni weekend is usually scheduled during the fall semester; welcoming cadet family members and alumni to tour the university campus and experience an SEC football game. Our goal for this event is to keep our family members and alumni informed on the success of our detachment. Detachment 425 introduced me to my best friends and I hope it does the same for you. Good Luck & Hail State!