By Staff Sgt. Lauren Silverthorne
/ Published June 07, 2021
Air Force ROTC cadets started arriving at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Mississippi, in late May and early June, 2021, to start their required summer field training. The training for 2021 moved from Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, to Camp Shelby because of the larger-than-normal number of cadets required to go through the training due to the limited number allowed to attend in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Air Force ROTC will train and evaluate nearly 3,500 ROTC cadets, or 1.5 times the traditional number, during an “extraordinary” version of field training this summer at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Mississippi, from May through July.
AFROTC Field Training normally occurs at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, but was moved to Shelby to accommodate this year’s increased cadet throughput requirements. The training site is located near Hattiesburg, about 240 miles southwest of Maxwell.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly 1,400 cadets were deferred from attending field training last year at Maxwell and need to attend this year on top of the normal annual throughput,” said Space Force Col. Paul Tombarge, commander of the field training encampment.
Through the summer, AFROTC personnel will train six overlapping encampments of 560-580 cadets each.
To help mitigate a possible outbreak of COVID-19 during this year’s field training, AFROTC leadership implemented several levels of safety precautions. First, more than half of the personnel were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to the start of the course. Anyone not fully vaccinated must undergo a seven-day “restriction of movement” and must have a negative COVID-19 test before reintegrating. Second, all trainees and cadre will wear masks indoors and on busses regardless of vaccination status. Third, all facilities will be sanitized between encampments.
To conduct this massive course, more than 300 active-duty personnel and nearly 150 cadet training assistants from AFROTC and the U.S. Air Force Academy were employed as part of an expeditionary field training unit that mirrored an air expeditionary wing construct. This includes a training group, two operations groups, a medical group, a mission support group, a team of chaplains and a command post.
AFROTC Field Training is a congressionally mandated evaluation of cadets' preparedness to progress into the Professional Officer Course, or “upper-class,” where they will lead at their detachments as they progress toward becoming a leader in the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force. Normally conducted between a cadet's sophomore and junior years, field training is designed to place cadets in a rigorous and unfamiliar training environment, testing them physically, mentally and emotionally.
Field training is a four-phase program, explained Tombarge.
During phase I, cadets are evaluated on their preparation and individual readiness. This includes a field training officer interview, academic exams, flight drill evaluations and a physical fitness assessment. In phase II, cadets are trained on battlefield skills such as land navigation, tactical combat casualty care and small-unit tactics. In phase III, cadets will be evaluated leading their teams through leadership reaction course events and mission scenarios in a simulated deployed environment. Finally, in phase IV, cadets begin their entry into the AFROTC POC by completing a tactical-level, leadership-training course.
“We end with a graduation ceremony that includes an inspirational discussion with a Medal of Honor winner,” said Tombarge.
Field training is a necessary milestone in a cadet’s journey to commissioning.
Cadet Training Assistant Rose Lees said, “It is critical that cadets be evaluated in a stressful and unfamiliar field training environment to see how they lead and follow under immense pressure and while working with unfamiliar cadets from across the nation. Additionally, the field training experience provides an opportunity for cadets to find their inner confidence through leadership exercises and teamwork while working within their flight.”
Orchestrating and conducting field training at a location other than Maxwell took a Herculean effort by all involved, said the Headquarters Air Force ROTC commander.
“Executing field training at Camp Shelby this year was a tremendous undertaking,” said Col. Christopher Bennett, Air Force ROTC commander. “Successfully tackling the logistical and manpower requirements to conduct field training in a completely unfamiliar environment, and at nearly twice the normal cadet capacity, required complex planning and speaks volumes about the field training enterprise, to include all the cadre and CTAs in place at Camp Shelby.”