Las Cruces – A bleak, desert landscape reveals a band of young men and women on a military mission. New Mexico State University's Air Force ROTC cadets are "deployed" to the fictitious country of "Whismiristan."
"Whismiristan" is at White Sands Missile Range, where real-life scenarios can help ROTC cadets develop critical skills they will need on the battlefield. Holloman Air Force Base, Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range supported the training exercise.
"We really had no idea what to expect and it was very overwhelming," said 20-year-old Lizette Granado, a sophomore, who was chosen as the base wing commander for NMSU's first-ever two-day field training to determine cadets' abilities to establish basic infrastructure in an austere environment like the Middle East.
Granado is one of nine, competitively selected from the group, to attend the 28-day summer field training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama in July. She is a criminal justice major at the University of Texas at El Paso. Since UTEP does not have an ROTC program, she attends NMSU for her military training.
Granado and other freshman and sophomore cadets had their ROTC knowledge and preparation put to the test by the upper-class cadets who planned and executed the training exercise, making the scenarios as realistic and stressful as possible.
"The actual compound itself is set up a lot like an actual deployment, with towers and entry control points where you have to provide security," cadet Jeff "JD" Hutchins said. "It's very good training and something they're going to need in the real world whenever we're actually deployed so we make sure they take it very seriously."
"Showering during the training was out of the question," Granado said. "We set up tents where we slept on cots, we had MREs [Meal, Ready-to-Eat] for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it was hot during the day and cold at night; it was very real."
The junior and senior cadets acted as terrorists and civilians of "Whismiristan" throughout the training, setting up terrorist hideouts, planning attacks and even dressing the part, playing Muslim music and speaking in a foreign language.
"Our mission was to provide assistance to civilians and it was really difficult to distinguish good from bad, just as it would be on a real deployment," Granado said. "We didn't know when attacks would take place so we were under constant pressure. The older cadets tried their best to break us down; they really wanted to see what kind of leaders you are."
The scenario ended with cadets fighting off an attack and securing their base. They also practiced first aid for both themselves and fellow cadets.
"It was geared mostly towards training but then we also wanted to give them some responsibility and put pressure on them to see how they would handle the training," said cadet William Thomson, one of the upper-class ROTC cadets who helped plan the exercise.
The U.S. military is often involved in dangerous, confusing and complex situations and soldiers are called upon to solve problems on the spot. The challenges these cadets face now will help them to hone both leadership and decision-making skills.
"The training was a lot of responsibility and I was really forced to learn how to delegate and utilize my resources; it was a lot to handle," Granado said. "I was really impressed at the detail the older cadets and cadre put into the preparation for this training. The exercises we were faced with and the atmosphere they created really made us feel as if it were real."
"The cadets responded well throughout the day and were able to meet all exercise objectives," Air Force ROTC Lt. Col. Stephen Groll said. "In this day and age, you don't know what you'll encounter on active duty. The better prepared these young officers are to handle real-world challenges, the better they'll be able to meet the demands of the Air Force mission around the globe."
"I really feel that this training has prepared me for the challenges I'll be facing this summer," Granado said. "I'm excited to see how I stand out compared to cadets from other detachments and see how I've grown as a cadet and leader."
The success of this two-day training exercise means it will be the first of many.
"Air Force ROTC's charter is to produce highly qualified officers for entry into the United States Air Force," Lt. Col. Groll said. "Field training exercises such as this greatly aid our ability to create challenging situations in a controlled environment and evaluate how a cadet responds to those challenges."
"ROTC has taught me about responsibility and to push for what I want," Granado said. "Detachment 505 is really unique in giving us opportunities like this training. People assume that in ROTC we're sitting in a classroom, when in reality they're really giving us a taste of what active duty is like."