Sunday, February 26, 2012

Playing Soldiers. US style...

Feburary 2012 

I have realised I haven’t written about the ROTC since my first post waaaay back in October when I first joined. Having now ended the semester with the UNC ROTC unit (“Tar Heel Battalion”) I feel it’s time to write about it. Now I know that many of the guys and girls within the Unit have heard me comment and compare aspects of training and traditions between UNC and MSUOTC, and I still stand by my comment of there being both positives and negatives of both units. But the British Army is better. Obviously. 

As mentioned in my last post (LINK), the training is very different in structure to Manchester. At UNC there a two “lab” sessions a week – one in a classroom and one in the field (well, a park really), and 3 PT sessions a week at the God forsaken hour of 6am; alongside a two day FTX at the end of each semester. This is very different from the Manchester way of one drill evening a week and a weekend every few weeks. The PT sessions have been an interesting experience. One due to the fact that I injured myself from over training (went a bit mental with all the free gym facilities) and two; I failed the PT test. Twice.

NOW BEFORE YOU OTC-ERS JUDGE, I passed theoretically. In that if I did a PT test British stylee I would have passed. Comfortably. However, the US lot do it a bit differently, and so I have struggled to adapt to it and subsequently failed. Shameful I know. The big difference is the fact that one is not allowed to put ones knees down during the press ups (i.e. you have to be in the press up position even if you aren’t pushing), or lie back on the floor in the sit ups. This makes the tests significantly harder if you’re resting in a tensed position already. Also, sit ups are done with hands behind the head, fingers interlocked. I failed both tests because my fingers became sweaty and I lost grip, thus failing the test - called “terminating” (always though that sounded quite final and sinister for a PT test!). You automatically fail if you come out of the approved positions before the time is up, even if you have fulfilled the requirements. So obviously I failed. So much for that British pride in trying to out-run the fat Americans….

Standard Issue Kit

I have also worked out the rank structure and training structure of the ROTC since my last post. The programme is four years; so three years training, one year directing, compared to Manchester’s two years training and one year directing. I’ve been placed with the MS2’s (second years) which have passed Basic (so MLDP1 for you Manchester lot) and are currently doing all the leadership and beginning the orders process and slightly more advanced tactics, similar to our MLDP2. Now this suits me fine as a) I have no idea, and b) I have no responsibility. It is a little frustrating to go back over the leadership stuff again, but never mind. It’s the field tactics I’m more interested in, and being a “2” seems to be the best level in terms of that at this time. Maybe next semester I will be given a bit more of a chance to have a command appointment.  Its also a little weird to begin with to have someone who isn’t directing tell you what to do. I think the guys appreciate my input with things though (well I hope they do as I keep butting in!) as I bring a different perspective to things. Although it does usually bring the comment of “Bloody Brits!”

I also attended the FTX with the Unit (can never turn down a bit of fun in the field), in which I had great fun and really enjoyed it. And it was cold. And wet. Like Bleak Leek wet (for you who get the reference). But I loved it because I got to wear my lovely new combat jacket to prove how water resistant it is. And how dry my feet were compared to the thin desert boots the Americans get issued (poor buggers – they were soaked!) But simple pleasures for me! Aaaand because I got to prance around the area in my British uniform looking all sexy and interesting to the US units training to go to Afghan. Simple pleasures again! This was again a VERY interesting experience. I can’t quite remember the order of events (as it was quite a while ago now!), but there was Land Navigation, Night Navigation (a total bitch – me and a guy called Cliff back to battle through some pretty thick scrubland), lessons on cold weather injuries, command tasks, orders process, tactic revision (more learning than revision for me!) and the bit joy; paintballing (known as “Sticks lanes”).

Paintballing was a very useful experience to be honest, as I was just the same as what we do in Manchester with blanks, except you get shot at. And they hurt. A lot more than I can remember. So the usefulness comes from actually thinking properly about where to take cover, rather than just crouching down in some long grass and thinking that will do. I really enjoyed the STX Lanes (apart from when my squad lost our kit in the middle of dense woodland for about half an hour!), and really learnt from them as well. Which is always good I guess!

MRE's AKA Rat Packs

Out in the Field

Familiarity was welcomed over night as we slept out in bashers as per usual military tactics (called something different – can’t remember what) and as per usual it was freezing. And we weren’t issues bivvi bags. not sure if this was an oversight or just not provided, but god it would have made a difference to the temperature! The US also conduct stag, contrary to the popular belief that they are so hardcore they don’t need to look out for the enemy (cheeky humour there!). Food was another bizarre experience. I had been looking forward to getting my hands on some MRE’s for a while, and when I got them I was sufficiently entertained. They are HUGE. Like one meal MRE is about three quarters a 24 hour ration pack. And that’s one meal! SO MUCH FOOD! The best bit of the whole two days was discovering “Patriotic Cookies” – little biscuits in the shape of the Stars and Stripes, American Eagle and Statue of Liberty. I was chuckling for hours with that one!
As much as I enjoyed the two days, it is always a relief to climb back into the vans and get back to campus. Especially as free pizza was laid on! The only downside I feel was the lack of socialising once we were back. Where as in Manchester we would all go home, shower and then meet back up for a curry and drinks down Robbos (called something else I now understand!) I was really disappointed to find everyone just disappeared off to their dorms or houses and that was it. I guess I’m just lucky to have such a social unit that I’ve gotten used to at Manchester, and also a bit of cultural difference as well. I commented on this as well in my last post, and whilst it is now where near the level it is like in Manchester with parties every few weeks and drinks after every parade night, now I am getting to know the lads and lasses a lot more, I am starting to go out with them more regularly, especially to a wing night on a Monday with some of the MS2’s and occasionally Country Night on a Tuesday with a wider crowd, and the odd Friday.

Lost in Translation...
One social event which I made up for the lack of other socialising however was the Dining In. This was basically a meal to welcome in the new guys to the unit. Very similar to Manchester in one way. Very, very different in others. The first big difference was the lack of alcohol. Obviously with the drinking age being 21, and lots of guys in the unit being under, alcohol couldn’t be consumed. Not that it really mattered as enough laughs were had anyways! Skits were performed by each platoon, and various pranks and forfeits had to be carried out by people, usually involving drinking from the “grog bowl” which was a toilet bowl with a mixture of vile things put in by the 4th years. Naturally I had to take a drink and trust me it was vile. Food was provided which was nice, as was grape juice (instead of wine – clever eh?!) and a slideshow of the semesters training photos. Plus some embarrassing ones of people away from the unit. Including some terrible ones of me, from the Bavaria trip the year before with MSUOTC. Awkward trying to explain them! One really nice and poignant element of the night, which I found very touching was a place laid slightly away from the main table, but set up for a meal. This was for the fallen soldiers, and its traditional in the US Army to lay a place for the fallen, as not to forget them and to remember them during the enjoyment. I found that really touching and would like to see that started in the UK (some units may do this, but not at MSUOTC). 

Whilst the Dining In was a world away from Dinner Night in Manchester - where dinner jackets has to be worn, and silverware is on the table and port has to be passed to the right and the container cannot leave the table until finished – I really enjoyed being a part of the Dining In experience and it really made me feel a part of the Tar Heel Battalion. I think it has really summed up how the semester has gone with the ROTC, and I’m glad I pushed to be transferred to the unit for my time at UNC (plus I needed the money from the TA!). I’m sure I’ll have as much fun next semester as I did last semester and get to know the girls and guys even more!


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  2. Hey Pal, I'm with Wales UOTC right now and I'll be studying in the US for a year next year. How did you go about being transferred and how did it work? Feel free to get in touch with me at, I've got some questions if you wouldn't mind answering them! :)