Three Dickinsonian Reporters Take Part in a War Simulation with Dickinson’s ROTC Cadets
This year the cadets could add ‘putting up with journalists’ to that list.
For the second year in a row, the ROTC cadets of Dickinson College were weighed down with three Dickinsonian reporters while they took part in this immersive simulation.
By Christina Socci '13
Senior War Correspondent
It was 6:20 a.m. and I was in a refugee camp. Granted, the “camp” was located behind the ROTC house and I could see the Quads from my vantage point, but I felt as though I was worlds away from the Dickinson campus. That morning, I played the role of a war correspondent during the ROTC program’s fall semester war simulation. Bleary-eyed and bundled up, I shuffled onto the field to be briefed by Lieutenant Peter Lugar, professor of military science.
“This is going to be a mental puzzle for the students. The normal missions are usually straightforward, so this will be something new. We want to see if they can still make order happen in a situation where there is no clear format given,” Lugar said.
He described the simulation as a “point of distribution” exercise, in which the cadets had to work with a Red Cross-like organization in a predominately Muslim country. The main challenge of the exercise was the sheer amount of variables involved: the cadets received instructions from non-military personnel who didn’t “speak Army,” the refugees were hostile and impatient, and the camp was crawling with journalists and photographers.
As a variable, I tried my best to get in the cadets’ way to find out what was going on. At first, everything seemed to be under control: the refugees were restless but more or less compliant, the team members were focused on establishing order, everyone I spoke to answered my questions with respect and I was told that I would be led to safety if something went wrong. Of course, Murphy’s Law proved true: the supplies ran out just as the cadets had everything organized and the tenuous order of the camp quickly collapsed. I looked up from my notebook to see the refugees swarm the distribution point, shouting for food. Escape plan forgotten, I stood paralyzed until one of the cadets grabbed me and pulled me inside.
Up until that point, it was difficult to appreciate the stakes of the simulation. The illusion of camp would have been broken if I had taken a few steps past the front porch of the ROTC office. Yet in that moment of uncertainty, I felt genuine fear coil around my stomach. For what seemed like eternity, I was in a refugee camp and I was in danger.
To say that I appreciate now what the students of ROTC do is an understatement. During the After Action Review, I listened as they dissected what went well, what went wrong and what needed to be improved for next time. Imagine that: next time. Watching them in action and realizing that this is a situation that they will probably face within the next couple of years was an incredible experience.
By Matthew Atwood '15
My alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. on a dark Tuesday morning in November. My roommate, a member of ROTC, got up right away and had to help drag me out of bed. The sun had not yet peaked up from the horizon by the time we left Malcolm Hall around 5:55 a.m. When we made it to the ROTC building, most of the cadets had already arrived and I met up with the other journalists, Nathan Mueller and Christina Socci.
The three of us were directed into the ROTC building to meet with Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lugar, who proceeded to debrief us about what exactly would be going on during the cadet’s simulation that day. The simulation was a food crisis and the cadets had to setup a system in which all the civilians would get food while simultaneously answering questions. The purpose of the simulation was to give the cadets a situation with a lot of moving pieces and variables; we were one of those variables.
We then left the building and went outside to meet up with the cadets who were playing the civilians. These cadets were given information about how to deal with the media in a real life situation and then were told about their roles. In addition to them all acting hungry, a few were chosen to act difficult during the simulation and others were to be injured.
The sun started to peak over the horizon by the beginning of the simulation. My nose was almost numb and I wanted to run back into my bed for another two hours of sleep before class. I moved around observing the different tasks—setting up a supply point, dealing with the civilians and their various injuries, being on guard duty, and trying to calm down some of the louder civilians—and simultaneously taking pictures of these various events. After some time, I started asking the cadets some questions. At times they answered my questions directly, other times they gave more general responses, and a few times they were apologetic because they could not answer what we were asking.
After about an hour, the simulation ended. The cadets were brought together to go over what had happened and what could have been improved. Before we were dismissed at 7:00 a.m., we were asked how they handled us and we all felt they had done a good job. I ran back to my room and jumped back into bed to warm myself up again and get some more sleep. It was a rough morning, but it was a nice insight into the life of a student in ROTC.
By Nathan Mueller '16
Junior War Correspondent
It was a cold morning as first-year cadet David Cook and I made our way over to the ROTC military house. By 6:15 a.m., the cadets had all came together in the back lawn to receive instructions. On Nov. 20, the ROTC cadets prepared themselves for “COB MOB”, civilians on the battlefield and media on the battlefield, a mission simulation that requires the cadets to react with adversity and interact with a variety of people. Lt. Col. Pete Lugar, professor of military science, said, “The goal of today is to challenge our cadets with a different mission to see how well they react.” Lugar said that the cadets not involved act as potentially hostile civilians who interact with the active cadets, requiring them to practice crowd control while pursuing their mission. Lugar went on to explain media’s role in the mission, which was to be effective in asking the cadets questions and requesting interviews in an attempt to test the cadets’ ability to protect and respectfully handle media attention while staying focused on their objectives.
Prior to the start of the mission, cadets Trevor Flanick ‘13 and Jim Stoeffel ’13 addressed their fellow ROTC squadron on the format and guidelines of the mission. Following the instructions, Battalion Executive Officer Tim Koenig described the scenario of the mission. Koenig explained, “The cadets not involved in this mission will be role playing as a group of deprived foreign villagers suffering from low resources. The team of militants will be required to interact appropriately with these foreign civilians, some of which will be uncooperative and possibly threatening.” The mission began at 7:10 a.m. Instantly, interactions between the two parties began. As a media participant, I began asking the cadet’s questions, both relevant and irrelevant, to see how they would respond under pressure. I noticed the same responses from each cadet I spoke with, which consisted of respectful small talk followed by being directed towards “Bob.” Lugar played the role of “Bob,” who oversaw the cadets’ performance, accepted the media attention and kept peace amongst the civilians.
Throughout the mission, “Bob” spoke with the uncooperative civilians as well as injured civilians and professionally kept them calm. For the cadets, this peacefulness didn’t come so easy. “It’s my job, as well as the other civilians, to relentlessly cause trouble with the cadets,” said Cook, “And once they manage to handle the situation, it’s our job to come right back and cause more problems.”
Throughout the mission, the cadets dealt with situations that were aggravating as well as life threatening. Constantly the civilians were instigating arguments with the cadets because of their lack of resources. To handle this issue, food and water were distributed amongst the civilians; however, the civilians weren’t completely satisfied.
In the other direction, injured civilians lay crippled on the ground or propped up against a wall. The cadets assigned to these injured civilians did their best to respond to and assist them. Constant complaining and ignorance seemed to be a trend amongst the civilians of the village, including those who were supposed to be seriously hurt and on the verge of death. The greatest issues for the cadets arose when citizens carrying simulated weapons were being grouped up. The cadets were confiscating the weapons, but some of the citizens weren’t cooperative. At 7:40 a.m., cadet Matt Melott ’14 reported shots being fired and the squad acted accordingly. The squad gathered up with the media and directed us towards a safety route. The priority of media protection in this mission was handled swiftly.
The mission came to a close with the media unharmed and the hostile civilians at bay. We then met in the back yard to discuss the performance of the squad. Lugar led the evaluation, stressing that the Army does not pay soldiers to be part of a specific branch, but rather to be a leader and possess the ability to adapt to mission changes. “Mission changes require cadets to think on their feet, and the collective use of their brains is important to make plans for these missions,” said Lugar. The squad believed that it handled the mission in an organized manner, proving that they did precisely what was expected out of them for the mission. With all objectives completed, besides the time of completion goal dragging out a little longer than preferred, the morning came to a successful close for the ROTC program.