On June 9th, I attended Army ROTC’s Cadet Summer Training (CST). Designed to elicit critical thinking while under periods of stress, the Army considers CST an apt method to assess leadership capabilities. CST underwent monumental changes in 2017, under Major General Chris Hughes, an Infantry general. Prior to General Hughes, CST consisted of Key Leader Engagements (KLE), where cadets would practice strategic conversational skills with a ‘key leader’ of a foreign nation. These KLEs were designed to help cadets as military diplomats.

Currently held at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the CST structure is to place approximately 40 cadets, from different universities, within a platoon. These cadets must rotate through leadership roles, sometimes presiding over their peers. The doctrine to follow was the Army Ranger Handbook, and the cadet-filled platoon was meant to function as an Infantry platoon.

From my first day, I saw flaws. ROTC is designed to breed successful leaders. Every individual wanted to showcase talents as the best leader. Some could not resist the spotlight, and could not learn to follow. Everyone had the best idea, and listening to another’s perspective was increasingly rare. So I learned the following:

  1. Talk less, act more.
  2. Hold yourself accountable and honest.
  3. Stop worrying about the opinions of others, or your ranking.
  4. Have empathy.

These 4 seem simple enough, but in an austere environment, they were exceedingly challenging.

Talk less, act more. I often found that there would be the creation of a plan, with a few steps to get the ball rolling. And then the plan changed, and everyone would become hysterical and comment on how they’d do a better job.  Suggestions were appreciated, condescension was not. You set someone at a security position, and they belittle you for choosing a poor position. Or there would be mass casualties, and everyone would just stand and yell about how the casualties need to be moved. Then move them?

Hold yourself accountable and honest. I told everyone from the first day that my tactics were horrible. ROTC accepted me late, and I lacked every bit of knowledge on how to function under the Ranger Handbook tactics. At home, I held a list of other priorities and necessities. This was not at the top of my list. Delegation was an asset and I took every opportunity possible to learn from others.

Stop worrying about the opinions of others, or your ranking. It’s a big Army. Most people were more concerned about the scores than the opportunity to learn. I already knew I wouldn’t rank well, so I focused on learning about my fellow cadets. As long as I passed, I tried to help everyone as much as possible. By my understanding and thought process, we’d all have the same rank when we commissioned, regardless of our rankings at camp.

Have empathy. Some people sucked. There I was, in the first patrol base. I had bedded down for the night, after constructing my hooch with bungee cords. In the middle of the night, with a downpour of rain, I was abruptly woken by yelling. Another cadet crawled in and berated me for not pulling security with him. At the time, my watch was lost and I had thought that I would be woken up by the previous shift. This cadet, assuming the worst of me, made numerous derogatory comments about my character and left. About 20 minutes later, he returned and, with the sweetest voice, asked if I would accompany him to the portable toilet because he needed to shit. I could’ve easily avoided the rain, and said ‘no’. But I decided against it, and went with him.

Portable Toilet
I promise you that after a few hundred cadets went through, our portable toilets did not look this nice.

Overall, I learned quite a bit. For me, this training wasn’t challenging because of the physicality. The challenge existed adapting to the varying thought processes of other leaders. Creating a singular technique or method from an amalgamation of ideas to accomplish a task was challenging, to say the least.


If you have any other things I should add, please let me know! Feel free to comment and follow!

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