“Hooahness in the midst of adversity” is what I always tell my cadets at the Azusa Pacific University Army ROTC platoon. Though at APU we are blessed with an ROTC-friendly administration, many ROTC programs across the country face adversity from cold faculty members. However, I am reminded of a different kind of bitter cold which my cadets have had to respond to… the weather.
On 21 November 2009, in Fort Irwin, California, the Claremont-McKenna College Army ROTC Battalion, APU’s host battalion, has just completed three hours of night land navigation in the freezing temperatures of the California desert during their field training exercises. The cold is tolerable while trekking across the land navigation course trying to find points that you’ve plotted on a map, but afterwards, as the battalion of about 90 cadets wait for the buses to drive them back to the barracks, is when the chill really begins to take its toll.
This is where the fun begins… As the thermometer heads south, each cadet has a different method of coping with the weather. Cadet Vladimir Restivo, junior political science major at California Polytechnic Pomona – no Elena Kagan there, either – uses the heater from the MRE’s, meal ready-to-eat, to keep his body warm. He was eager to share this technique with his fellow cadets. Though the heat pack is meant to warm food in the MRE’s, the ever-crafty cadet has alternate uses for the item. Rather than using the heater to heat his food Restivo placed it in a discarded cardboard box from the MRE and held it against his chest to stay warm. The heat pack is a plastic pouch with a heater inside; the heater is ignited by filling it halfway with water. Needless to say, Restivo made it out of those frigid temperatures just fine.
Cadet Jeremy Conway, senior computer science major at APU, uses a more traditional approach to stay warm: head gear. More specifically, he uses the “head gator.” “It is that black covering that goes around my neck and covers my face.” Conway describes, “It can also be made into a beanie or other head coverings.” Conway credits this gear for keeping him warm not only during this FTX, but during those nippy 0630 PT sessions throughout the semester – contrary to popular belief, those Southern California mornings can get cold as that ocean moisture sweeps across the Southland. Well, at least cold for our standards, but I digress…
Another way to stay warm while out in the field is with the gortex field jacket. Gortex is a plastic-like material that insulates your body heat. Cadet Tirzah Cedarholm, a senior APU nursing student, exclaims, “I don’t know who invented this fabric, but it is the most waterproof, warm thing out there. I love it!”
An important part to staying warm is keeping your gear dry in the first place! To obtain this goal Cedarholm also recommends the field poncho. “I used it at spring FTX to put over my gear at night since we were close to the ocean and the precipitation was really thick at night. All my gear stayed completely dry!” she recalls.
Now if none of this gear is at your disposal, the final method to stay warm in the face of blistering cold is through pure motivation. Captain Michael Perry, executive officer of the CMC battalion and a veteran of the War in Afghanistan recalls a time when he was at Fort Drum, New York. , “It was freezing cold so morale was a little low, so I shouted a line from Frederick the Great and everyone got really pumped and just let out a ‘HOOAH!’” “Rogues, do you want to live forever?” Perry remembers asking his frostbit soldiers.
Back at Fort Irwin, as the temperature remained stubbornly cold and showed little sign of ticking at least slightly upward and with the buses moving slower than an Army inspection, the cadets had no other choice but to keep each other motivated. Cadets from the APU platoon challenged CPP cadets to a push-up contest for the glory of a piece of Starburst candy. It’s no Bronze Star but in that moment, its juicy sweetness distracted the body from the cold, thus, making it just as satisfying.
Once exhausted from push-ups, cadets recited the Soldiers Creed line by line, “I am an American soldier… I will always place the mission first… I will always maintain my arms, my equipment, and myself…” These are the little things which one must to achieve mind over matter.
This hooahness in the midst of adversity is what makes the ROTC program so special. Cadet Restivo’s exhibited exceptional innovative skills in his field craft use of the MRE heater. By having an arsenal of gear to combat both, cold and moisture, Cadet Cedarholm shows great preparation for circumstances that lie ahead. And of course, the motivation starts from above with Captain Perry’s enthusiasm and positivity even in less than stellar conditions. Now if only these cadets could conquer the cold heart of one prospective Supreme Court Justice…