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Army ROTC Students Benefit From Challenging Summer Leadership Exercise

How did you spend your summer vacation?

For many Old Dominion University students, summer is a chance to go to the beach, do some traveling, decompress a little before the next school year.

But for Cadet Grant Berger and 36 other members of ODU's Army ROTC program, the time between the end of their junior year and the start of their senior year was spent in an arduous 29-day Leader Development and Assessment Center (LDAC) exercise at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

Now back on campus for his senior year, Berger said the exercise - a rite of passage for every Army ROTC cadet - was life-changing.

"It challenged me, physically, mentally and emotionally," said Berger, who is from Lakeland, Fla. "From the moment you get there, you're getting sized up. You get off the plane at the airport and you're funneled onto buses and instantly shuffled into your company."

The LDAC is a long-standing tradition in the U.S. Army, using peer leadership to evaluate and train the next generation of Army leaders. Berger and the rest of the ODU delegation were among more than 6,000 cadets from across the country that took part in the massive exercise.

Four ODU Army ROTC instructors also participated as evaluators - Capt. Jackeline Johnson, Capt. Jason Young, Sgt. 1st Class Timmy Hall and Master Sgt. Orelanderg Sullivan.

"I requested this assignment. I wanted to be a platoon evaluator," Johnson said. "I became an officer to make a difference with the leadership we're sending out there. It was an awesome opportunity to be a part of this event, helping mentor future leaders."

Leadership training is especially important with the U.S. military engaged in active conflicts overseas. Lives depend on the leadership decisions being made, Johnson said.

Peer leadership is among the most difficult concepts for young, motivated cadets to learn to navigate, Berger said. The way the LDAC is structured, each cadet gets an opportunity to lead an exercise, ranging from patrol duty to weapons training, and at other times to follow the directions of other cadets.

"Each day is designed to expose you to Army leadership in a different way," Berger said. "You get exposed to different challenges to see if you've learned your lessons, and if you're ready and possess the attributes necessary to become a leader. You have to earn it."

In other words, this is no holiday.

Johnson said ODU's cadets typically are among the highest-performing school delegations in the LDAC, and this year was no exception. She added that it's interesting to talk to her cadets now that they're back for their senior year, about what they learned during the exercise.

"It can be an ego-bruiser for some of the cadets. It can be a good lesson for them. It's beneficial for them to see the whole picture of what is involved in leadership," she said.

The evaluators' assessments are also returned to the cadets' schools so that instruction during the senior year can be tailored to address any identified weaknesses.

This article was posted on: September 29, 2011

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