SIU students test their mettle in war games

Monday, May 6, 2002

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- They moved slowly through the underbrush, careful to avoid stepping on any branch that could break and give away their position.

Their faces, smeared with the tick green wax paint that comes with the military uniform, were set in determination to accomplish their tasks as part of the weekend military maneuvers which pitted the Southern Illinois University Army ROTC cadets against each other in mock battle situations.

"My job, right here, is to defend this bunker," explained Cadet Command Sgt. Maj. Derek Kocher, an anthropology student who sat inside a metal-roofed structure, armed and ready to repel an attack. "I'm to dispense approximately 300 rounds of fire at my enemy, creating a constant barrage of gunfire for them to manipulate through, and then to die in a loud, proud military manner."

Kocher's eyes constantly scanned the wooded hillside before him in search of the slightest movement that would signal the approach of his attackers.

"This specific exercise, taking the bunker, is designed to allow the cadets to think while moving," Kocher said. "They have to be able to make an approach in an organized manner, accomplish their goal, reorganize and move on.

"It's not as easy as it looks," he added, still not taking his eyes from the tree line. "You have to react under stressful conditions and still maintain composure, still be able to make the right decisions."

Less stress in civilian life

Making the right decisions is an aspect of military training that comes in handy in all phases of life, the cadets say.

"They can teach you all about this tactical stuff, but really they are reinforcing good old common sense," said Klairoong "Puma" Pattumma, a forestry student. "Being able to perform while someone is shouting orders at one side of you and someone else is firing simulated live rounds at you pretty much prepares you for just about anything.

"Things that I used to find stressful, I just don't anymore," she said. "We are also faced with a wide range of opportunities to work together in groups."

According to the 21-year-old from Belleville, working in groups and meeting the challenges faced in the simulated warfare are two of the things that attracted her to ROTC.

"I like to challenge myself," she said. "I believe in me being the best that I can be, and really this is just a lot of fun."

"In what other class do you get to go out and fly in a helicopter?" Pattumma asked. "Although that's not really the fun part for me because the last time I threw up. But you know what I mean."

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