Safety officers check a Cadet's knots at Forest Hills Climbing Complex. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

Safety officers check a Cadet’s belay knots at Forest Hills Climbing Complex. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

By Crystal Allen
Leader’s Training Course

Lt. Col. Troy Wisdom’s job is to climb 40-foot rope courses and rock walls, just to ensure Cadets don’t fall and injure themselves.

Many cadre members are transferred to the Leader’s Training Course to be safety officers for each site and throughout the grounds.

“If there’s a Cadet climbing, there’s a safety officer,” said Wisdom, a safety officer in charge of the Forest Hills Challenge Complex.

A safety officer’s position is to ensure LTC has a safe summer and “everyone goes home 100 percent,” said Lt. Col. Curtis Hopkins, who heads up LTC’s safety effort.

Lt. Col. Curtis Hopkins. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

Lt. Col. Curtis Hopkins. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

The dangers at LTC include falling from high courses, dehydration, heat exhaustion and lightning. In 2010, a Cadet at the course was struck by lightning and killed. Since then, LTC has built certified lightning shelters at each training venue and implemented a weather transportation plan, Hopkins said. And leaders are always watching the local weather, he said.

“Safety-wise I feel like we’re in good hands, and I trust the cadre and the officers here to take care of us,” said Cadet Alexis Flores, a junior from the University of California-Davis.

For the past couple years there haven’t been many injuries, Hopkins said. In 2011, there were 19, in 2012 there were 24 and so far in 2013 there have been three.

When going through the courses, Cadets have to be aware at all times.

“Overconfidence might be an issue,” Wisdom said. “That’s where we as cadre wear black hats, we walk around and make sure that the Cadets are doing the right things when they should be doing the right things.”

Cadre are most concerned about the possibility of heat-related injuries, Hopkins said. Temperatures in Kentucky in June and July are in the high 80s, according to, but  it feels warmer because of high humidity.

Depending on where a Cadet comes from, he or she may not be used to the heat, Wisdom said.  To ensure the Cadets don’t get overheated, each training site’s safety officers observe them for signs of overheating, such as dizziness or weakness. They make sure Cadets have had plenty of sleep, food and hydration, Wisdom said.

Lt. Col. Troy Wisdom. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

Lt. Col. Troy Wisdom. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

The Cadets are provided with how-to pamphlets on sunburn prevention and staying hydrated. Cadre also use a device known as a wet bulb to measure the humidity and help the cadre determine the amount of hydration Cadets need.

Heat isn’t the only danger in the high ropes course. Cadets also could fall from 40 feet.

In the past two years, there hasn’t been anyone fall, Wisdom said. However, they have to prevent falling by following the proper safety procedures, he said.

At each site, a Composite Risk Management sign is posted detailing potential risks and ways to prevent them. Cadre also brief Cadets at each site before they begin each course on proper safety procedures. For example, at the rock wall, Cadets learn how to safely rappel down and shout commands to ensure they don’t hit one another or collide with the wall.

Cadre members demonstrate the proper procedures, and then each Cadet has to practice on the ground in front of safety officers before being approved to start the actual courses.

There are 28 safety officers at the climbing complex, Wisdom said. Several others cadre members have responsibility as the safety officer at others sites, though they hold different job titles.

Each safety officer has to go through five straight days of dedicated certification. Each site has to be certified as well before becoming operational.

“Safety is a key aspect in everything we do,” Wisdom said. “We’re here to truly challenge the Cadets … build that confidence so they can succeed in the rest of the Leader’s Training Course.”

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