Last weekend, the Minnesota State University, Mankato ROTC program sent several cadets to Camp Ripley with ROTC programs from other schools such as University of Minnesota, St. Johns, University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University.
Juniors were the primary training audience during this weekend’s event, as they are preparing for a larger, 38-day program called “Cadet Summer Training,” or CST.
In preparation for CST, junior cadets in the Military Science program, or MSIIIs, had to practice a new rifle qualification, run missions and, most importantly, hone leadership skills in a field setting.
Cadets arrived at the camp on Thursday. After organizing into mixed-school platoons and attending a safety briefing and a few classes, they settled in for the night.
Their bed for the night: The cold fields and forests of Camp Ripley.
Night-time temperatures hovered around 30 degrees fahrenheit. And while the cadets were sleep-deprived because of the cold, they were also in charge of maintaining “Patrol Base Operations.”
At night, MSIIIs arrange themselves into a “Patrol Base,” which is shaped like a triangle. This arrangement allows for alternating security so some of the platoon can get rest.
“When you’re in the patrol base you’re not just la-dee-da ing,” said Lucas Mortenson, a senior who is also training with the juniors. “You gotta do weapons maintenance, you gotta make sure your battle buddies can get their food, you gotta make sure that those big guns are getting cleaned.”
Mortenson, the gun team leader for his platoon, is in charge of the M240 Bravo, a large machine gun. These weapons are placed at the front two apexes of the Patrol Base, as those are the places most expected contact with the enemy.
“It is the most casualty-producing weapon.” said Mortenson, “That baby is 27 pounds of pure fun.”
On the second day, cadets were sent to the rifle range to attempt a new rifle qualification that many had never tried before.
The former qualification simply required two firing positions, which was deemed out of date.
“Now it’s different where you do a few different positions, you use a barrier, it’s a much faster pace,” said Jacob Findlay, an MSIII at MNSU. “It’s supposed to be more combat-realistic type shooting.”
The majority of the second day was devoted to practicing the new qualification, as they will be required to qualify again during summer training.
“This is one of the core things we get evaluated for at CST is our shooting,” said Findlay. “This being the first time a lot of us have done this, being able to do this right now really helps us get ready for the summer.”
After range shooting, the next two days were filled with missions for the cadets in their platoons. These missions consisted of reconnaissance, attacking, defending and more.
One example of a mission included a platoon getting ambushed with an improvised explosive device (IED) while walking down a road. Each platoon, surprised by the simulated explosion, was evaluated on its reaction to said explosion.
During these missions, there were several cadets, not at the junior level, responsible for supporting roles to make things go smoothly.
“We play the enemy,” said MNSU sophomore Spencer Intress, an MSII.
Intress, along with a handful of other MNSU sophomores, was tasked with playing the opposition force, or “OPFOR.”
“We are out here assisting MSIII’s that are going to be conducting missions,” said Intress. “As an MSII we are here to learn and assist the MSIIIs for their camp this summer.”
Emily Peterson, a senior or MSIV at MNSU, was also there to assist the MSIIIs in their training. Being a senior, Peterson’s role was to train, advise, and counsel the cadets.
“My role here is a TAC (training, advising, and counseling) which means I am with a platoon of MSIII individuals who I oversee and evaluate and I also just offer them guidance from my years,” Peterson said.
Peterson spoke to her experience as a woman in ROTC.
“Being a female in the military is definitely something that is new to some individuals,” said Peterson. “It’s given us a great opportunity to show that we can do it if we want to. And allowing them to let us do it if we can.”
For cadets going through CST, including Mortenson, the training was extremely beneficial.
“It was pretty mind opening for a lot of people,” said Mortenson, speaking to the effectiveness of the training weekend. “A lot of people didn’t know what to expect, but now a lot of people know what they are going to see down there.”
The MSIIIs that attended this training will travel to Fort Knox in Kentucky this summer for over a month’s worth of training exercises. At the end of CST, each cadet will be evaluated. Their performance will dictate what job they receive if they go active duty.