Always by Your Side

By Roland Hesmondhalgh

As an ROTC Cadet, there may be times when you think you are alone among the thousands of other Cadets. It’s true you might not know anyone outside of your group of friends, but you should never feel isolated.

Throughout every mission, every exercise, and every patrol, you will have constant companionship. You will never be ignored or forgotten. Always remember that those around you will constantly watch to get your back. Or your legs. Or any exposed skin really.

Your fellow Cadets and Cadre can be relied on to accompany you during your time in ROTC, but don’t forget about the local wildlife. There are snakes, ticks, plants, and many other hostile creatures.

Expect to march through terrain considered unfit for anything other than vistas. You’ll never be in any danger during your exercises but if you’re careless, you could find yourself in an aid tent awaiting medical treatment for any number of bites or bruises. Medical treatment, as well as Army fieldcraft, has come a long way since your Cadre began their military career.

The next time you go on patrol consider these creatures, and give thanks to your Cadre for learning the hard way, so you won’t have to.

Brown Recluse Spider (Photo by Wikimedia)

Brown Recluse Spiders

The Brown Recluse spider is a common insect in the mid-eastern U.S. While bites from this spider are uncommon, the Brown Recluse carries a potent venom. In even rarer cases, necrosis, the premature death of living cells, can occur as a result of the bite. Lt. Col Terrence O’Connor of Florida Tech ROTC was one of those rare cases after being bitten in the left calf. “I was lucky, not only did my bite get necrotic, but because of where I was, the Ranger medics in training used me as a case study,” said Lt. Col O’Connor. “Every day someone would scoop out the dead flesh, wipe away the discharge, and apply a bandage. Then someone new would come by and do it the next day.” Without treatment, necrosis can spread and become threatening. Brown Recluse spiders have very short fangs, and unless pressed directly on skin, they’re unable to penetrate clothing. Check your clothing each day to avoid unwanted passengers.


Chiggers, or Trombiculidae for the technically inclined, are mites native to more than half the U.S. They normally infest human skin around areas in contact with vegetation such as pant cuffs, sleeves, and collars if bug spray is not appropriately applied. The bites themselves are not noticeable, but symptoms such as red rings and swelling occur one to three hours after. Following the initial symptoms, severe prolonged itching occurs. “Back when I was a private, I didn’t know anything about fieldcraft. Not knowing any better, I took off my uniform and made myself a nice bed of pine needles before I laid down one night,” said Cadet Command Deputy Public Affairs Officer Richard Patterson. “My C.O. woke me about four hours later and I was covered in red blisters. Every part of me itched like you wouldn’t believe, and I mean every part. On a pain scale, it’s only about a two. But imagine a constant two that’s so bad you can’t even sleep,” said Patterson. The treatments for then Private Patterson were daily full body coatings in calamine lotion. “After the first few days, they just handed me the bucket of lotion and said you do it.”C

My legs after taking a short unfortunate nap in an area with regular fleas.

Sand Fleas

Sand fleas, also known as Chigoes or Tunga Penetrans, are the smallest known flea. Common to sub-tropical climates and northern Africa, they typically live two to five centimeters below the surface of sand. Sand Fleas burrow into flesh causing wounds that appear to be caused by a small ice cream scoop. While stationed in Iraq, Colonel Christopher Belcher discovered you don’t need to be outside to be swarmed by native wildlife. “I had set up bedding in an abandoned hangar and went to sleep one night without giving it a second thought,” said Belcher. Skipping the colorful details, when Colonel Belcher awoke, he discovered sand fleas had eaten their way up to his chest. Medics were needed for several days of treatment.

Poison Ivy

Any Cadet or Cadre who has every grabbed a random leafy plant after doing their business in the field and discovered it was poison ivy will tell you the same thing, “Don’t.” When you’re out in the field you can’t always expect to be fully supplied. It’s important to learn the local ecology so you can recognize what is useful or poisonous. There are several plants that share identifying traits with poison ivy at first glance. Would you know the difference between poison ivy and a blackberry bush? What about if there were no trees around or it was at night?

Remember to watch where you step during your time as a Cadet and use the tools and knowledge at your disposal to have a safe and productive experience. It may sound corny, but it’s not a bad idea to consider nature as another OPFOR (opposing force). Especially when you are lying down for the night.

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