Training Opportunities take UI Army ROTC Cadet from the Mountains to the Sea

Steven CleppeBy Tim Tate M.S.

Cadet Steven Cleppe attended the U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School at the Ethan Allen firing range in Northern Vermont in early February. The intense two week course is based on the 10th Mountain Infantry Division’s WWII mission in the Italian Alps. The course is intended to be physically demanding and challenging and this winter basic course started with 70 Soldiers and graduated only 49.

Cleppe, a University of Idaho sophomore majoring in Political Science, was one of only three ROTC cadets from across the nation selected to attend the school. His fellow trainees were mostly sergeants from the 10th Mountain Infantry Division, Special Forces, Rangers and the Vermont National Guard.  (See photos from Cleppe's Training.)

When he reported to the school, Cleppe found his assigned battle buddy was a Special Forces sergeant right out of Afghanistan. “I learned mostly about Special Ops from him. He told me about the officer’s lifestyle in SF versus the sergeants’. He had a lot of war stories about Afghanistan and was going to deploy again with his team to another part of the world as soon as the course was done.”

Cleppe on final mountain climbOn how it was like to be a cadet among all the sergeants at the school, Cleppe said, “Most of the time everyone called me ‘sir’ which was really weird. Every time I messed up the guys on my squad would make fun of me and call me ‘cadet.’”

The Mountain Warfare School offers summer and winter basic courses and summer and winter advanced courses as well. You only need to attend one of the courses to get the Military Mountaineer Qualification and mountain warfare designator.

“It’s all about movement techniques through mountainous terrain. We moved mostly as squad (11 Soldiers) size elements. The goal is to learn to move efficiently through extreme terrain as a group to be able to hit the enemy in an unlikely avenue of approach.”

While at the school, Soldiers are on a demerit system in which they are sent home if they fail one of the mandatory systems tests more than once, or accrue 10 demerits. Each failed test was two demerits. The systems that were tested were knots, hauling system, casualty evacuation system, lowering system for rescue off a mountain, rappelling, climbing, fixed ropes system, high lines systems and a written test.
Cleppe failed his first test right off the bat. “I failed the very first thing, knots, because I was really nervous. I passed the second time and everything else after that.”

Cleppe described the physically demanding training, “The ruck marches were pretty hard. We carried heavy rucks (backpacks) from 65 to 70 pounds. It was icy, so we were always slipping and falling. There was also a 300lb sled with gear we had to take turns dragging behind. Vermont had some pretty significant terrain. We would go up and down a couple thousand feet with each movement. We learned how to use ropes knots and other mountain climbing techniques to move more effectively over extreme terrain.”

Cleppe’s favorite thing was ice climbing and the most memorable moment was the mountain climb at the end which was a culmination of everything the squad had learned in one movement.

When asked how his ROTC unit had helped prepare him for this he responded, “ROTC prepared me mainly with physical fitness. I didn’t feel physically challenged as much as some of the other Soldiers. College and ROTC prepared me with the ability to learn quickly with a lot going on. The course threw a lot of information at us real fast and I was able to take it all in. Many of the Soldiers there had not been in a classroom environment since high school and had a tough time memorizing all the material quickly.”

Cleppe also prepared for his time away from the University of Idaho by having friends in each class take notes and he talked to each professor to make up for two weeks of missed classes. Cleppe maintains a 3.72 GPA and has been on the dean’s list every semester.

CDT Cleppe may be busy catching up to his classmates, but he’s not done with training opportunities through Army ROTC. He is now scheduled to attend the US Army’s Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification Course this summer. The course will be in Key West, Florida, in May.