Seton Hall’s ROTC program joined five other schools to hone their combat skills in the Joint Task Force Exercise at Fort Dix last weekend.
The JFTX is an annual event that brings together hundreds of cadets to train outside their comfort zone in a more authentic environment. The other participants were Princeton’s Tiger Battalion, St. John’s Fighting Saints Battalion, Hofstra’s Task Force Havoc, Rutgers’ Scarlet Knight Battalion and Fordham’s Ram Battalion.
“The main purpose of JFTX is to prepare juniors both mentally and physically to succeed at the Leadership Development and Assessment Course over the summer,” said Cadet Joe Donato, a junior in Pirate Battalion.
The exercise consisted of four training days, each with an emphasis on separate facets of combat. The first day was set aside for land navigation with a map and compass, while the rest saw juniors leading younger cadets through missions on the squad and platoon levels.
One of the most challenging aspects was being expected to train with cadets they had never met before.
“At first I was concerned how we would integrate into different squads so quickly,” junior Cadet Matt Zalewski said. “There’s always the potential for that one guy to mess everything up. But ultimately, everything worked out fine.”
This challenge went hand-in-hand with the greatest benefit of the event. This kind of training allows cadets to see how each program contrasts to the others and allows them to improve their curriculum where needed.
“Seton Hall stacks up surprisingly well,” Zalewski said. “We excelled at tactics and land navigation; those were our strong points. But we learned that we can use some work on our operation orders scripts and pre-mission rehearsals.”
Another skill that could benefit from greater focus is reaction to unexpected difficulties, according to sophomore Cadet Christian Jamandre.
The exercise took place on a military base allowed for greater flexibility in training. Most notably, cadets were able to become familiarized with proper operation and maintenance of real weapons, rather than the rubber models they usually train with.
“Some people have never handled a rifle, so we wanted to expose them to that in a safe and controlled environment,” Zalewski said.
“It’s been a week and I still haven’t gotten all grease off my hands from cleaning the M4s,” sophomore Cadet Colin Speranza joked.
Behind the scenes organizing the 262 soldiers-to-be was a staff of senior cadets and faculty members, who worked for months on every aspect of the event.
“Back in November I started coordinating with different schools, identifying who would be doing what,” the operations officer for the exercise Cadet Pete Smith said. “I worked with Cadet (Joseph) Miller, and almost every day we would be in phone conferences, teleconferences, sending emails.”
Ultimately though, their hard work paid off, because the weekend went off without a hitch. Everything went better than planned, mostly due to good command and control, according to Smith.
“It was tiring, you know,” Jamandre said. “But I feel like our squad fell in really well after the first day, and then it was great.”
Joseph Grogan can be reached at email@example.com.