My first year Army ROTC experience.


May 28, 2016
A future Cadet on this forum asked me about my experiences in ROTC, and I just happened to have written an essay for my English class on this topic. Its not all inclusive, but gives you a good idea of what to expect. I recommend showing up day one in great shape, not just able to pass the PT test, but try to max it. A good part of success is showing up, not making excuses, watching and learning, and never ever quit. I recommend looking up the acronyms I mention to familiarize yourself and get a leg up on other cadets. Keep in mind, cadre will teach you everything you need to know and it is better to know nothing going in than to train yourself the wrong way. Feel free to ask me any further questions you may have, that aren't answered through a simple google search.

Starting out as a Cadet

Reserve Officer Training Corps, also known as ROTC, one of the myriad of acronyms the Army uses ad nauseam, and cadets like myself beginning the program were expected to remember. OCOKA – Observation, Cover and Concealment, Obstacles, Key Terrain, and Avenues of Approach which in of itself was a factor of METT-TC: Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops, Time, and Civil Considerations, which itself factored into TLPs Troop Leading Procedures which involved Receive the Mission, Issue a Warning Order, Make a Tentative Plan, Initiate Movement, Reconnaissance, Complete the Plan, Issue the Plan, and Supervise. Confused yet? Most of us MS-1, first year military science students were, but we were told not to worry- we have 4 years after all to learn all of this.

To be fair, not a lot of what we did the first few weeks was overly difficult. We learned MGRS, the Military Grid Reference Navigation System, basically how to navigate using a map, compass, protractor and our brain. We went over basic soldier skills, such as tying knots, standing at attention when an Officer addresses you or when in formation, or parade rest when talking to a NCO/Non-Commissioned Officer. Generally, as much as I hate to say it, some of the MS1 cadets initially had piss poor soldier skills, and I still saw some occurrences towards the end of the school year. Boots not properly bloused, The Army patch on the ACU Army Combat Uniform put over the right side and not over the heart on the left where it belongs, cadets not standing at attention, calling NCO’s sir, and calling officers man or dude etc.

The military is an outdoor sport and ROTC is no exception. We conducted some outdoor labs once a week on Thursdays in Full ACU uniform practicing what we learned in the classroom from cadre instructors on Tuesday. I had a blast, it was all right up my alley. Crawling in the prone and reacting to fire, bounding forth in buddy fireteams, throwing dud grenades, and we began to develop good comradery working as a team.

ROTC is all about building future leaders, and developing character. The Army recently overhauled its value system with another easy to remember acronym, LDRSHIP: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Cadre really strive to enforce good ethics and values being observed in the program, and hold the cadets to a higher standard than other college students. In the Army, perception is reality, and officers and officer candidates must behave accordingly. If you get a DUI while enrolled in the program you are disqualified, or if you are suspected in a sexual assault or domestic violence situation, you are done. There is zero tolerance for one-hundred percent controllable behaviors. There is no toleration for lying, cheating, or stealing. If you lie to the professor of Military Science you are done. The Army does not need to keep those who purposefully dishonor the organizations code of conduct around to negatively influence soldiers from a leadership position.

We were given a week’s notice for the first FTX, field training exercise, to be prepared, as this was to be the first ever inaugural Fighting Eagle badge event. To me, this has come to represent and signify the well-rounded soldiers and leaders our cadre expect us to become. Upper-class cadets were in a better position to compete for the badge, as they already had some experience under their belt. They also happened to be in better shape, as PT or physical training had only been going for a few weeks. I passed the PT test, but didn’t make the higher standard for the badge on the run. Just because I failed one of the main requirements to achieve the badge didn’t mean I would give up. I passed the written test covering all the aforementioned material. There was a test on disassembling and reassembling an M4 carbine and an M249 machine gun in I believe in a minute thirty and three minutes respectively. I had spent the better part of two hours refining on this. There was another handy acronym for clearing a malfunctioning round on the M4 – SPORTS: Slap the rifle, Pull the charging handle back, Observe the Chamber, Release the Charging Handle, and Tap the forward assembly to ensure the bolt is closed, Squeeze the Trigger – obviously while aiming at the target you were shooting at. There was a hand signals test ranging from LDA-Linear Danger Area, Halt, not to be confused with Freeze, IED-Improvised Explosive Device, Wedge Formation, Line Formation, and a few others. Another challenge involved throwing grenades within 5 meters of a target in the prone, kneeling, and standing positions. I discovered to my chagrin, that I couldn’t throw worth a hoot lying flat, so I failed that event. Besides the PT score requirement, cadets could only fail two of the other tests. There was a claymore test, where cadets had to reel out and set up claymore positions to be camouflaged from the “enemy.” One poor cadet just unreeled his whole spool at once, making his cord a tangled mess. I believe everyone makes mistakes under pressure at times, but that is how you grow and build character. Another test involved using movement techniques of low crawl, high crawl and bounding to assault through an objective. Then there was the famous night land navigation test, that every MS1 heard about. Luckily, there were illumination beacons on the points we were navigating to and the course was self correcting, meaning we were given the grid reference off of which to navigate towards out next point.

Aside from the illumination markers, for which one of the smart alec cadets told me to bring chem light batteries, the night was pitch black. The ground was rough, rocky and uneven, stumbling through the forest, hoping not to stumble off a hill or a cliff, but in vain. I found myself hurtling forward off of what seemed to be a cliff, and tripped falling flat on my face, breaking my normal composure and muttering a rare curse-word, which the Major/PMS Professor of Military Science caught forever and immortalized on camera.


“Hello, sir!” I replied. “I hope you didn’t catch that on camera?”

“I most definitely did! It’s all right here perfect on night vision,” he chuckled, walking off with a sheepish grin.

I’m pretty sure I heard a few other cadets crash off some hillsides over the next couple of hours. Luckily, I was able to find 4 out of 5 of my points, enough to pass, and headed back to the Command Tent to get graded. We eventually finished off with a 6 mile time road ruck march, requiring a finish time of 90 minutes to achieve the badge, which I managed with a few minutes to spare.

I felt a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the event and we all came together closer as a group, the way soldiers and leaders should. MS1’s had a chance to put their new skills to the test, MS2’s had a chance to prove what they had learned the previous year, MS3’s had a chance to settle into their various new NCO roles, and MS4’s stepped in as the officers in charge, all accomplishing this under the watchful guidance and instruction of the cadre. The event was a perfect start to ROTC and really gave the perfect insight to what being a cadet in the program was all about, and what to expect moving forward and how to develop into the leader I want to become and my country and fellow soldiers expect me to be.
Thank you for the great insight. This provided so much more information than what I could find online. Was it difficult for you to balance doing ROTC and taking college courses?
You are welcome and thank you for the feedback. I usually try to write meaningful essays when I am allowed to pick my topic in English and I thought this might help new cadets understand what ROTC is like.

purpledog394, I remember researching information prior going into ROTC and I had the same problem you did, and really was only able to find generic information and Cadet handbooks, which were of course helpful.

As far as balancing ROTC and school? Well, I am a bit of an older student, so what is easy for me with my experiences may be difficult for someone younger fresh out of high school. I'm not going to lie, certain weeks got pretty darned busy, usually around midterms or finals week. ROTC involves PT at 6 am 3 days a week, lasting for an hour. I have been averaging 20 credits, which is a pretty heavy load, so most of my days Monday through Friday are nonstop classes from 8 to 1 or 8 to 3. I also work 20 hours a week over the weekend. Professors seem to make a nasty habit of having tests and assignments all at the same time. Just this last week I did three essays and three revised drafts for English, I'm working on an Essay for history, studying for a Calculus Exam, and have a ton of Engineering drawings to work on. Some weeks I have free time, other weeks I am pretty much studying 3 plus hours every day. As you progress in ROTC you get more responsibility, and ROTC can itself become a part time job, and fill in the gaps of your day doing details or going over operations orders for labs and PT etc. The most difficult time is usually around FTX week, when you spend a whole weekend outside with ROTC. It is really fun, but the amount of homework time you lose catches up with you real quick.

I have a difficult engineering degree I am trying to knock out in 4 years, so if you are doing something a bit easier things may go better. All of this is definitely doable though, and I am still able to enjoy college.