How I Spent My Summer Vacation

While the majority of Niagara University students enjoy a break from their studies during the summer, ROTC cadets typically continue their training in a variety of programs, including study-abroad placements, leadership development courses, and field instruction in areas such as scuba diving and flying helicopters. Here, three cadets share their summer vacation experiences.

Jumping In With Both Feet

Vincent Powierski earned his wings at Airborne School, Fort Benning Ga., this summer. The training was divided into three separate, weeklong phases. During the first week, ground week, Powierski learned about the different kinds of parachutes and how to put them on. He also practiced parachute-landing falls to learn how to land without injuring himself. Week two was tower week, when he learned how to exit an aircraft without becoming tangled in his suspension lines. During week three, jump week, Powierski performed five jumps from two different aircrafts, the C-17 and the C-130, an experience that seemed surreal to him until he heard Sergeant Airborne, the instructor, give him the instruction to stand up and hook up in the C-17.

“When the instructor told us to stand up and hook up our static lines my heart was going nuts and my legs started feeling weak,” he says. “When I jumped, my mind went blank. I wanted to close my eyes but I couldn’t. I free fell for about six seconds, then the shock from the parachute opening was a great feeling because I knew everything was starting out okay. It was so beautiful on the way down, even though you’re only in the air for a little while. But the jump felt so amazing. By the third jump, I was used to it. The night jump was by far the scariest jump because I never knew when the ground was coming, but I just remembered everything the instructors taught me and everything worked out.”

Learning to Lead

Jessica Cristiano honed her leadership skills at a Cadet Field Training Camp at West Point Military Academy’s Camp Buckner, where she was challenged both mentally and physically.

“Every day at Camp Buckner was something new and exciting,” she says. “We challenged ourselves through obstacle courses on land and in water. We zip-lined across a lake over 200 feet long on a platform standing 100 feet tall. Because I am petrified of heights, I was extremely nervous to do this; however, I built up the courage to step off the platform and it was all worth it because the ride was amazing.”

Cristiano also learned how to use weapons effectively at night by using night vision goggles, and how to load and set off several types of explosives such as howitzers and mortars. She was also trained in clearing buildings and calling for fire, and spent days in the field learning how to move as part of a unit and how to perform successful battle drills. The most exciting training, she says, was the close quarters combative course, which took place in a “giant dirt pit.” Cadets learned how to fight using knives and were trained in martial arts.

“At the end of the training, we matched up with each other and battled it out,” she says. “Cadets had mud in their teeth and mouth with blood on their faces and hands; it was really intense, but a lot of fun.”

Cristiano says that the skills and military knowledge she gained helped her to become a confident leader.

“It was difficult at times,” she admits, “and I had to push myself like I never have before. However, through this experience, I learned a lot about myself and how to lead as a future officer in the United States military.”

Flying High

Sophomore Matthew Rongey spent a month in the Army ROTC helicopter flight training program at the University of North Dakota with 16 other cadets from across the country.

After three days of preparation, which included orientation, a physical, a tour of the university’s section of the Grand Forks airport, and learning about the Schweizer 300C helicopter he would be flying, Rongey began his flight training. Each session consisted of pre- and post-flight briefings and an hour of actual flight time, focusing on a different maneuver and emergency procedures.

“One of the scariest and most interesting lessons for me was lesson seven,” Rongey says. “We learned how to do an autorotation, which is performed in the event of an engine failure to land safely on the ground by using the air from falling to keep the blades spinning. When practicing these, the instructor simulates engine failure and the autorotation is performed all the way down until about three feet when power is increased again. You fall at about 1,600 feet per second and you get the ‘free fall’ feeling during the first couple of seconds. What frightened me most was not knowing what was coming and also that I don’t like free falling. Plus, not only are you falling, but you also have to think and react quickly to recover the helicopter so you don’t hit the ground hard.”

Rongey took full control of the aircraft during lesson 13, a two-part lesson that included the usual flight with an instructor as well as a solo flight. In all, he completed 15 flight lessons and four ground school exams to graduate from the course.

“I really enjoyed this experience and I truly believe it is one of the best summer training programs you can be selected for as a ROTC cadet,” he says.