This past summer I was given the opportunity to attend Cadet Field Training at the US Military Academy in West Point, NY. Along with a fellow Mississippi State Cadet. I didn’t completely know what was in store for the 4 week duration. After arriving at the Academy a day early, myself along with about 30 other ROTC Cadets were given ample time to roam the grounds and sneak into old buildings for the rest of the day. The following morning, we were bussed out to Camp Buckner to officially begin what the West Pointers affectionately called Camp Fun- Fun. For the rest of the day, Cadets attending the training began to arrive, and we were given our company, platoon, and squad assignments. Being a USMA training event, roughly 1100 of the Cadets were West Point students with approximately 75 ROTC Cadets, 10 Midshipmen, and an even smaller number of Foreign Cadets hailing from places like Chile, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and Spain. Also, for USMA students, CFT is a training event held in between their freshman (plebes) and sophomore (yearlings) year with rising juniors (cows), like myself, in leadership positions as Squad Leaders and Platoon Sergeants and rising seniors (firsties) as Platoon, Company, and Regimental leaders. Because I was attending this training event for the training aspect and not the leadership experience, I was assigned as a squad member.
The 4 weeks of training, for the most part, focused on basic skills such as marksmanship, land navigation, radio operations, urban operatios, IED training, squad and platoon tactics, and two multiple day FTX excursions. Another unique aspect to CFT was a series of whole days set aside for us to learn about the combat branches in detail. With these branch days, we were able to pick the brains of officers and enlisted Soldiers about being in Field Artillery, Aviation, the Combat Engineer Corps, Armor, and the Infantry. These days also included hands-on learning consisting of us calling for fire, assembling and firing howitzers, making and detonating bombs, flying in Blackhawks, and conducting tank missions from tank simulators. One of the coolest days was definitely Aviation day due to the fact that I had never been inside a Blackhawk let alone flown in one. Standing in a line with our rucks on our backs watching the propellers spin and hearing the roar of the engines was enough to get my adrenaline going. Next, after being given the “go”, we took off for our bird and tactically loaded with rucks in our laps and M4 rifles in our hands. One of the most challenging yet rewarding bouts of training, on the other hand, was the 3 day land navigation part. Going from the flat terrain of Mississippi where everything in the woods looks the exact same to the mountainous terrain of Camp Buckner, located in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, definitely took some getting used to. I found myself scaling the sides of minor cliffs and easing my way down steep draws all the while keeping a close eye out for the prospect of bears. After falling into 3 swamps, charging through 2 beehives, and almost falling down the side of Brooks Mountain, I finally made my way back to the start location having successfully conquered land navigation.
All in all, my time at West Point was incredibly rewarding. I was able to see firsthand how training is conducted and what life is like as a cadet at the Nation’s premier Military Academy. I learned insightful information about some of the coolest branches the Army has to offer and was able to improve upon skills that I already possessed. Being around so many West Pointers allowed me to acclimate into their world for a month and really be able to experience the unique bond that ties them all together as West Pointers. One of the most surreal experiences was standing amongst a crowd of them singing the school alma mater during a candlelight vigil held on the 4 of July for a classmate who had passed away two days prior. The sense of reverence they displayed not only for their deceased classmate and school but also for their future role as a US Army Officer sent chills down my spine. Leaving this historic sight, not only have I gained a great deal of knowledge and training, but also a new outlook of what it means to be a part of the United States Army.
-Cadet Alexis Sessions