I Spent 2 Months in Kentucky… And Here’s How it Went

Let’s take a flashback to May. The last final is done, students are going home, and professors *maybe* have your final grades in. Students leave campus without another worry of school until late August.

Except… in just 2 short weeks, I would be boarding a plane at DIA at 8:30 in the morning and flying a 2.5 hour flight, landing in Louisville, KY in another time zone.

Now, believe me when I say this. Kentucky has a LOT of good things in it… The Kentucky Derby, the Jim Beam Distillery, Maker’s Mark Distillery, and this amazing brewery called Against the Grain, just outside of the Sluggers’ stadium.

But let’s zoom in on a little place just outside of Louisville, called Fort Knox. You may recall it as the place where all the gold is kept, in the United States Bullion Depository. Fort Knox is also home to the General George Patton Museum, and is most famously known for the movie “Stripes.”

The bad parts about Knox? Well, just ask any Army ROTC cadet who experiences Basic Camp or Advanced Camp.

After their third year in the ROTC program, cadets are required to attend Advanced Camp; a 31 day training experience filled with obstacle courses, land navigation, and rucking. And if you don’t know what rucking is, think of backpacking with a 35 pound rucksack over hills. To add onto that, Fort Knox has almost 70% humidity and up to 100 degree heat.

Over 6,000 cadets attend the training event every summer, with some commissioning right afterwards making them “End of Camp Commissionees.” Others endure another year or two in their ROTC program and commission after they graduate. The cadets are split into 10 regiments, with each regiment starting 5 days after the first one.

Luckily, I didn’t just have to experience Knox for one month. I was there for two.

One of my good friends and I were on the same flight into Louisville. We were in the same regiment, and as it turns out we were also in the same company. Different platoons of course, but we still saw each other almost daily.

 

The best part of camp was firing the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.

PC: US Army Cadet Command

 

We followed the mass of cadets through the airport to sign in, grab our luggage, and hop on buses to take a little ride to Fort Knox.

For the next 4 days, myself and the rest of the regiment went through in-processing, a drug test, an Army Physical Fitness Test, a ton of cleaning, and when we weren’t doing anything? We were developing game plans, and for good reason.

For the next three weeks, we were sleeping in the field, and we weren’t alone. Being the first regiment meant we had the amazing opportunity to clear out the wildlife for the regiments to follow. I’m talkings ticks, spiders, ticks, snakes, ticks, raccoons, and more ticks. We said goodbye to good, home-cooked meals and said hello to MREs (meals ready to eat). And if you unfortunately received the Pork Sausage MRE, may God have mercy on your soul.

The fun began for me with Land Navigation. We were expected to go out and find four points in four hours. Sounds easy, right? With just a map, compass, neat map markers, and our brains and talents, we were started on a very difficult course that spanned at least several kilometers wide. We kept accountability of our weapons, maps, and scorecards. If we didn’t; we had to retest.

On my way to my fourth point- my last point- I had slid down a hill (one of the many hills in Kentucky) and sprained my ankle. I lost the one of the most important things that I was not to lose; the scorecard. I know that somewhere out there it sits, soaked from the rain, buried by leaves, or probably eaten by a raccoon. I knew I was 2 kilometers away from the Start Point, and I had about 30 minutes to get back. I made it back, just without that scorecard.

I went to see a medic, and then went to the Medical Center back in civilization. I spent the night in the barracks while everyone else was out in the field. When I got the x-ray, they found slight ligament damage, but I refused to be sent home.

And that really started the fun. I returned to the field and returned to training.

On week three, we started our adventures running tactics. My platoon had at least 4 other ankle injuries at this point, with one deciding to stick it out along with me. It rained every single day we were running the tactical lanes. And I can promise you, we might just have climbed over every hill in Kentucky.

We were given one day of rest when we returned to the barracks, and the next day we had the 12 mile ruck march. In order to pass, you had to complete it in under 4 hours. I was still suffering from the ankle injury and overusing it.

My cadre had made one promise to us; if everyone finished in the allotted time, they would buy us Burger King Whoppers. And I was sure as heck going to finish that course.

My normal 3 hour pace came in at a solid 3 hours and 43 minutes, and I was the last one in my platoon to cross the finish line.

I completed the 12 mile ruck march with a “smile” on my face.

PC: US Army Cadet Command

 

But we earned the Whoppers.

The reason I didn’t want to be recycled was because I had the tremendous opportunity to stay at Fort Knox another month to be a MSIII Basic Camp trainer, where freshman and sophomore cadets were able to learn basic skills. It was like a mini Advanced Camp, without being graded on everything I did.

Graduation eventually came after the second month, and I finally got to go home in early August.

LTC Thomas Haas (PMS of the University of Wyoming Army ROTC), Tucker Williams, and myself after graduating Advanced Camp.

PC: US Army Cadet Command

 

Looking back, I had a really bad experience at Fort Knox. We all joke about how it was a waste of time and that it didn’t really matter. But all in all, I’m happy I finished along with my peers. It made me more confident in my ability to do things, and made me more self aware of my actions. I also learned to watch my step while walking down hills.

And through this reflection, I know that those two months in Kentucky were the hardest two months of my life, so I know I now can do whatever I set my mind to.

 

I got to see my brother, parents, aunt and uncle on Family Day for Advanced Camp.

PC: US Army Cadet Command.