My Experience at 2018 ROTC Advanced Camp CST (1st Regiment)

A Cadet wrote to me describing their frustration at the lack of information about Advanced Camp and asked if I would publish his experience at AC CST so other CDTs could have a general idea of what to expect. This is a daily description from this Cadet who attended ROTC Advanced Camp CST at Fort Knox from 04 June – 05 July 2018. This Cadet was a part of 1st Regiment so some experiences may differ if you are attending a later Regiment or during a different year.

Day 0. Day 0 began with a confusing roundabout of where I was actually supposed to go to in process. The in processing location was supposed to be the Copple Center, but when I arrived there a DoD civilian turned me away and said go down to these barracks (loose hand gesture in a direction) until you see cadets. I walked to the barracks he appeared to be gesturing to and it was the CULP barracks. The CULP TOC took about 30 minutes to confirm that the Copple Center was in fact where I was supposed to go. I returned back to the Copple Center and a CPT was there who confirmed I was in the right place. Not sure why there was such confusion, but that did not exactly inspire confidence. This CPT took me to the correct location, which was a bunch of in processing stations underneath a pavilion. At this pavilion you’ll receive your company and platoon assignment, you will be searched for contraband, and you will receive a layout for your packing list. I was the only CDT there at the time because I POV’ed and a bunch of SFCs and MSGs were messing with me giving me different directions and timelines. After the layout was complete, I carried all my equipment up hill to my barracks assignment (it was a pretty heavy carry and at noon in KY I was dripping in sweat afterwards). The barracks were pretty standard. 8 Cadets to a room with males on the 2nd and 3rd floors and females on the 1st (ground) floor. I was PSG because I was the second CDT to arrive. If you plan on arriving early, the first garrison positions evaluated were day 0 and based purely on when CDTs arrived. After I dropped off my gear, I changed into PTs and began the rest of in processing. This consisted of dropping my POV off, HT/WT, briefs, and just generally waiting for new CDTs to show up for accountability in the platoon. It was my experience that the later you arrived, the rougher your experience. Cadre were noticeably angrier and more aggressive as the day went on. In the evening we ate at the DiFac (basic training style) and rehearsed for a morning fire drill. Overall, I would say it was an extremely long day without getting much done and confusing communication. We went to bed around 2300 with only half of our platoon (18/40 CDTs) having arrived. There was some weather delays across the country so that really threw a wrench into a lot of the in processing. Also of note, after you in process, you’ll be instructed that your phone is only allowed to be used during personal time (which is after lights out) from that point forward.

Day 1. Day 1 began with a 0400 fire drill which flowed directly into a urinalysis. The urinalysis ended around 0720. This morning was extremely confusing because of the late arrivals from holding company, in processing stations that needed to be repeated, and approximately 50 CDTs lost luggage from the airlines. CIF draw was from 1300-1630. CIF draw was extremely long, especially if you did not need anything.  MREs for breakfast and lunch. Mermites for dinner (despite being mere feet from a DiFac). Around this day was when CDTs started to complain about sore and painful feet. You will stand around and wait a lot, so maybe try some comfortable insoles? The day ended with the CG’s brief, EO, SHARP, legal, and an ROTC assessment test which took a considerable amount of time. Lights out was scheduled for 2200, but by the time all the CDTs are settled down and actually ready it was closer to 2300. The first few nights are very rough as no one is sleeping well (our room had no AC so was extremely hot).

Day 2. 0430 wakeup. M4 weapons draw. Mermites for breakfast. 3 hour land nav review with your cadre. I did not find this particularly helpful as it was not prepared and spent reviewing fundamentals as some CDTs did not even know how to plot points and read maps. MRE for lunch. Land nav written test (39/40 passed). The one who failed was given a chance to retrain and retest, but failed and was recycled. The rest of the day was spent getting classes from our cadre underneath a pavilion, which was not particularly stimulating or useful for camp. We began the process of bug spraying our ACUs. DiFac for dinner. Received the field packing list and setup FLCs. At this time, poor CDTs were already identified by their peers. Using a rough estimate, I would say about 75% of “poor” CDTs finished in the bottom half of the PLT while a few did much better once we got to the field. 2200 lights out.

Day 3. 0440 formation. One platoon was very late so we had to stand there and get berated while being on time. Completed SRP. It took all day and we spent about 4 hours sitting on the ground waiting and another 4 hours in line standing to see the PAs. It was a very long day and your feet will hurt for sure if they did not already. After dinner we received a brief of branching incentives, a lengthy National Guard and Reserve brief, and finished bug spraying our ACUs. 2200 lights out.

Day 4. Day 4 began with a 0400 formation and the APFT. While this is not scientific, officers (especially newly minted LTs) were noticeably easier pushup and situp graders than the MSGs. CDTs who were in NCO lines seemed to have worse scores and many reps that did not count while CDTs in officer lines reported no such issues. You will be tired from the lack of sleep and standing around all day, but we had 0 CDTs fail. The course was a slightly hilly 1 mile loop on a paved surface. After the APFT we finished our day with field prep and counselings. DiFac for lunch. FLRC after lunch, which was really fun, but they cut all the lanes short due to a time crunch. There was a TON of confusion about your bags for the field this day. Some bags need to go in storage for the field and some do not, but you need things from certain bags still and NO ONE knew what was happening. We received five or six different hit times and it was a massive cluster F in the KY sun. After the bags were prepped, we cleaned the barracks for an insanely long time, but with relatively little guidance and one broom for the entire building. 2200 lights out.

Day 5. 0440 formation. DiFac for breakfast. PMI until lunch. MRE for lunch. Rappel tower and confidence course (Air Assault obstacle course). Fun day, but cadre attempted to make it stressful by screaming and yelling. Approx 2 mile ruck movement to range (beginning of bivouac time) and it poured on us during movement. Nearly all CDTs had some kind of blister or foot issue due to the rain. Very loose patrol base class and occupied a patrol base and went to bed.

Day 6. 0445 ruck march formation. 4 mile ruck in wet boots. Zero and qualification day. Very long day at the range. Most CDTs feet hurt from standing around and now blisters galore! 2 x MREs and mermites for dinner. Patrol base.

Day 7. Ruck movement to LOMAH range for pop up qualification. Another very long day at the range. After your qualification was complete, self taught classes by other CDTs (none of this information was useful or would be used later). Most CDTs wanted to take tactical naps, but some, especially in leadership, wanted to teach classes so four or five people listened to a class while thirty or so dozed off. Spotlight CDTs and poor CDTs are very identifiable at this point. CDTs who are good team players are also identified at this point and this is the group you want to be in. Patrol base. Massive thunderstorm which forced us to move into a tent DiFac for part of the night then back out into the rain once the lightning was cleared. When there is a lightning issue, you have to stack the rifles away from the patrol base in the rain which leads to massive amounts of rust. Patrol Base (Patrol base every night so I will stop mentioning this).

Day 8. TC3 and CBRN. 3.5 mile worth of ruck movement this day and it was extremely hot. Heat index over 105. Returned to FOB from training and received the worst CFF class I have ever received in the Army or as a CDT from a LT. The LT gave the class in a DiFac with a huge generator next to it so 80% of CDTs could not hear. The LT read off of posters for the class and answered most questions with “If you want to know, go to FA BOLC.” First field shower, resupply, and laundry.

Day 9. All patrol bases to this point were not very tactical and more akin to camping than anything the military should be doing. CFF class and testing. CFF testing was very simple, but the NCO in charge had the wrong answer sheet which caused 149/157 CDTs to fail. However, after about 30 minutes of insisting they were correct, a LTC came in and then all of a sudden there were about 120 Gos and the rest went to retrain and retest. The NCOs and cadre never admitted the very obvious mistake. After CFF, more land nav training from your cadre. Again, ours was not very helpful, but there were cadre out there who cared and had excellent knowledge to share. Most of our class consisted of a pace count, how to use a bezel ring, and our MSG discussing about how worthless most CDTs are and how he couldn’t wait to throw arty sims at us during the FTX.

Day 10. Land nav practice and test. The course was approx. 3 by 3 1/2 grid squares with gravel and rock roads. There are some decent hills, but 6 known water checkpoints to navigate from. Overall, some lanes were much easier than others, but it was an easy course. Know how to use attack points and roads to land nav. Be careful, some roads in the middle of the map are incorrectly labeled or overgrown with brush and not a gravel road like indicated. I also saw a cottonmouth in a secluded part of the course. We had 15 failures for day and night land nav.

Day 11. Land nav retest (all passed). Everyone else did PLT SOPs, which in retrospect turned out to be a very wasted day, but at the time seemed productive. We drew machine guns and radios.

Day 12. Our cadre wanted us to wait for all night land nav retesters to return before going to bed, so none of us went to sleep officially until 0100. 0300 wake up for the 6 mile ruck march. This was the first ruck with extra equipment and it showed with the pace and certain cadets. Work out a rotation for machine guns and do your part to carry an extra barrel and the machine gun. The stuff is not that heavy, but dont be the person who doesnt do their share. You will have a few workhorse Cadets who will do way more than their fair share, just remember them when assigning details and let them be. Received MILES gear. Deployed for cadre led FTX. Extremely hot. CDTs were very hot, tired, and ready for bed. Received a very detailed OPORD class upon arrival and a machine gun class. It appeared that our OPORDs were going to be very legit and time consuming, but that was not the case at all. Do NOT panic during this class. It was a very informative class for actual operations and order writing, but not really applicable to what you will do during your FTXs.

Day 13. First time cadre tested security at the patrol base, but did so during 100% security at night. CDTs received an OPORD and were told to make a plan and brief it. However, the next morning it was totally discarded and cadre walked through every aspect of a recon and raid with us. It was literally one giant rehearsal, but very helpful.

Day 14. Worst day to date. Cadre at the Attack and Defense lane were not very good. We did about 4 hours of heavy work in heat cat 5 and CDTs were exhausted. Cadre also got us lost while navigating to the objective and of course blamed the CDTs. It was very HOT. We had a few heat cats who needed medical attention after our movement to the ambush and MTC lanes.

Day 15. MTC and Ambush lanes by far the easiest. Informative and very short movements.

Day 16. 8 mile ruck: there is a soul-testing hill towards the end of it, but just keep moving one foot in front of the other. Refit day at tents. Spent around 10 hours laying in a patrol base pulling security while cadre did various admin things. Received first FTX mission for AO Panther.

Day 17. 2.5 km movement (easily the longest movement of any lane) for area recon. Following recon we raided the objective we reconned.

Day 18. MTC and Ambush.

Day 19. Attack and defense. Overall, after the first three days of missions in AO Panther CDTs were tired, over the frequent raining, and annoyed by the plethora of bugs. CDTs really struggled as SLs, PSG, defense, HQ element (medic, FO, and RTO) and setting up a Patrol Base according to the Ranger Handbook. Know the role of NCOs (look at the Ranger Handbook’s first few pages).

Day 20. MTC in the morning (throwaway mission it seemed like). Half of a refit day. This refit was very rushed and hurried. We were back in a Patrol base pulling security (which is the default position) by 1300. Again, about 10 hours of security while leadership received their mission and cadre did admin things.

Day 21. AO Grizzly. Terrain noticeably more difficult to navigate and cadre were almost nonexistent in terms of assistance. Ambush and Raid.

Day 22. Attack. Thunderstorms forced us back into the FOB and halted training. Men had to sleep on gravel rocks in the tents due to weather while females got cots.

Day 23. Recon. Attack. Defense.

Day 24. Defense lasted all night. 0230 attacked and 0330 attacked. After defense, extensive police call. Miles gear turn in (cleaned it for about 5-6 hours). Bus back to barracks around 2030.

Day 25. Recovery and 12 mile prep. Most of the day was weapons maintenance.

Day 26. 12 mile ruck. 0220 wake up. BRUTAL route which included an additional 1/2 mile ruck to the start point. 6 mile out and back route, miles 3-9 were extremely hill. Fastest time in the company was by a D1 cross country runner (2:30ish?). Random turn in of equipment, cleaned M4s, and cleaned TA50.

Day 27. TA 50 cleaning all day.

Day 28. Branch briefings. Extremely hot and most tents were sweltering, but some had decent fans or AC. The branch briefings were mixed–some were extremely informative and some were horrible and you could tell the briefer did not want to be there.

Day 29. Blood drive and CIF turn in.

Day 30. Graduation rehearsal and family day.

Day 31. Graduation and release.

If anyone has any specific questions about my experience in 1st RGT, feel free to message this website and they will forward me your info.

Overall, here are some things to be aware of:

  1. There are bugs and spiders everywhere. Ticks are real out here and you probably have a coin flips chance of getting bit.
  2. It is extremely hot. When I left, this Fort Knox area had the highest heat index in the US.
  3. The rucks are much heavier than you are used to. Being able to ruck run with 35 pounds on your back is not really helpful during the FTXs, but carrying heavy weight and slowly walking uphill is.
  4. Fieldcraft is extremely important. The focus of camp is without a doubt tactical leadership. Know how to use your equipment in a way that keeps you tactical, but safe/dry/etc.
  5. There will be a lot of MS4 brand new 2LTs there. Most are timid and nervous, a few are absolute tools, and some are really squared away. It is a crapshoot which LTs you will run into, but utilize them appropriately.
  6. Learn how to pack your ruck and adjust your rucksack. There will be plenty of time to do this, but some kids showed up with rucksacks that werent attached properly and did not know how to adjust the MOLLE system. If this is you, ask your SMI or prior service combat arms immediately.
  7. You have to have your own weapons cleaning kit! You will be issued one, but having your own bottle of CLP and equipment was a lifesaver.
  8. Finally, know how to use MGs as a PL, PSG, or WSL.

Lastly, here are a list of items that were extremely helpful during my time at CST:

This Army Terrain Model Kit. This kit was most helpful because I was able to quickly and effectively build a visual for briefs (multiple cadets used this because of how fast and efficient the visual was).

https://www.ebay.com/itm/123235943977?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1558.l2648

Gallon Ziploc Bags for waterproofing (Bring extra!).

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003OWRA72/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=armyboard20-20&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B003OWRA72&linkId=6c26328ce300431c6949431e4807bf0a

Ranger Handbook because this is where all of your information comes from (literally its the answer sheet to the test).

Bungee Chords for building your poncho hooch.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00UW5BM9Q/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=armyboard20-20&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B00UW5BM9Q&linkId=485998f9ecf6adb4f914868785dbdd40

550 Chord for tiedowns, hooches, etc.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0727V7DTG/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=armyboard20-20&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B0727V7DTG&linkId=ab6bdca2b27ec82a7190ebc5b1a6aa5a

Weapons Cleaning Kit because itll make your life 100x easier.

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