For many college students, the summer between their sophomore and junior years is a good time to do a study abroad program or work a part-time job while earning a few more credits in summer school. For Air Force ROTC cadets, it is the summer they participate in the highly competitive program known as field training, sweating in the Alabama and Mississippi humidity, fighting to earn the right to stay in officer training.
Nationally, only about 60 percent of ROTC cadets get accepted into field training, a rigorous 21 days of testing the limits of their physical conditioning and leadership skills while also providing training in weapons, hand-to-hand combat and survival. Angelo State University’s Detachment 847 does far better than the average, with six of nine cadets accepted this past summer, including Ruben Perez, a nursing major from Dripping Springs.
“I’d heard stories from other cadets,” he said, “but you don’t really know what it is like until you get there. It was tough. It definitely tested my leadership abilities. I learned a whole lot there that I’m bringing back to my detachment.”
AFROTC cadets must complete field training to advance to the Professional Officer Course, the second half of cadet training. But the program only takes the cream of the sophomore crop. The average grade-point average for those accepted for the summer of 2014 was 3.38 on a 4.0 scale, with a physical fitness average score of 96.83 out of 100.
“I’d heard stories from other cadets, but you don’t really know what it is like until you get there.”
“For some of them, field training is a discriminator that can be used for or against their future career field in the Air Force,” said Capt. Paul Frisinger of ASU’s detachment. “Cadets who don’t make it into field training may be dropped or can be deferred for one year but would have to continue their education for a year. That deferment gives them a chance to raise their GPA or improve their physical fitness.”
Field training is held in five sessions, or “encampments,” of 310 cadets per session, divided into “flights” of about 20 cadets. The sessions start with 11 days at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, where cadets are evaluated on activities such as room inspections, open-ranks inspections, and drill and ceremonies knowledge.
During the next 12 days, cadets train at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, learning skills such as small unit tactics and techniques, convoy operations and base defense fundamentals, all while their leadership potential is being evaluated. At the conclusion of training, each cadet is ranked with his or her peers within their flight.
In addition to Perez, ASU’s Detachment 847 sent Gailen Hood, Hakeem Regis, Jacob Spiller, Quinn Sokolnicki and Danielle Sweatmon to field training.
Spiller, a business management major from Hamilton, had a “little bit of an upper hand” because he had been through Air Force basic training as an airman before joining AFROTC. He was ranked No. 1 in his flight, the only cadet from ASU to do so.
“The leadership training, it brought out the leader in you,” Spiller said. “The training was presented as: ‘Here’s a task. What process are you going through to accomplish this?’ ”
This year, there were two familiar faces at field training for the ASU cadets. Lt. Col. Pedro Matos, commander of Detachment 847, was selected as director of operations, field training’s third in command, while Frisinger served as the scheduling officer. The officer cadre is drawn from the 145 AFROTC detachments nationwide.
“Capt. Frisinger has been selected twice and that speaks volumes for the caliber of officer that he is,” Matos said.
For his superior performance, Frisinger garnered the Air Expeditionary Force Cadre Excellence Award as the top cadre member, but for the officers, the experience is about more than honors.
“It’s is a great opportunity to shape the future of the Air Force,” Matos said. “You’re impacting the next generation of officers. As a commander, I bring all those lessons learned to the detachment and make them better cadets.”
The honors earned by Frisinger, Spiller and his fellow ASU cadets at field training ultimately reflect well on the detachment.
“To be successful among all those future leaders, that’s an accomplishment,” Matos said.
More information on ASU’s ROTC program is available online.