Three Cadets, Vittorio Divalentin (left) from Virginia Tech, Annika Smylie (center) from Idaho State University, and Kyla McKim (right) from Drexel University, assigned to 8th Regiment, Advanced Camp of Cadet Summer Training discuss different aspects of Field Training Exercise (FTX) and offer some advice to future Cadets during their FTX at Fort Knox, Ky.
1. Why is FTX so important to complete before graduation?
Divalentin: It’s really a culmination of everything that we’ve learned over the last three years in the program. It shows that we’ve been practicing the tactics at our programs, practicing how to lead and especially how to think actively on our feet, how to be able to maneuver a situation and deal with problems that arise actively and on the go.
Smylie: I feel like it really brings out people’s true colors and really allows you to step up into positions that you never would encounter. It’s just at a different level out here.
McKim: I think FTX is important to complete because it’s like the core of the Army. It’s the foundation of all of our operations, our decisive operations are things that are happening in the field. So regardless of what branch we choose, we need to understand what those decisive operations are and how they function so that we’re able to better support those.
2. What is something you learned during FTX?
Divalentin: I’ve learned and been able to practice a lot more thoroughly the ability to (have) a lot of empathy for soldiers. When you’re out here, there’s a lot of stuff that you need to get done in leadership. A lot of things that you need to happen, but your soldiers also need stuff like they need to go to the bathroom, they need to drink water, especially with this rainy one they need to dry their feet and take a break and get out of the wetness. But even though you have to get that mission complete, you have to be able to look at your soldiers and take care of their needs as well.
Smylie: That even when you’re dead tired, and you feel like you can’t do anything else, and you just want to go to sleep, you’re hungry, whatever, you can always push through that, and you can always overcome whatever is bothering you or bogging you down. So, if you pull together as a team, it’s really easy to just push through and that morale can get boosted like the more people who feel that way.
McKim: I learned how to build a mean hooch (army poncho), and then on top of that, I think, it’s really fun learning how to work with different schools. So, I’ve only done one other FTX with schools right before coming here, and then this was my first like, big joint, all strangers, I’m the only kid from my school in this regiment. So, it was a really unique experience coming out here and just learning to work with people.
3. Describe the most challenging part of FTX?
Divalentin: For most it’s just the time spent out in the woods. It’s pretty new to a lot of people. Me, personally, I love being out here. I love spending time in the woods, but if I had to put (it) the most challenging part was definitely dealing with the hygiene. Keeping up with it and making sure you’re staying on top of everything that needs to be taken care of personally, so you’re not getting sick and getting others sick and treating your body right.
Smylie: The weather, the rain. Yesterday poured on us and just being drenched all day was terrible. We were having fun, but yesterday was just a little bit miserable.
McKim: I had really bad blisters that I got during Land Navigation. So just that mentally preparing for like the discomfort, but now that we’re here, it’s so fine.
4. What is one area you believe your platoon could work on?
Divalentin: I think as a platoon, something that we haven’t been tested on in the previous two FTX’s is our mental fortitude and being able to stick through the tougher stuff. We’ve been blessed with pretty nice weather and then yesterday, all of a sudden, it’s raining all day and we’re stuck in the mud. It definitely affected a couple of people, definitely made some color show. So, I think as a platoon we need to work on being able to stick through the hard stuff, especially for those that need us in leadership.
Smylie: Our individual soldier tasks, more so like working on our spacing, making sure we’re getting weapons maintenance done. I feel like we work pretty cohesively as a team for the most part and we’re good at putting aside differences and you know, listening to whoever’s in leadership.
McKim: I think that we need to work on consistency, because I think we perform differently based on how we trust the leadership is what I’ve observed. So, I think that we need to just commit to something like, how we do our spacing and our movements, our hand and arm signals, the way that we’re setting up our Objective Rally Points (ORPs), or moving in the assault lines. Because we’ll be really good one mission and then lose a couple of those steps in the next one. So just details because we get the big picture really well.
5. What attributes do you believe are necessary to thrive during FTX?
Divalentin: During an FTX, you need to be mentally agile, I think would be the most important, especially during this grizzly. They’re throwing a lot of new stuff at us, it’s not quite as straightforward during each lane. You need to be able to adapt on the fly with solid intuition and respond with proper tactics to things you may have never seen before. For example, like there was a hostage situation yesterday and we had never seen something like that. So being able to think on your feet and adapt during these lanes.
Smylie: Resiliency, like no matter what happens on the lane before, you know you’re in leadership and it didn’t go your way or you know, if you just make mistakes, you just have to keep moving and just do your best for the next lane and for the next person.
McKim: Decisiveness and patient. I think our biggest danger and another place that we struggle is we’ll just kind of not necessarily freeze up, but we’ll just be waiting to do something, and people aren’t making decisions or people will see something’s wrong but not quite want to be the one to fix it, because they don’t either trust themselves, they don’t think they have authority. So, I think we all need to just be willing to make a decision regardless of where we are in the hierarchy and the chain of command. And then, on top of that, just being willing to wait for leaders to make decisions and trusting those. So, kind of in both ways, like make something happen and then just let other people speak.
6. If you could give advice to future Cadets about the FTX portion of CST, what advice would you offer?
Divalentin: Stick it through. You’re gonna be tired, there’s not a lot of sleep to be had. But once you get out here, start getting through it, it gets a lot easier the more you do it, the more you talk yourself up. So just stay positive through it and be ready for anything.
Smylie: Make sure you eat all your food. Make sure you drink your water, drink your Hoist. Change your socks. Keep the positive attitude. Try to be in buddy pairs if you can for pulling security. Sleep when you can on refit days. Take care of yourself. Find a good friend group that you can talk to and get through it. Even though it’s not the most optimal of situations, we’re still having fun and getting through it together.
McKim: Force yourself to like it. You can’t change it, so you have to pick the little things that you like. I’ll sit there and watch one ant climb up a leaf for 10 minutes and that, you know, that’s kind of just the hand that you’re dealt, when you’re out pulling security, and you just have to pick out the little things that you like, and then just deal with the bad things.