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The ambush was set. The platoon knew the “enemy” would likely travel down the dirt road in front of them, and took up positions. Squad leaders checked on their troops while Lt. Col. Travis Buehner watched it unfold with the trained eye of a 17-year Army veteran.The scene didn’t take place in a Mideast desert, but in the rolling oak woodlands of the U.S. Army’s Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterey County. And the soldiers aren’t regular Army — yet. They’re members of UC Santa Barbara’s Surfrider Battalion of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), which provides leadership training to future officers in the regular Army, Army Reserves and Army National Guard.
The Surfriders had come to the sprawling base for field training exercises (FTX), a three-day dive into the rigors of Army life. The battalion brought 61 of its cadets in the joint FTX with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Fighting Mustang Battalion. Together they practiced land navigation, tactics and more. Armed mostly with M16 rifles that fired blanks, the cadets slept under the stars (and rain) and dined on Meals Ready to Eat.
Under a Microscope
This was no camping trip. It’s designed to push the cadets into their discomfort zones, said Buehner, professor and chair of UCSB’s Department of Military Science, in which the Surfrider Battalion is based. The FTX is a testing ground, he explained, where the cadets’ leadership skills are put under a microscope.
“They’re evaluated the whole time out there,” said Buehner, whose usual assignment is flying Blackhawk helicopters. “So, it is stressful; it’s hot out there, it’s uncomfortable. You really get a good look at someone’s character when they’re in a miserable situation, and how are they acting under that pressure? That’s what I like to look at. It’s …