Not your basic training
Cadet lands coveted spot in West Point instruction program
No Camp Granada last summer for Justin Gerron.
Instead, the UT Arlington history/pre-law junior launched grenades, navigated waist-deep swamp water in the rain and drove M1 tanks.
He was among 32 ROTC cadets—selected from more than 9,000—to receive a spot in the prestigious eight-week training camp at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“It is a huge honor to be selected and to complete the course,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Smith, who says it’s the first time in recent memory that a UT Arlington cadet has been chosen.
Gerron was picked based on peer evaluations and classroom performance.
“He’s the quiet, confident, behind-the-scenes guy who will do whatever task needs doing,” said Smith, recruitment operations officer for the University’s Military Science Department. “You know when you give him a job it will get done efficiently.”
Cadets were introduced to heavy weapons at the West Point camp—howitzers, Claymore mines, M16s with grenade launchers and M240 Bravo machine guns. Gerron termed the experience very different from ROTC maneuvers, mainly because West Point has more resources.
“The best thing about the whole camp was that we were trained by the 82nd Division,” he said. “They have lots of combat experience from serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Activities included a trip to Fort Knox and the opportunity to simulate air raids using Chinook helicopters. There was martial arts sparring and hand-to-hand combat using rifles fitted with bayonets. Demolition experts helped the trainees blow up a door as part of an exercise in breaching a building.
On a reconnaissance mission using a Hummer, the cadets learned how to scout an area to recognize signs of the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) being used by Iraqi rebels against American soldiers.
One weapon—the multiple-rocket launching system—made a big impression. Gerron was allowed to fire a few rounds.
“When it shoots, it shoots four or five at a time,” he said. “It left a big smoke streak right across the sky. We got to call for the firing of the artillery by giving coordinates and waiting to see it happen. That was really cool.”
Gerron spent a lot of time sleeping outside, eating MRE field rations and slogging across swampland.
“We had to get through the swamp while it was raining, and it was pretty tough. But I got through it. I’m a very motivated person. I like to succeed.”
Gerron is following in his father’s footsteps. John Gerron served in the Army for 22 years. After enrolling in the College of Business Administration and then deciding that a 9-to-5 job wasn’t for him, Justin switched to ROTC. It was his dad’s idea, but it had been in the back of Justin’s mind, too.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I feel obligated to serve my country, and I consider myself a super hoooa.”
Gerron’s long-term plans are to make the Army a career. He’d like to become a full colonel before retirement, but he has a big short-term objective as well.
When that day comes, Smith said, it will be a loss for the University’s Cadet Corps.
“Justin’s selection for the West Point training helps validate our program,” he said. “It demonstrates that we are producing some of the finest leaders of tomorrow right here at UT Arlington.”
— Kim Pewitt-Jones