Despite a closed campus and online course load, the Kansas State Army ROTC program continues to prepare young men and women for a career in the military. This includes individual physical training and mock mission briefs over Zoom.
“We follow all K-State guidance, so when President Myers made the decision — all remote activities — we did the same,” Lt. Col. Rob Leicht, professor of military science, said.
Usually, the class does physical training three times a week and attends an in-person lab. With the switch to online classes, Leicht asked his students majoring in kinesiology to develop a remote physical training program.
“The incentive for them to do it is, depending on what happens next semester, we’re planning that we’re going to be back in the fall, and within seven days of us being back on campus, they’d have to take a PT test,” Leicht said. “Push ups, sit ups and two-mile run.”
He said the PT test will be vital to how well they do in the program.
“That test that they’re taking within seven days back on campus is going to weigh significantly on their grades, and some of their points for what they do when they end up getting commissioned,” Leicht said. “That’s kind of incentive for them to keep dominating while they’re on leave or out of the classroom.”
When he talks to students remotely, Leicht compares it to a common real-life situation.
“This is similar to an Army operation in terms of decentralized operations,” he said. “When they brief us back I say, ‘Hey, act like you’re in Afghanistan, and I’m your boss and I’m across the country. So when you brief me, show me all the math on the computer.’ I’ve been fairly impressed on how they’re doing that.”
While he’s been doing well with the program, Zachary Reynolds, cadet battalion commander and senior in physical geography, said most of what they do can’t be conducted online.
“Since we’re online, we can’t get that field practice,” Reynolds said. “I mean, that’s where you’re going to learn the most. You can read something out of a book, but until you go and do it, it doesn’t really resonate with what you’re supposed to be doing.”
Edward Weiner, cadet and junior in mechanical engineering, said coordination and training planned with Fort Riley this semester evaporated.
“I’d say that was a big disappointment because they had some really cool cooperation planned with Fort Riley for this spring,” Weiner said. “We’re hoping that next year we can build off of the progress they’ve made coordinating with Fort Riley.”
In addition, Cadet Summer Training for the junior class may not be an option. Every summer, juniors head to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what Reynolds called the “pinnacle” of someone’s ROTC career. At camp, the cadets spend about 40 days being tested for rifle qualification, land navigation, chemical and medical training and other basic soldiering skills.
For the last half of the camp, the cadets experience stressful field situations to see how they react. At the end of camp, they receive an evaluation and ranking with large influence on what job they will perform in the military.
With COVID-19, however, it is unclear when, or if, they will be able to go.
“For normal college students, it’s like ‘OK, classes are online, I get my summer break, and then I go back in the fall,” Reynolds said. “For a lot of these cadets, this could affect a big part of their college career, or the beginning of their military career.”
Anxious for an answer, Weiner said it’s a waiting game now.
“I think they really want to make it happen, which I want it to happen, so I’m happy about that,” he said. “I think that’s what’s making the decision take longer, because they’re looking at all the possible ways it can happen, but that’s me hoping.”
While the situation for the juniors is still in limbo, seniors received an answer for their next step Tuesday.
“The new guidance that came out from the Department of [the] Army will be that the cadets that will commission to second lieutenants here on the 15th of May, will go ahead and report to their basic officer leader course as directed,” Leicht said.
Reynolds said he was very relieved.
“I just got married this past spring, so now I’m not only thinking about myself. I’m thinking about my wife and her job,” he said. “Yesterday, an answer was given, which was definitely beneficial to our relationship as well as, I’m sure, many, many others in the same boat.”
Leicht said he is currently working on a nationwide commissioning ceremony that will air on major networks like CNN and Fox News. Each ROTC program will be sending one senior to attend.
“Zach’s the top cadet in the battalion, and so I selected him to participate in that,” Leicht said.