How do you do it? Why do you wake up that early? Where do you find the time to do anything else? The questions posed by the average UT student to Cadets of the Army ROTC Spartan Battalion become as repetitive to listen to as they do tedious to answer. In fact, it almost becomes an expected occurrence when meeting new people.
When I first started out my freshman year, I have to admit, I considered it a burden. Those first weeks of waking up each morning at 5:30 a.m. (0530 in army time) were a culture shock. The labs where I would spend my Tuesday afternoons dressed in full Army gear lying in the middle of Plant Park, I found quite strange. The odd looks I would receive from fellow students were bothersome. And don’t even get me started on what was going through my head when I was on my first FTX (Field Training Exercise).
However, like with all things in life, you learn to adapt. Since those first uncomfortable moments my freshman year, ROTC has grown to be an integral part of my life.
Those early, cold mornings spent doing PT (physical training) on the intramural field become habit, one that you learn to enjoy. Who needs coffee when you start each day with a workout? In fact, one of my favorite moments of each day comes at about 0715 when the workout and shower are done, and I get to walk through a dead quiet campus as the sun rises. It’s a peaceful time as is breakfast with my comrades in a near empty cafeteria that follows. It is a moment that only we and the athletes get to experience.
As for those awkward labs, you learn to have pride in them. You realize with each simple battle drill conducted you are learning how to become a better soldier and a better leader. A new appreciation is gained for the men and women overseas as you realize that they are doing something similar only more complex and, you know, real. The strange looks that we receive from those unsuspecting students who came only to tan on a sunny weekday afternoon become comical. They make us want to scream our slogan “Spartans Lead the Way” that much louder.
As for those pesky FTXs, you even learn to get used to them after a while. The first time I sacrificed an entire weekend and drove hours away from campus to lay in the woods for two to three2-3 days was awful. There’s no way of sugar coating it: I hated my life. The sleep I received was sparing and the packaged MREs (meal ready to eat) we get provide little enjoyment. As I proceeded in my ROTC career, however, and went to summer events such as airborne school and LDAC (a mandatory, month long accessions camp all Cadets go to following their junior year) I learned another valuable skill, the ability to suck it up and move forward. No matter how tired or hungry we get, we learn to focus on the task at hand. I am extremely grateful for this skill as I know it will help me throughout life, not just in my Army career.
At the end of the day, we ROTC Cadets realize that we have things harder than the average student on campus. We sacrifice more of our free time and sleep, and can’t go out to dollar beers or tick-tock Tuesdays (a crying shame, I know). However, real army soldiers have it much harder and as I approach the end of my senior year I’m glad that I had ROTC to prepare me for the challenges ahead.
When we commission as officers in the Army, my fellow Cadets and I will immediately be called to be platoon leaders with dozens of soldiers under our command. Some of us will be immediately deployed to combat zones. The life that awaits us post-graduation is sure to bring trials and tribulations significantly more arduous than the ones that we face as college students. The ROTC program and our highly experienced Cadre have instilled hard work, perseverance, and dedication into my fellow Cadets and I. They are qualities that I will cherish as I go on in life. So go ahead, keep asking me how I do it. I do it with the utmost pride, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Ryan Clabaugh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org