By: Jacob Cantz – Public Affairs Assistant, AFROTC Detachment 643
“I haven’t had any other experience quite like LEAD,” said Cadet Timothy Hanson upon returning from Leadership Evaluation And Development this summer. LEAD is the capstone program of the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program (AFROTC), and is a rigorous course meant to test the limits of a cadet’s physical and mental strength.
Hanson was one of 13 cadets from Dayton’s AFROTC Detachment 643, located at Wright State University, to travel to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. this summer for the course.
“Being a leader for a group of people from so many different walks of life, while in such a stressful environment, was a learning experience like no other,” he reflected.
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Thousands of college students from across the country converge on Maxwell AFB yearly to face the challenges of LEAD. There, they face a three-to-four-week program designed to train and evaluate them in their potential to become Air Force officers. It is just another step for these students, or cadets, in their ROTC journey.
ROTC is one of the three officer training and evaluation programs in the Air Force. Some recruits attend the US Air Force Academy upon graduation from high school, and others graduate college before entering Officer Training School.
ROTC, however, is the largest of all the commissioning sources. And LEAD is the gate through which all cadets must pass in order to become officers. Some cadets spend their entire freshmen and sophomore years learning the basic military and leadership skills necessary to be successful at LEAD.
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Hanson, who is a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, drew upon the skills and motivations he soaked up during his first two years of ROTC right at the get-go of LEAD.
“Upon arriving at LEAD, my first reaction was that it was going to be really tough,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone around me and it was very high speed everywhere we went.”
Following those first steps off the bus, training begins immediately. As training progresses, cadets are kept under constant pressure. Officers in the Air Force are often expected to be able to perform and lead under stressful conditions. As a result, the training does its best to simulate those kinds of environments. Motivation has to remain high, and Hanson spoke on how he kept his.
“My biggest motivation to get through LEAD was my father,” he said. “On the first day of training I was notified that he was about to undergo an emergency surgery. It was really hard, but my main motivation was to push on and make him proud.”
No matter how long or tough the days can get, eventually these cadets do graduate. They graduate with their heads held high, with lessons learned that will never leave them–lessons that will be alongside them for the rest of their careers.
“The most important lesson that I learned from LEAD was that the most important leadership trait, above all, is being genuine,” Hanson said. “Anyone can check off the boxes of how to be a ‘good leader.’ True leaders, that people actually want to follow, genuinely care for their people.”
While the environment in LEAD is intense, cadets do leave with good memories and lifelong friends.
“My most memorable moment was probably during one of the scenarios we did while at AEF (Air Expeditionary Force),” Hanson explained. “A couple of my close flight mates and I were assigned to be a roving patrol and we were simulating suicide bombings. My close friend Remson and I decided to make the scenario as realistic as possible so we were yelling and screaming as loud as we could in the medical outpost. It really messed with the cadets who were assigned to medical but it was pretty funny.”
Hanson and his fellow LEAD graduates will now move on to the final portion of their ROTC training known as the Professional Officer Course. This entails greater involvement in the detachment. Many of them will be given leadership positions in the cadet wing.
As it turns out, Hanson is now a flight commander for underclassmen learning skills for LEAD the way he did just a year ago.
Photo Courtesy of Tim Hanson