By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
College students' summers are often occupied by internships, and the life of an ROTC cadet is no different.
Cadets from across the country are at Fort Hood participating in the Cadet Troop Lead Training program, which pairs them with platoon leaders to learn what it's like to lead soldiers.
Cadets don't get a lot of experience to see what the real Army is like, said Patrick Hagen, a cadet from the University of Central Oklahoma.
Hagen is one of six cadets spending three weeks with the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Three of the battalion's visitors were at a range last week with its Alpha and Bravo companies as they conducted squad live-fire lanes.
Hagen has enjoyed his time at Fort Hood because he finally gets to see interactions between enlisted soldiers and officers.
Cadet Jonathan Beasley, an English major at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said he's already learned a lot about the relationship between platoon leaders and sergeants and how they their platoons.
Cadet Roderick Bonner, a student at Marion Military Institute in Alabama, knows the importance of that relationship thanks to advice from his older brother, a first sergeant stationed in Germany.
"Listen to your platoon sergeant and you'll be all right," he told him.
They truly are the backbone, the cadet said.
"They know what they're doing," he added. "This is what they do for a living."
Bonner's twin brother is also in the Army, enlisting not long after he began his ROTC program. His brother is stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.
The Army is a family business for Bonner and he said he's never considered doing anything else. It was his first sergeant brother who steered him toward the officer corps.
Beasley's family also has a history of military service. His father retired two years ago. Beasley grew on up military installations and has a good understanding of what it's like to be in an Army family.
He didn't always want to be a soldier, though. Late in his high school career, he said he wanted nothing to do with the military, but after a year in college there was "nothing else I wanted to do."
"It's a really great life, I think," Beasley added.
Bonner, Hagen and Beasley all want to commission as infantry officers once they graduate.
Beasley wanted to spend the summer with an infantry platoon so he could observe the culture - something he's liked so far. It's a guy thing, he said, and reminds him of playing football in high school.
The experience has deepened Hagen's goal to become an infantry officer. One would be hard pressed to find the camaraderie and trust inherent in an infantry unit anywhere else in the military or civilian world, he said.
"What's awesome to me is, I think, the trust that is built on," he said. "You've got to have a lot of trust with these guys to go out on the battlefield and risk your life every day."
Cadets must apply for the program, and Beasley said he and others have a commitment that goes beyond just wanting to be in the Army - they made the decision to dedicate a lot of time in school training to be officers.
Beasley's friends have asked him why he wanted to spend his summer like this, and it's something he can't quite explain to civilians.
"I really enjoy this stuff," he said last week. "I like being outside. ... A lot of the men out here, they've been really cool to all of us. There's a great atmosphere. They're really eager to teach and we're really eager to learn."
Capt. Taylor Merritt, Alpha Company commander, said the program was important because the cadets could learn in three weeks as much as they could during a year at school.
Bonner, Hagen and Beasley are motivated, hard workers, and they are getting a lot out of their time at Fort Hood, he said.
They spent last week at ranges with the company, getting involved in dry runs up and down movement to contact lanes. Though they couldn't participate in the live fire portion, they followed along and observed, sometimes serving as radio-telephone operators.
Merritt said he talked to them a lot during the training, telling them what was good and what was bad so they could learn from the experience. He was an ROTC cadet, but never participated in the program, something he wished he would have done.
The next step this summer is an assessment camp where cadets will be tested on what they've learned in their time in ROTC. Cadets from across the United States will gather at Fort Lewis, Wash., and Beasley said his time with the battalion would give him valuable experience as he prepares for camp.
Hagen said the summer cleared up a lot of questions he had about what it's like to be in a real unit.
"I think it's the most valuable experience I'll have all summer," he said.
For more on what other ROTC cadets at Fort Hood think about their Cadet Troop Lead Training program experience, read Sunday's Killeen Daily Herald. Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.