A Day at Fort McCoy - Commentary
Sarah McQueen

Saturday Morning I found myself wondering what I had volunteered for as I sat on a bus that was bouncing its way to Fort McCoy. Myself and about 50 other students had signed up for a one credit course, sponsored by ROTC, called Joint Field Training Exercise.

Upon arrival we stood in line in squads we had been divided into, shivering in the early morning frost. We waited for the uniforms to stop running around and tell us what we were going to be doing.

The four squads were soon sent in different directions to begin the day’s activities. Each event was led by a different cadet from ROTC. Our first activity was the Confidence Course and the Conditioning Course, which were basically challenging obstacle courses.

The courses involved a lot of climbing, swinging, jumping, and balancing; and for me at least, it also involved a lot of bruises and sore muscles. One challenge, where you had to climb about 12 feet up a rope and then shimmy across a pole, got the better of me. I lost all my strength half way across. Clinging upside down to the pole, arms shaking and legs giving out I knew I was done for. My hand slipped a moment before I got my legs underneath me and down I fell, clocking my spotter in the head on the way down. I picked myself up, apologized to my now probably equally bruised spotter, brushed the dirt off and moved on to the next thing. That was first of six times I would face plant in the dirt that day.

For lunch we were allowed the treat of MRE’s. In case you have never had the pleasure of eating one, allow me to describe them. They consist of food that has been vacuum packed into plastic bags which you attempt to heat using chemicals, water, and more plastic bags. I opted to eat mine cold.

After lunch we went to an indoor, electronic firing range where we fired computerized M-16s. The weapons felt very real, even had a little kick to them when you fired. We played with these for an hour before they took us to the paintball field.

After being briefed in a few simple assault tactics they put us into teams, armed us with paintball guns, and turned us lose in a patch of woods about the size of a football field. My tactic of hiding in the shrubs and taking potshots seemed to work well. I survived until the middle of the third and last round before being shot in the side.

By this point in the day my arms were numb with tired. But there was one more event to come: repelling. This was by far the best part of the day. We were shown how to tie a Swiss seat, the harness you sit in while repelling, and taken to the “Bunny-wall” where we got a feel for how the ropes worked.

Next came the 34 foot high tower. Taking that first step backward off of a tower is one of the scariest feelings I have ever experienced; until we got the 54 foot tower that is.

From the higher tower they sent us down just dangling off a rope with no board to brace our feet against. Terrifying. It’s the kind of experience that you want to talk yourself out of but know you’ll kick yourself later for not doing if you chicken out. Repelling for the first time gives you an amazing rush and is most likely something you will remember for the rest of your life.

All told it was a fantastic day that left me completely exhausted and hoping I get the chance to do it all over again sometime. On the bus ride home, as I nursed sore muscles and bruised legs, I couldn’t help but think of the soldiers who work even harder out in the field, day in and day out. No amount of exhaustion or sore muscles means they get a break. I now have even more respect for what our military does and would like to take this last line to say thank you to anyone who has served this country.