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Published on June 20th, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff

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JROTC cadets get a taste of Army life

By CHRISTINE SCHWEICKERT, Fort Jackson Leader

Rowing canoes on Weston Lake, rappelling down Victory Tower and gobbling gelatin at the dining facility 600 JROTC cadets are got a taste of the Army during Cadet Leadership Camp on Fort Jackson.

The cadets – who hail from schools throughout South Carolina. Most of the second wave of cadets came from North Carolina.

“It’s been a lot of fun (even though) some of it’s hard,” said Ben Bledsoe, a cadet from Westwood High School who had to stay in barracks one morning to clean up after his bunkmates. “We’re pretty clean,” he said – so the task was easy.

Shontavia Riggins of Lake Marion High School enjoyed her phone call home – even though “it made me cry. I miss home.”

But the busyness of being first sergeant for Alpha Company made up for the homesickness – “from the running around, to the announcements, to making sure everybody is where they’re supposed to be.”

She found it intimidating but thrilling to rappel down Victory Tower.

“I had so much fun going down that,” she said, even though “I’m super-scared of heights. I just calmed down and went and did it. I had to smile all the way down and make it look like nothing was wrong.”
Sgt. Magan Girr of the 251st Air Support Medical Company, Army National Guard, offered medical support during the camp. As a cadet at Camden High School, Girr attended the camp four times.

“I love this camp,” she said. “I had to face some of the biggest fears of my life here.”

Most of this year’s cadets – like Riggins – faced their fears, too. Only one went home after one night because she was homesick. Others suffered blisters, bruised limbs and panic attacks before eventually toughing it out.

The biggest challenge for the week was the heat, which reached Category 5. All cadets wore hydration systems on their backs, and instructors constantly urged them to fill up at nearby water buffaloes. At each station stood a basin of ice, so cadets in danger of falling out could immerse their forearms to lower their body temps.

If any word was uttered more than “HOO-ah!,” it was “Hyyyy-DRATE!” Cadets also were allowed to roll up their sleeves and pant legs, and spend a good amount of time in the shade – after receiving warnings about chiggers.

What would make 637 high school kids put themselves through searing heat and strenuous exercise for a week? Without their cell phones?

“Young people really want structure, but there’s not a lot of adults willing to give it to them,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class Frank Bell, an instructor at Blythewood High School.

“A lot of young people … are in this program because they’re looking for something, and they don’t have it.”

If they were looking to test their brains and their stamina, they found it at camp. Each day, cadets spent 14 hours on task before lights out at 10 p.m.

At the Team Development Course, cadets repeatedly tried to bridge three “tree stumps” with boards in order to deliver a crate of ammo to Soldiers on the other side of a “minefield.” The boards – and the cadets – kept slipping onto the minefield and “blowing up,” but after 15 seconds’ wait, they were back at it again.

At Victory Tower, they rappelled down the wall or gamely clambered down the cargo net on the other side. Many cadets called the tower their favorite activity, despite their initial fears, and lamented they had no time to rappel twice.

And at Weston Lake, Jayla Patterson of Hartsville High School worried about falling out of her canoe and into the lake. She can’t swim.

“I’m scared. Am I the only one who’s scared?” she lamented before her turn with the paddles.

She came back singing another tune.

“It wasn’t scary like I thought it was,” she said. “I liked it. I would do it again.”

Cadets often take a JROTC course for the first time because it can be substituted for physical education. Those who like it stay, although statistics show that most cadets undergoing “Army lite” this week likely will not enter the military after high school.

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