Cadet Summer Training

Lessons Learned at CST: A PAO’s Perspective

I know what you’re thinking. What can a Public Affairs intern learn if they themselves aren’t the ones going through Basic or Advanced Camp? They’re not the ones sleeping in the woods for days on end, only eating MREs, rucking close to half-marathons before the sun even comes up. And you’d be right. Kind of.

Capturing an ambush at the FTX lanes was just one of the many exercises we covered throughout the summer. Photo by Steffanie Hampton

Although we may not be the ones marching during graduation, we have spent our entire summer to better understand what it is that goes into becoming a future Army Officer. We are the liaisons, the middlemen, the translators between you and your Cadets. We take what we’ve learned and put together photo albums, videos and articles to not only make sure you, the general public, get a sense of the work that is put into becoming a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Army, but to also provide snap shots of your sons and daughters in action and to show that they’re doing just fine.

And sure, it’s probably for the best that us interns aren’t allowed to pick up a weapon at the qualification range, but you’d be surprised by the life lessons and experiences we’ve taken away from our three short months at Fort Knox.

To begin, let me start by introducing myself. My name is Emily Peacock, I’m a rising senior at Penn State, majoring in public relations and I’m one of the many interns that come and go through the Public Affairs Office here at Fort Knox. One of the most FAQs I get here (aside from can you take a picture of me and my friends so my mom knows I’m alive) is why are you here? How did you get here?

Lesson 1: Learn to shatter the glass that is your comfort zone

To be honest, after I accepted my position as a PAO intern, I went through a phase of ‘oh goodness what have I done?’ My grandfathers served in World War II and Korea, my great grandfather even served as a Chaplain at Fort Knox, but other than that I had no real connection to the Army. I knew I wanted my final summer before graduation to be spent somewhere where I would get hands-on experience dealing with topics from social media to strategic and crisis communication. What better place than the Army, right?

Quite possibly my favorite picture from the entire summer came from 8th Regiment, Basic Camp’s day at the Team Development Course.

In the days leading up to my departure from my home in New England, I was anxious of the unknown. What if I don’t know what I’m doing? What if my supervisors and fellow interns pick up on the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing? What if I get homesick? What if I wake up one day and want nothing more to pack my bags and leave before my assignments begin? What if I don’t make any friends during my time here?

As I soon found out, these are the same questions Cadets seem to struggle with from day one. During one of my first assignments, I was interviewing Cadets from Basic Camp on their 3rd or 4th day at CST while they waited in a very long and slowly moving line to receive the equipment that would get them through the next four weeks. I asked a girl what she was looking forward to most while at Fort Knox, to which she said, “going home and seeing my mom. I already hate it here.”

Even though I didn’t put that in my article, her answer stuck with me. Over the next few weeks I followed this girl and her regiment, capturing pictures of her navigating the team development course with her fellow Cadets, walking through the CS chamber, volunteering to be Platoon Leader during her time in the field training exercises (FTX) and even when she and her mom were reunited at Family Day.

I’m not a fan of heights so I would definitely count rappelling off a 64-foot rappel tower as breaking out of my comfort zone. Photo by Amber Vincent

I asked her about her time at CST, to which she told me about how this place pushed her farther than she ever thought she could go, both physically and mentally. She said, however, that in pushing out of her comfort zone, she grew as a person and as a leader.

I was terrified of what I didn’t know in the days leading up to this internship. But in the 12 weeks I’ve spent here, I have made it a point to put myself out there, to break out of my comfort zone. I’ve gone through the CS chamber twice (to the confusion of my supervisors), I’ve rappelled of the side of a 64-foot rappel tower, I’ve conquered the confidence course, I’ve woken up at 3:30 a.m. to ruck 12 miles with the Cadets of Advanced Camp, all in order to gain the perspective of these Cadets.

In coming to Kentucky, I have proved to myself that moving someplace far from home can be extremely beneficial and can help you grow in more ways than you’d think. By participating in the different exercises the Cadets go through I have developed a serious respect and admiration for how tough these college kids truly are.

It’s okay to be scared of the things you can’t control, but if you have a little faith in the risks that you’re taking, you’re going to be just fine.

Lesson 2: You’re not going to get along with everyone that you work with and that’s okay

When I applied for my first job at an ice cream parlor in my hometown, I put “works well with others” to make sure my future employer knew I could be a team player. But if my future employer had asked “how well do you work with students from all over the U.S. of every race, religion and socioeconomic status?” then I’d probably struggle to come up with an answer.

In completing the entire high ropes course in order to capture Cadets at work, I was told that I now held the course record for longest completion time ever. Photo by Steffanie Hampton

I didn’t hand select the other twenty-something interns that have worked for the Public Affairs Office. These Cadets aren’t at liberty to choose the other 30-something Cadets in their platoon. These are the people your Cadet has gone arm-in-arm with through the gas chamber, the people who yell “I’ve got you covered, battle buddy!” during small unit tactics, and the same people who belay for them while they rappel 64 feet in the air.

You’re not going to get along with everyone. You’re not going to have the same work ethic as everyone. Not everyone is going to understand why you like to be 15 minutes early to an exercise that lasts all day, and that’s okay.

Learning how to work with people completely opposite of you is part of life. Do you really think telling a drill sergeant “I’m sorry, I can’t do this ambush. Emily has been complaining all day about her poison ivy and I can’t work with her anymore,” is going to end smoothly? Do you think telling your supervisor your partner’s timeliness is too dissimilar and that you request a new partner immediately is going to solve anything?

I’m going to say it again. You’re not going to get along with everyone and that’s okay. After two weeks in the field I’m sure just the sound of someone else eating would be enough for me to snap, but that’s life. In the end, you all have the same goal in mind, whether that’s getting the perfect shot, performing a successful reconnaissance mission or even preparing a PowerPoint presentation for your CAS 100 class. Choosing whether or not you’re willing to adapt to ensure the mission is or isn’t accomplished is up to you.

Lesson 3: You’re not going to please everyone

Before I became a photographer and writer for the PAO, I spent my first three weeks at Fort Knox working with our social media team to promote the products my fellow interns were producing. This included managing Cadet Command’s Twitter page, Instagram, Flickr, Youtube and Facebook in addition to responding to messages from concerned parents, looking for proof their Cadet made it to CST.

Family Day, the 12-mile ruck march and CBRN were some of my favorite events to cover.

Something that I noticed right away, despite the hundreds of pictures the interns were posting daily to Flickr and to Facebook, was that not every parent would find pictures of their child. With 8,200 Cadets divided into 18 regiments, it’s easy for faces to escape the lens of a camera.

Thirty-one days is a long time. Sure, your Cadets have been away longer than that while they’re off pursuing an education, but at least they have the means to communicate instantaneously if needed. Here, however, their communication with the outside world is significantly limited, so it’s no surprise that parents follow the Cadet Command’s social media platforms religiously as a means to see their son or daughter’s face.

There have been days when I’ve covered CBRN or the rappel tower and I’ve left feeling as if I’ve gotten over 100 killer shots of Cadets living it up at CST. Despite this, a hopeful parent will look through the hundreds of pictures only to find out their Cadet didn’t make the frame. It hurts to know that, despite your best efforts, there are parents feeling upset with a lack of photographic evidence their child is doing alright. I use this disappointment, however, as a means of motivation to go out to every exercise and strive to capture as many sweaty, dirty, smiling faces as possible.

Something similar can be found out in the middle of the FTX lanes. A platoon leader may feel that their plan of attack is flawless or even praise-worthy, but time and time again their fellow Cadets might provide criticism or doubt. Instead of ignoring criticism and advice, a good leader should learn from the people he or she is leading and take into account all possible points of view. You never know, it could mean the difference between life or death.

Lesson 4: There is life without wifi and cell service

Some Cadets made it look SO easy.

The moment I stepped onto Fort Knox I made the mistake of asking my supervisor if there was a wifi password for the post. Not only did he laugh at my question, but he responded saying “wifi isn’t a basic necessity for the Cadets to succeed and neither is it for you.” Coming here a social media intern, I was quick to remind him that yes, yes I do need wifi to manage the various social media accounts, but he told me I was missing the point.

At Penn State, we have the luxury of walking around the entire campus reading Buzzfeed articles or listening to Spotify without using an ounce of data. Here, however, I was quick to realize that if I were to spare my parents the pain of getting charged additionally for data usage on our phone bill, I was going to have to keep data turned off for the majority of my time here.

As quick as I was to feel sorry for myself and the fact that I could no longer troll Facebook and Instagram whenever it pleased me, I realized how little time, if it all, Cadets could spend texting or calling loved ones back home. And if you asked them half-way through their time at CST about it, some would tell you they forgot they even had a phone.

The Cadre members from CBRN used to point to me and say “You see that intern? She’s been in the gas chamber twice. If anyone chickens out I will never let you live it down.”

The odd thing is, these Cadets were thriving without their phones in front of them. In a place where communication means the world, having a shiny black screen in front of them would only hinder their success as Cadets. Not only do these Cadets learn the importance of face-to-face communication, but they also learn how to navigate difficult terrain without the use of Google maps.

You miss more than you think when your time is solely dedicated to updating your followers with pictures of food and your goofy pets. Do yourself a favor: put down the phone, smell the roses, actually ask someone about their day, and if you don’t feel refreshed, by all means, watch another video of parkouring goats.

I’m sure after simply talking to your Cadets about their experience at CST, lessons they’ve learned and the skills they’ve developed, I have no doubt you too will begin to develop a better appreciation for the hard work that goes into becoming a future leader of America.

As my time here at Fort Knox comes to an end, I know that despite not being a Cadet myself, I too have grown over these past few weeks in ways I’ll never quite be able to put into words. I had the pleasure of interacting with your Cadets as they too grew and overcame every obstacle thrown at them during their time at CST. And for that, I will always be thankful for my time at Fort Knox.

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Emily Peacock

Originally from Worcester, MA, Emily Peacock is a rising senior at Penn State majoring in public relations and psychology. Emily is spending the summer as a Public Affairs intern for Cadet Summer Training, working as a photographer and writer. In addition to her time at Fort Knox, Emily has also served as the media relations director for Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism's trip to document the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games for the Associated Press. Emily is also a tour guide at Penn State and is an avid member of the club cross country team.

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