Cadet to cadre: Marine returns to Junior ROTC program at Hurlburt Field

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Natalie Fiorilli
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

“Airstrike, airstrike, airstrike!”

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Bryan Caldwell yelled with a slight crack in his voice. After nearly a week of shouting, his voice had become raspy and strained.

In front of him, a group of Junior ROTC cadets moved together as a unit, scanning the shoreline of Santa Rosa Island, near Hurlburt Field, Florida. With the sounds of simulated gunfire closing in on them, they spoke quietly amongst themselves to make their next move.

The students, participating in a Junior ROTC summer leadership school program at Hurlburt Field, were tasked with a training personnel recovery mission.

“Airstrike, airstrike, airstrike!”

Again, their instructor shouted to warn them of incoming danger.

Reacting to Caldwell’s message, they hurried to avoid the mock airstrike.

From there, they located a simulated injured patient, performed basic first aid procedures and worked to move him to their extraction point: a boat parked on the southern end of the small island.

As they headed for the boat, Caldwell continued to shout toward the cadets, warning them of incoming threats.

Years before, Caldwell stood in the same place as the students - as a participant in the first-ever SLS class in 2011. Much like his role as an instructor today, Caldwell recalled that he was far from quiet during his time at SLS.

“I was more in a leadership position,” he said. “I wanted to be able to help make people better.”

Looking back, Caldwell said that when he first joined Junior ROTC in high school, he wasn’t particularly interested in joining the military. However, just one year after he went through the program, he enlisted and left for Marine Corps boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina.

He added that returning to SLS as an instructor for the past several years has been an opportunity for him to be someone with whom the cadets can relate.

“I try to give them pointers on life, not just on the military,” Caldwell said.“I try to share my experience with them and help them really see the bigger picture.”

Held in partnership with the 1st Special Operations Wing, the SLS program at Hurlburt Field began in 2011.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Kenneth Rodriguez, SLS director, explained that the program has grown and matured over the years.

This year, SLS took place June 10-14 and included more than 60 Junior ROTC students from seven local and regional high schools near Hurlburt Field. Throughout the five-day program, the students slept in tents, ate meals at the base’s dining facility, participated in daily physical training and classroom training sessions - an experience similar to that of Air Force basic military training.

Additionally, the students experienced an orientation flight on board an MC-130J Commando II, repelled down the side of a wall, learned land and water survival skills and tactical combat casualty care and participated in several team-building activities.

“These experiences at SLS can be life-changing,” said Rodriguez. “The kids get so much exposure to phenomenal role models and they can see themselves in their shoes one day.”