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ROTC Summer Training and COVID-19

During 2019 Cadet Summer Training, Army ROTC cadets practice form prior to throwing grenades. The Army’s CST is normally held at Fort Knox, Kentucky. This year, equivalent training will take place on college campuses under a training plan called Operation Agile Leader. Other service ROTC programs have also adjusted or curtailed training. Photos by U.S. Army Cadet Command.

This summer, only a small fraction of commissioning cadets will participate in summer ROTC training activities, as all branches of the service have either canceled or severely curtailed their usual summer offerings in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

For the Air Force, only 16 out of 46 eligible cadets will attend summer field training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, as the number of summer sessions at the base this year has fallen from six to three, according to Col. Philip Cooper, commander of Air Force ROTC. But those cadets who aren’t going have plenty of company: They’re among 1,400 across the nation unable to secure a spot at Maxwell, and the Air Force as of yet has no plans for how to get all of those deferred cadets through the training pipeline.

And that’s just the first thorny problem. The second, Cooper noted, will be finding a way to evaluate commissioning cadets who haven’t been to field training. Typically, he explained, a cadet’s performance at field training plays a role in job placement after commissioning. “They’re going to have to come up with new metrics [for evaluation],” Cooper commented. Those cadets going to field training this summer will be required to self-quarantine at home for two weeks prior to arrival at Maxwell and train in a socially distanced environment once there.

Naval ROTC is also seeing its summer training schedule drastically cut. In a typical year VMI’s Naval ROTC would send 100 to 120 cadets to summer training, said Command Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrence Foote of VMI’s Naval ROTC. This year, 15 are scheduled to attend. Most of those 15 will be attending Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia, while one is slated to travel to Coronado, California, for Navy SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection. A few others are waiting to hear if the explosive ordnance disposable immersion course will take place or not.

What’s more, an entire new program for Naval ROTC – Naval Student Indoctrination – has been canceled. That event, which would have been held at Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago, Illinois, would have been mandatory for both incoming rats and rising 3rd Class cadets enrolled in Naval ROTC.

Foote commented that there would have been “an extremely large number” of Naval ROTC cadets attending summer training if the coronavirus pandemic not intervened.

On May 12, the Army Times reported that ROTC Cadet Summer Training had been canceled. The decision came just 12 days before the first individuals were due to report for training in Fort Knox, Kentucky. Training will take place this fall and next spring instead, but at individual ROTC units, not Fort Knox. The Army Times also reported that performance at training will not affect branch selection for this cohort of cadets.

The Army’s Cadet Command has “implemented a robust training plan called Operation Agile Leader,” said Lt. Col. Josh Burdett, VMI Army ROTC executive officer. This operation moves Cadet Summer Training requirements from their normal summer home at Fort Knox to campuses and training areas around the country during the 2020-21 academic year.

VMI is a Senior Military College, meaning ROTC programs at the Institute are “distinctive from other ROTC programs due to their size, resources and academic environment,” Burdett explained. For VMI Army ROTC cadets, this means their Agile Leader training will take place primarily at VMI, using VMI resources. Other, smaller programs will need to look beyond their campuses and cadets to complete almost all necessary training.

“What makes VMI Army ROTC’s situation exceptional is the remarkable facilities available and the unparalleled support of the VMI faculty, staff and leadership,” Burdett said. “Army ROTC instructors are working in close cooperation with VMI faculty to plan and program Agile Leader training events while limiting disruption of cadet academic requirements. The majority of the Agile Leader individual and collective tasks can and will be performed in the fall semester on campus and in the local area during academically programmed labs, weekend training sessions (control times) and a 72-96 hour fall field training exercise. Any training that cannot be conducted in the immediate area will be performed at the outstanding Army training facilities across the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

  • Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing