The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    School first…soldier always

    Slideshow by Emmalee Rathmann of the weekend at Fort McCoy

    FORT McCOY – The eight-person squad blitzed through the light forest, crushing pine needles as they threw themselves behind trees for cover.

    Firing a few rounds from M-4 assault rifles to allow others in the squad to advance, they jump up and scramble forward, closer to the enemy.

    And the high-pitched screech in their left ear meant they were dead.

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    Or, at least, out of the game.
    That’s how UW-Eau Claire senior Sarah Comeau spent Saturday. A cadet in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, she took part in a Field Training Exercise (FTX) weekend.
    The screech is the MILES gear, a high-tech game of laser tag allowing the Army to determine who ‘dies’ and who survives in mock combat.

    Comeau’s squad orders were to take an enemy cache point by force and preserve civilian life in the area.

    Advancing with painted faces, necks and hands and rifles belching blanks, the squad secured the location after a brief firefight. A few squad members escorted the civilians away from the cache point.

    MREs and Army jokes

    A 23-year-old marketing major, Comeau entered the ROTC program two years ago, but she didn’t take the normal way.

    In fact, she said she took the most abnormal route.

    Most people join out of high school and gradually learn through the four-year program.

    Comeau joined her junior year through an extension made available by UW-La Crosse, whose students made up the majority of the weekend’s cadets.

    She still travels to La Crosse on Thursdays for the ROTC curriculum. Originally, she had to travel to La Crosse in the early morning for PT – physical training – but eventually tested out and no longer attends.

    After setting up base camp, the cadets began daytime navigation. Comeau laid the map on a tree stump, plotting points on a topographic map using only longitude and latitude and a variation of a protractor.

    Returning to the camp, the cadets received orders from the cadre, the officers in command, to grab some “chow” – not food – and to check their feet, setting the stage for a good Army joke.

    The Army solves all its problems by drinking water and changing socks, Comeau said. Have a stomachache? Drinking some water and changing your socks will fix it, she joked.

    The Army’s insistence on maintenance of feet is for a good reason, Comeau said.

    “If you can’t walk, you’re out of commission,” she said.

    Cadets tear open their chow while leaning on trees and stripping off combat harnesses. Their meals, called MREs, or Meals-Ready-to-Eat, quickly disappear as they tend to their feet. The cadets rummage through their MREs while repairing their feet.

    Slurping a strawberry shake containing 470 calories and 19 grams of fat, Major Eric Bernstein, one of the officers in charge of the weekend, said each MRE consists of about 2,800 to 3,200 calories.

    Most typical daily caloric intakes consist of about 2,500 calories. But a soldier, active up to 23 hours a day, may use 9,000 calories a day, Bernstein said.

    Each MRE contains various snacks, which are usually traded and bargained for among the cadets, Comeau said.

    For example, when in the field, she manages to eat a bag of M&Ms everyday. Pastas, white rice and oatmeal cookies are her favorite meals, but there are a few items she avoids.

    “(The) meat products kind of make me weary,” she said with a smile.

    Through all this, she seems at ease, comfortable in her surroundings.

    But she wasn’t always that way.

    The last few years

    People who know Comeau best say she’s changed quite a bit since her high school days.

    “Sarah definitely has more confidence now (than) when she was in high school,” said Patricia Comeau, Sarah’s mother. “She would exude confidence, but it was almost more of an act. Now I feel like she acts confident, and she is confident inside and outside.”

    Cadet Erin Peterfeso, a senior at Viterbo University in La Crosse, said anyone who knew Comeau from high school would be surprised to learn she joined the military.

    Even so, “for only having … two years in the program, she’s come a long way,” Peterfeso said, adding she and Comeau twice ran the Twin Cities Marathon together.

    Comeau agreed the military has changed her.

    “I did things that I never ever would have done if I wouldn’t have joined the military.” Her fear of heights is now gone, and strenuous obstacle courses are no problem for her.

    Chelsey Williams, a friend and first class cadet at the U.S. Military Academy, said she became instant friends with Comeau while training in Texas. Williams said Comeau maintains a positive and contagious attitude about the Army.

    Ironically, Comeau said the military has made her more feminine. The uniforms aren’t exactly flattering, she said with a glance down, and that motivates her to look even better out of uniform.

    Seems like it worked – Comeau has been dating Mason Phelps, a first class cadet at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the last six months.

    “She’s got a very good head on her shoulders,” Phelps said. “She’s going to make a great officer.

    “There’s a lot of girls out there … that don’t really (know) much about the military and you have to explain the military. Sarah understands everything I’m going through.

    “She’s a very cute girl and she’s got a lot going for her.”

    After a long and strenuous three days at Fort McCoy, Comeau ended the weekend by taking a bath and sleeping for 14 hours.

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    School first…soldier always