FORT KNOX, Ky. – Cadet Malachi Gilbert from Alabama A&M University, Basic Camp, 3rd Regiment, smiled as he turned in his target during Group and Zero training at Fort Knox, Ky., July 26, 2023. 

At Group and Zero training, Cadets apply the fundamentals of shooting while aiming to improve upon their individual marksmanship skills. Gilbert described his experience shooting at the range. 

Basic Camp Cadets from 3rd Regiment, practice the fundamentals of shooting during group and zero training at Fort Knox, Ky., July 26, 2023. During group and zero, Cadets are given feedback on their marksmanship abilities so they can better prepare themselves for the weapons qualification test that occurs later on during camp. | Photo by Kate Koennnecke, Ohio State University, CST Public Affairs Office

“I tried to take it minute-by-minute, second-by-second,” Gilbert said. “The gunfire coming from the person next to me startled me a little bit, but at least I was able to focus on my target.” 

Group and Zero puts’ Cadets in a real-life, high stress environment. Gilbert explained how he was able to zone-in on his target despite the personal challenges he faced while training. 

“The most challenging part for me was trying to straighten my pitcher. I shake a lot when I get nervous, so I was trying to focus on making sure I hit the right spot rather than just hitting the target,” Gilbert explained. “When I was focusing on my target, whatever was behind it allowed me to really sight-in and focus on my breathing as well.” 

Gilbert described himself as more reserved, leading by example rather than expressing his leadership by being vocal. Since coming to Basic Camp, Gilbert said that the members of his platoon have helped him come out of his shell. 

Cadet Malachi Gilbert from Alabama A&M University, Basic Camp, 3rd Regiment, utilizes the water immersion cooler after completing group and zero training at Fort Knox, Ky., July 27, 2023. Malachi said he has found a sense of community during Basic Camp because of the friends he has made within his platoon. | Photo by Kate Koennnecke, Ohio State University, CST Public Affairs Office

“I’m not that vocal, so coming here and training has allowed me to be more open to expressing myself,” Gilbert said. “At first I was so scared about coming to camp, but the guys in my platoon invited me in and took me in like a brother.” 

Gilbert expressed what he has learned about himself while being at Fort Knox. He said that going out of his comfort zone is what made his Basic Camp a great experience. 

“I’ve learned that I have a lot more in the tank than I thought I did, and leadership is not just about action, but vocalizing your action as well,” Gilbert said. “We do face strictness and curriculum and struggling, but the people make it better.” 

When asked what advice he would give to an incoming Basic Camp Cadet, Gilbert stressed the importance of taking training day-by-day. 

“A lot of times when we have a bad day we don’t think about the next hour, and how we can make it better,” Gilbert said. “Just taking it one day at a time, hour-by-hour, allows you to enjoy the moment instead of just thinking about graduation.” 

Cadet Nickola Buis from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign not only agreed with Gilberts’ advice but could also relate to his story. 

Cadet Nickola Buis from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Basic Camp, 3rd Regiment, looks over her practice target during group and zero training at Fort Knox, Ky., July 26, 2023. Outside of being a Cadet, Buis serves as a cop within the special victims unit for her local police force. | Photo by Kate Koennnecke, Ohio State University, CST Public Affairs Office

“I can relate. Growing up, I was sheltered a lot, but my father instilled his mentality of mental toughness into me since I was the oldest child,” Buis said. “My family raised me to be reserved and not show any weakness, and sometimes people see my reserved approach to leadership as weak, but it’s all just empathy and I don’t see empathy as weakness.” 

Both Gilbert and Buis have stepped out of their comfort zones while at camp and believe they have grown as leaders because of it. Buis opened up about the impact her Basic Camp experience has had on her. 

“The people in my platoon have impacted me by creating and giving me another community that I can look back on, because community is what I seek in my life,” Buis said. “Here, we don’t have a reset period like I do after a full day of work as a cop, where I get to stop and mentally digest what happened that day, so I’ve had to adjust to that.” 

Buis said she is proud of herself for what she has been able to accomplish and is going to continue to train so she can protect and serve those around her. Before leaving the range, Buis gave additional advice for future Basic Camp Cadets. 

“Come to camp with an actual purpose,” Buis said. “Being able to protect others in vulnerable situations is why I’m here, as well as to show gratitude to those that protected me when I was [vulnerable]. It’s never too late to start on something that’s meaningful to you, so come here with a real purpose, not for selfish reasons.”