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Cadet Michaela Albright ‘19 flew in a T-38 with the 192 Operations Group of the Virginia Air National Guard.

Cadet Michaela Albright ‘19 flew in a T-38
Cadet Michaela Albright ‘19 flew in a T-38 with the 192 Operations Group of the Virginia Air National Guard.

By Lt. Col. Carrie Cox, U.S. Air Force, assistant professor of aerospace studies

Air Force ROTC (AFROTC ) provides opportunities for experiential learning and additional training that helps our cadets develop outside of their classroom experience here at Virginia Tech. Experiences around the globe help prepare them for their future military careers and to be the global citizens and leaders this nation needs. These amazing opportunities in global and experiential learning are right in line with Virginia Tech President Tim Sand’s mission for all students at the university.

Throughout the summer, cadets completing their second year of AFROTC headed off to field training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. It consists of 24 days of intense training. Cadre instructors train and evaluate cadets in garrison “on base” and in an expeditionary environment to stratify cadets and to determine their suitability to enter the Professional Officer Course or the junior and senior year of AFROTC. The instructors only graduate cadets who display the attributes the Air Force seeks.

This year we had a 100 percent selection rate to attend, and our 36 graduates earned three Top Guns (overall No. 1 cadet in their flight), three Distinguished Graduates (top two in flight), two Superior Performers (next two in flight), 26 total overall awards, and 10 CTAs recommendations (to return next summer as a cadet trainer)!

This summer also offered extra training opportunities. Cadets must compete for these limited opportunities with cadets from all 145 AFROTC detachments across the nation.

Eric Daly ’16 attended the Field Engineering Readiness Lab, which offers hands-on engineering training.

Eric Daly ’16 stands on a bulldozer.
Eric Daly ’16 attended the Field Engineering Readiness Lab, which offers hands-on engineering training.

Bill Vician VTCC ’16 and Eric Daly VTCC ’16, two of 16 AFROTC cadets nationwide to be selected, attended Field Engineering Readiness Lab (FERL), held each summer at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Cadets experience the ultimate hands-on engineering class. The academy’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering faculty prepare the FERL program, and highly skilled active-duty, reserve, and Air National Guard technicians serve as mentors. In addition, civilian mentors and local industrial companies bring their professional knowledge to the program.

“The motto of FERL is ‘Construction First, Design Later,’ which sums up our training,” Daly said. “We learned how to pour concrete, pave roads, build houses, purify water, assemble steel structures, drive bulldozers, and much more. The program was filled with site visits and field trips to see civil engineering start to finish. We toured water treatment facilities and even aggregate mines.”

 “The best thing about FERL is the mindset with which they teach you. As an officer, you rarely work with the equipment or concrete that your followers are doing. FERL teaches you not to be the best at every task, but to know that these tasks entail,” Vician said. “Most importantly, I know what hardships people face while constructing for the Air Force. It is now much easier to imagine how long it will take for my people to perform certain tasks, and what equipment or materials need special attention. FERL taught us how to build, how to lead those to build, and everything in between.”

Eric Jordan ’16 was selected to attend the Expeditionary Survival and Evasion Training Program, three weeks of training also conducted at the academy. The training had four categories: Military Operations in Urban Terrain, Combat Arms Training and Maintenance, Patrol, and Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape.

“The most significant lesson I learned is the importance of maintaining a positive mental attitude,” Jordan said. “Even when things are not going your way, you must remain calm and continuously fight to improve your situation. This summer at the academy was an incredible experience. Working alongside the academy cadets through training and also as an instructor helped me recognize the similarities they share with ROTC cadets.”

Again this summer, cadets had the opportunity to participate in Project Global Officer (Project GO) with three traveling to Estonia and one to Tanzania. This Department of Defense initiative promotes critical language education, study abroad, and intercultural dialogue opportunities.

Also, three cadets had the opportunity to fly with the 192 Operations Group of the Virginia Air National Guard. Before the actual T-38 rides, there was a day of training during which they were briefed on what to expect, how to make it through the flight without experiencing any problems, and what to do in case of an emergency.

 “When I was given the opportunity to take a ride in the back of a T-38, I was given more than just a chance to have an amazing experience,” Cadet Michaela Albright, Class of 2019, said. “I was given the chance to get a glimpse into the world of U.S. Air Force fighter pilots, to see what kind of training they go through, hear about the amount of work and dedication it takes to have that job, and even more than that, realize how rewarding it is to serve your country in that role.”

It was an amazing summer filled with opportunities not possible within the confines of the classroom. This busy and very successful summer for the over 250 cadets in Detachment 875 was just another demonstration of why we were named the No. 1 large unit in AFROTC last year and continue to be the top producer in AFROTC of new officers for our Air Force!