Soldiers in the making: ROTC members put in work at Fort Custer

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By Tony Wittkowski | Senior Reporter | Central Michigan Life

AUGUSTA, Mich. — While other Central Michigan University students relaxed and refueled for the upcoming week, ROTC students put in work over the weekend for combined field training exercises.

After the two-hour trip from campus, cadets found their destination at Fort Custer in Augusta and were introduced to the barracks and other cadets.

LeRoy Military Science senior and cadet captain John-Mark Grabow said the weekend was preparation for cadets going to the Leadership Development Assessment Course, which requires cadets to work with others they did not know before.

“Being able to work with people you have never met before on very short amount of time is really invaluable,” he said. “We give them a day for them to meet each other, and they are forced to do missions that really encourage them to form a kind of camaraderie in order to accomplish the task at hand.”

After a cadet’s junior year, they go to LDAC in Fort Lewis, Wash., near Seattle, in the summer and meet with other ROTC cadets from all over the nation, Grabow said.

“It’s a four-week long evaluation period where cadets are tested over what they have learned the past three years,” Garbow said. “They grade them and send the scores home, and the scores determine where they might go.”

The other cadets preparing for LDAC came from Eastern Michigan University, Western Michigan University, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the University of Notre Dame. Ferris State University also made the trip, being one of the satellite schools of CMU.

The cadets were hampered by the declining temperatures that stayed in the 30s, which, for Commerce Military Science senior and CMU cadet captain Andrew Prueter, was a big change from last spring.

“Last year, the temperature fluctuated between 65 and 80 degrees,” Prueter said. “Which, with a lot of the cold and wet weather, it can change the obstacles as far as climate and atmosphere.”

With no snow last year in the CFTX, Prueter said he would prefer to be hot and sweaty, because it would require less equipment and easier mobility.

The subtleties of warfare

The first bus ride full of cadets traveled along a slim dirt road late Friday afternoon, dodging the numerous potholes and mud, keeping the speed to a minimum.

The candor between the cadets remained genial as they readied themselves for the beginning of what would be three days of field simulations, pre-packaged meals and sleep deprivation within the confines of Fort Custer.

An M4 carbine rifle was handed out to every cadet, each marked with a serial number. At the end of the last exercise, weapons were brought to a separate bunker, where they were cleaned thoroughly and inspected.

Although each magazine handed out was filled with blanks, the end of the M4 rifle had a Blank Firing Adapter put on to ensure safety.

“The weapons don’t fire anything, but are just meant to keep everything as realistic as possible,” Prueter said.

Cadets had to stay on their toes when it came to their weapon, because if the gun was not within an arms length, a senior cadet would come take it.

The first squad tactical exercise the cadets would perform after being split up among other university ROTC cadets was land navigation.

“We give them grid coordinates, a map, protractor and a compass, and with those items, they plot where they are and how to get to each destination point,” Grabow said. “Everyone is given a briefing and the area they should be working in.”

CMU cadets wear a interceptor body armor load bearing vest to carry their red-filter flashlight, four ammunition magazines, compass, canteen, an Improved First Aid Kit, maps, and ranger beads to measure distance. (Victoria Zegler/Photo Editor)

CMU cadets wear a interceptor body armor load bearing vest to carry their red-filter flashlight, four ammunition magazines, compass and canteen. ( Photo by Victoria Zegler/Photo Editor)

From there, cadets are given an extra 15 minutes to plot out their grid points before their time begins, where they have three hours to find the five grid points while it’s dark, using a flashlight with a red filter only.

Carson City Military Science senior and cadet captain Weston Waldron explained the exercise best as finding a needle in a haystack when it is dark.

“It’s always a good idea to spend extra time on it, because if you mess one up, you might mess up the others, too,” Waldron said.

With the addition of snow and mud, it was the prickers that came into play, with several cadets coming back with scratches on their hands and faces.

Standish Military Science sophomore Karina Pierce had plenty of experience with the outdoors and was allowed to team up for land navigation because she was not a junior.

“We found three out of five grid points,” Pierce said. “Probably could have found the fourth one, but we wouldn’t have made it back in time.”

Pierce and her fellow cadets received blisters from some of the boots that had not been broken in yet. This was a regular occurrence for some of the cadets.

With five hours of sleep a night, Pierce was not complaining, even when it came to the quality of the mattress.

“They don’t bother me; if you’re tired, then you’ll pass out right away,” Pierce said, smiling down at the mattress. “At least I’m not outside in the cold.”

Divide and conquer

After cadets from each university were divided evenly into Area Operations with names such as AO Chip and AO Eagle, the cadets were able to meet one another before braving the harsh terrain together.

“It’s actually been really nice with cadets from other schools,” Pierce said. “They’re on the same level, and we get all the same training, so it’s easy to incorporate and train together.”

On Saturday, each squad was given small missions, where they might be requested to knock out a bunker, to recon an area or to conduct an ambush.

Each squad was given an operations order for the lane, where they simulate gunfire, as well as searching the enemy after they have been terminated, Prueter said.

“It’s a learning experience, where they are evaluated and walk through what was done right and wrong,” Prueter said. “The focus of this weekend is understanding operations orders, executing STX lanes and patrolling. It’s more for getting the realistic experience.”

There were two ambush sites the cadets took part in, where they were to set up along a road and wait for opposing forces to walk through the kill zone.

The opposing forces were more often than not portrayed by a senior cadet, wearing black, who had already participated in CFTX last year, Prueter said.

The six STX lanes included movement to contact, knock out a bunker, squad attack, reconnaissance and ambush one and two.

“Recon is hard, because you don’t want to be seen or heard, and, out here, it is really impossible to do,” Prueter said. “These lanes are only two hours; in real life, recon lasts a lot longer.”

On the bus ride home, all but three cadets were fast asleep, some taking positions that would normally be accomplished by contortionists only.

The main objective for the cadets was to learn to trust someone and establish a working relationship.

As the bus carrying the cheering CMU cadets pulled in front of Finch Fieldhouse around 6 p.m. on Sunday, the main objective was met and completed.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 25, 2013)


A soldier’s baggage: A look at the equipment used, food eaten during ROTC trip to Fort Custer

CMU cadets wear a interceptor body armor load bearing vest to carry their red-filter flashlight, four ammunition magazines, compass, canteen, an Improved First Aid Kit, maps, and ranger beads to measure distance. (Victoria Zegler/Photo Editor)

CMU cadets wear a interceptor body armor load bearing vest to carry their red-filter flashlight, four ammunition magazines, compass, canteen, maps and ranger beads to measure distance. (Victoria Zegler | Photo Editor)

By Tony Wittkowski | Senior Reporter | Central Michigan Life

AUGUSTA, Mich. — For a weekend in Fort Custer that had Central Michigan University cadets jumping over limbs and trip wires, it was the equipment they carried with them that kept them grounded.

Saginaw military science senior and cadet captain Gillen Papenfuse has become well-accustomed to his equipment, from his helmet down to his boots.

I really like a good pair of boots, because it really turns the tide when you are stomping around in the woods,” Papenfuse said. “They make the difference between feeling good on any given day.”

Blisters are a common occurrence among soldiers with boots. Because they are so tough, it takes a long time for them to mold to someone’s foot, Papenfuse said.

The 550 cord has been used by Papenfuse in the past, as he has fastened it for shoelaces, gun slings, lanyards, survival bracelets, belts and tie-down straps.

“I never go to the field without the 550 cord,” Papenfuse said. “The reason they call it a 550 cord is because there are five white cords on the inside, which can hold 100 pounds, and the outside can hold 50.”

Commerce military science senior and cadet captain Nicholas Fiebke said his favorite piece of equipment is the load baring vest, which the cadets wore on the outside of their uniforms.

“It has all your sustainment pouches and holds your water, your weapon, compass, maps, first-aid and everything else you would need to go out into the field,” Fiebke said. “Outside of my gun, it’s the most important piece of equipment.”

Aside from the four magazines and the waterproof notepad, a string of nine ranger beads can also be seen dangling from a loop on the vest.

The beads help cadets keep track of their pace count by moving up one bead for every 100 meters until they reach one kilometer, Papenfuse said.

Fiebke, who was also the tactical officer over the weekend in Fort Custer, said at times all of the equipment can add up in weight.

“The assault pack weighs from 15 to 30 pounds, which holds sustainment materials and an extra pair of boots,” Fiebke said. “Anything you can’t fit on your LBV or on your person goes in the assault pack.”

The tactical officer said cadets training for schools usually walk around with an 80-pound pack, which can sometimes get up to 100 pounds.

“If we are doing something like a rough march where we are walking a certain distance down the road, a lot of times there is about 65 pounds in a rucksack,” Fiebke said.

The buffet selection

Many of the cadets could be seen ripping open a brown bag whenever they had a chance to rest.

Those brown bags are referred to as “meals ready to eat” and consist of main entrees ranging from cold beef stew to a batch of corn bread as a side.

Papenfuse said the MREs have a shelf life of 10+ years, and that when they first manufacture them, they put a three-year stamp on them.

“I guess the common knowledge is they get drawn out for 10 years,” he said. “You can tell when you get an old one, because the packaging might be a little different, and I’ve gotten a bad one before that was moldy.”

As a kid, Papenfuse thought MREs were the coolest toys his dad would bring home. Now, he has grown to dislike most of them, having given a lot of them out to other cadets while at Fort Custer.

“I started to turn on the MREs as soon as the constipation started to hit,” Papenfuse admitted. “As soon as you get to basic training, after the first five, they start to lose their luster.”

There is a little heater in the brown bag that has a chemical reactor, giving the soldier the choice of a warm or cold meal.

Papenfuse’s preference during the summer months is to eat the MREs at room temperature, but if it’s cold outside, he likes a hot meal.

“It’s not for the taste, because I think they taste the same warm or cold, but I prefer to heat it up whenever I have the time,” Papenfuse said.

For Fiebke, it does not matter the time of year, but what choice he has for the meal.

“I only heat up a couple that I like, otherwise I eat them cold,” he said. “Some of them taste the same, but one thing I have always noticed is the chicken tastes like tuna, and the tuna tastes like chicken.”

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 27, 2013)

A heart of gold: Former Army cadet now studying at CMU

Tawas Military Science senior and CMU Cadet Sergeant Major Marshall Halas uses an old white rag to remove carbon residue from within the bore of his M4 carbine rifle before returning them to the Alma National Guard after their combined field training on March 24 at Fort Custer in Augusta, Mich. (Victoria Zegler/Photo Editor)

Tawas Military Science senior and CMU Cadet Sergeant Major Marshall Halas uses an old white rag to remove carbon residue from his M4 carbine rifle before returning them to the Alma National Guard after their combined field training. (Victoria Zegler/Photo Editor)

By Tony Wittkowski | Senior Reporter | Central Michigan Life

AUGUSTA, Mich. — Marshall Halas witnessed four years of active duty in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan before joining the ROTC program at Central Michigan University.

The 24-year-old military science senior had been curious about the military since he was 13, so when he enlisted for active duty fresh out of high school, his family was not surprised.

“Some people look at the military as a way out, but there are other ways,” Halas said.

The Tawas cadet came from a small town in the northeast part of Michigan near Lake Huron, where there were only a few small factories and a school.

“I graduated with around 115 in my class,” Halas said. “The whole city is relatively small, with about 6,000 people.”

His grandpa was stationed in Alaska and Oregon with the Air Force with his younger brother, John, in the Army, who joined later to train to become a combat medic.

Halas said he was going to join the military anyway when he first enlisted in the Navy but later joined the Army and shipped off four days after signing his contract.

For someone who had never left the country, it was a bit of a change during his four years of active duty from 2007 to 2011.

“On July 4, 2009, I landed in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, where I had to fly to Ireland and then Germany before making it to Manas,” Halas said. “Then I spent a year in Afghanistan along the border of Pakistan.”

Halas got out of the military on Jan. 1, 2011 and started school at CMU a week later.

“I applied to CMU, Michigan State, Western and the University of Michigan and was accepted to all of them,” Halas said. “But I chose CMU because it was the closest to home, and my grandfather was in and out of the hospital with cancer.”

Halas has not talked to his biological dad in quite some time now but spent a lot of his childhood with his stepfather, who has known him for close to 22 years.

“I still consider him my dad. He’s a great guy, and they are as much my family as my biological family,” Halas said. “He did everything he could to make my life the best it could be.”

John Sanders, self-employed in computer repair, helped raise Halas and his brother and said he never thought of them as just his stepsons.

“I wish there were more like him; the kid has got a heart of gold,” Sanders said. “He was never in any trouble and found time for his family.”

Even when Sanders and Halas’ mother split apart, the two stayed in touch. Sanders said his favorite memory with Halas was watching him graduate from basic training.

Now, just one summer class away from graduating, Halas has turned his attention toward the Leadership Development Assessment Course in Fort Lewis, Wash.

While there, he will be tested for 30 rigorous days to see if he can be a platoon leader in the infantry for the National Guard.

“This semester has been pretty busy with the two grad school classes and calculus, which have taken up a huge portion of my time,” Halas said. “If I’m not there, you can find me at the shooting range or The Cabin.”

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 1, 2103)

Graduate student housing 85 percent complete, east building to open in May

By Tony Wittkowski | Senior Reporter | Central Michigan Life

The graduate student housing is set to be completed and open for tenants by the beginning of July.

However, the opening of the east building of the student housing will come at an earlier time, said Steve Lawrence, Vice President for Facilities Management.

“We’re supposed to have the east building open for tenants by May,” Lawrence said. “The west building tenants are scheduled to move in for July.”

The west building has all the utilities leading to the building and includes a basement, so it took longer to build, Lawrence said.

With a $28.5 million budget, the university is set to add a parking lot this summer and redo one that was damaged during construction.

“The angled parking lot in front of the west building was obliterated during construction, so it has to be redone,” Lawrence said. “There will also be parking lot work during the summer, which should be done by mid-August.”

Lawrence said there will be an expansion of Parking Lot 8 just off of Chippewa Trail, which is connected to Parking Lot 11.

The graduate student apartment housing project is now 85-percent complete, not including the expansion of 123 additional parking spaces, Lawrence said.

“We waited to see how the budget held up to make sure we had enough money to add on to the parking lots,” Lawrence said.

Director of Residence Life Joan Schmidt said there are no plans for a grand opening ceremony at this time.

“At this point, no,” Schmidt said. “I asked the president’s office and haven’t gotten an answer.”

According to a previous Central Michigan Life article, the last beam placed on the graduate student housing complex was celebrated with a Topping Out Ceremony.

The ceremony is a Scandinavian tradition where placing a tree atop a new building represents growth and is used to bring good luck to the structure.

“It’s ceremonial and was also put on to thank (everybody) for all their hard work,” Schmidt said in October.

After the last beam was put into place, a live tree, as well as flags from residence life, Central Michigan University, the state of Michigan and the United States were placed on top of the building.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 1, 2013)

Biosciences building construction to begin in fall 2014; project a decade in the making

By Tony Wittkowski | Senior Reporter | Central Michigan Life

University President George Ross announced at last week’s Academic Senate meeting construction on the biosciences building will begin in the fall of 2014 and is estimated to take 30 months, but the project has been in the works for much longer.

In fact, the Central Michigan University biosciences building project has been waiting for approval since 2002 with a proposed budget of $89.4 million. Steve Lawrence, Vice President for Facilities Management, shared with Central Michigan Life the decade-long time line outlining the construction of the project and said it would be a “major undertaking.”

“(The biosciences building) has been on CMU’s Capital Outlay list for quite a while,” Lawrence said. “It’s been on the list since the (Education and Human Services) Building was funded.”

In August of 2002, a committee was formed to discuss which additions would benefit the university in upcoming years when the idea was first proposed, Lawrence said.

A month later, the biotechnology building appeared as the third-highest priority on CMU’s Prioritized Major Capital Projects list for the Academic Division, with an estimated cost of $50 million and a proposed site where the EHS building currently sits.

The EHS building was the highest-ranking priority at the time, with building renovations and maintenance second.

For three years after that, the biosciences building remained on the list while the Brooks Hall space was being evaluated.

Lawrence said, in that time, faculty engaged in conceptual planning, attending conferences to learn about building planning.

In December 2006, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution to approve CMU’s 2007-08 Capital Outlay request, which was submitted to Lansing in October 2006 and had a Biological Sciences and Technology building as the number two priority, costing an estimated $80 million.

The biology department then developed a Program Statement used to describe the need and outlining draft specifications for a new building.

In 2007, the project moved to the university’s first priority, where it has remained for five years.

Provost Gary Shapiro and Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services David Burdette appointed a Biosciences Building Programming Committee in February 2011, and work began in earnest on planning for the building.

In June 2011, CMU submitted preliminary planning sketches to architects with the contract and schematic design going to SHW Group.

The CMU faculty had shown support for the project in the last few years because of the amount of space they have, Lawrence said.

“The biology department, the dean and the associate dean of the College of Science and Technology have been pushing this,” Lawrence said.

In summer and fall 2011, the SHW Group and their subcontracts met regularly with CMU faculty to develop building plans and a program statement.

The program statement for the building was submitted in June 2011, with an estimated building size of 157,934 square feet.

Then came the Public Act 192 of 2012, granting CMU the authority to proceed to the Design Development phase (the second of three planning phases), in pursuit of an $89.42 million project, with the state of Michigan contributing $30 million.

“While there are additional reviews and a need to grant the State Building Authority legislative approval to generate their $30 million, the Design Development approval is the final green light for state funding,” Lawrence said.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 31, 2013)

CMU police investigating several larcenies in music building

The CMU Police Department is investigating a series of larceny complaints which have occurred in the Music Building, with the most recent incident occurring on March 16. (Photo courtesy of CMU Police Department)

The CMU Police Department is investigating a series of larceny complaints which have occurred in the Music Building, with the most recent incident occurring on March 16. (Photo courtesy of CMU Police Department)

By Tony Wittkowski | Senior Reporter | Central Michigan Life

The Central Michigan University Police Department is investigating a series of larcenies that have taken place at the Music Building over the past several months.

Detective Mike Sienkiewicz said CMUPD has received several complaints of items missing from the building, with the most recent larceny occurring on March 16.

“There have been multiple thefts dating back to the end of 2012,” Sienkiewicz said. “It is still an ongoing investigation, so we are not releasing what was taken yet.”

During the course of the investigation, surveillance video of the suspect was obtained, and CMUPD is seeking assistance to identify the suspect, Sienkiewicz said.

The suspect is described as a white male who appears to be in his 40s or 50s, police say. The suspect’s height is approximately 6’ to 6’2’’ tall, with brown, curly hair.

CMUPD installed a temporary camera at the start of the investigation, which has gathered a few still photos and video clips of the suspect, Sienkiewicz said.

“We think the pictures are fairly decent quality,” Sienkiewicz said. “We were contacted by the music department after some of the students noticed a few items missing.”

There have been other thefts in the music building dating back to last fall, but Sienkiewicz said he does not believe they are related to the most recent instances.

“Sometimes, people leave their stuff around, and it gets taken,” Sienkiewicz said. “We would just like to figure out who this guy is.”

If anyone has additional information about the identity of the suspect, they are encouraged to contact CMU police dispatch at (989) 774-3081.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 31, 2013)

John Douglas White pleads guilty for murder of Rebekah Jane Gay

By Tony Wittkowski | Senior Reporter | Central Michigan Life

John Douglas White, 55, will spend a minimum of 45.8 years in prison after pleading guilty Thursday for the Oct. 31 murder of Rebekah Jane Gay.

White pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Thursday afternoon in Isabella County Trial Court for the murder of Gay, according to court records.

Second-degree murder is a felony offense punishable by life or any term of years that is set by the court.

“The plea agreement included a stipulated sentence requiring White’s minimum sentence to be no less than 45.8 years in prison,” Isabella County Prosecutor Risa Scully said in a news release.

A plea agreement was made between both sides, bringing the original charge of homicide murder in the first degree premeditated to second-degree murder and as a habitual third offender.

The plea was submitted before Judge Paul Chamberlain, which was then accepted by the court.

Since the guilty plea, White’s bond has been cancelled, and he will be sentenced April 18 at 2 p.m. by Chamberlain.

White had originally filed to have his confession taken off the record and not used as evidence in a motion hearing today but instead pleaded guilty.

White’s trial was scheduled for May prior to his guilty plea, though he also waived the preliminary examination beforehand after it had been pushed back.

White allegedly murdered Gay on Oct. 31 in her Broomfield Township mobile home, 3303 S. Coldwater Road. A self-described pastor, White was engaged to Gay’s mother and often babysat Gay’s three-year-old son.

After confessing to the murder, White blamed it on a two-week sexual fantasy he had to kill Gay and have sex with her dead body. He told the police he did not remember carrying out his fantasy because he drank four or five beers before going to Gay’s home.

Gay’s body was discovered in a stand of pine trees on Coldwater Road, and the mallet and bloody towels used were discovered off of Pickard Road near Woodruff Road.

According to the Associated Press, White has two prior convictions, one for manslaughter in Kalamazoo County and another for attacking a young woman in Calhoun County. He was released from prison in 2008.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 28, 2013)