USD cadets earn top honor

USD cadets earn top honor
The University of South Dakota's ROTC senior cadets received a high honor.

The cadets have been ranked No. 1 for small and medium universities in the nation. This ranking comes after their performance at the annual Leadership Development and Assessment Course, which is held during the summer at Fort Lewis, WA.

At LDAC, cadets are evaluated on a number of areas, including physical fitness, their skill level in shooting, land navigation and leadership abilities. They are scored throughout the 32-day event, with comparisons of other universities tallied by the fall.

Lt. Col. Richard Plette, professor of military science at USD, said the cadets scored higher than usual this year.

"This is a spike," Plette said. "Normally you have one, two, three cadets peaking and doing very well. This year was an extremely good year, where you had a handful of them – more than half of them – doing extremely well."

This past summer, USD ROTC sent nine cadets to LDAC, and six of them received the highest possibleTurn to cadets on Page 10

rating, an "excellent." Four of them were also ranked as being one of the top five cadets in their platoons.

Of all small-to-medium universities in the nation, USD had the highest percentage of cadets who received the excellent rating, as well as the highest percentage of cadets in the top five of their platoons.

Plette said only one other school, Iowa State University, out-performed the USD ROTC, regardless of the size of the school. Of all the cadets who participated in last summer's LDAC, only 23 percent of them received excellent ratings, and only 10 percent were rated in the top five of their platoons.

Five of USD's nine cadets who attended LDAC were also named Distinguished Military Graduates.

"It's an award that you have to be in the top 20 percent of cadets in the country, and you also have to be ranked in the top third of your home school's academic class," Plette said.

Being named a DMG is also the highest honor that an ROTC cadet can achieve. The USD cadets who achieved this honor were Nathan Becker, Tyler Neuharth, Brian Varns, Benjamin Wetherell and 2nd Lt. Christopher Hayes.

The 57 percent selection rate of USD's DMGs is best in the nation for small and medium universities, and fourth for universities overall, regardless of size, Plette said.

The LDAC is the culminating experience in the ROTC for cadets, Plette said.

"Everything they've been taught for those first three years, they go to Fort Lewis and demonstrate their competency and their leadership abilities those 32 days," he said.

More than 5,000 ROTC cadets and National Guard officer candidates from across the nation attend LDAC each summer. It consists of 15 separate cycles, the first beginning in June, the last concluding in August. Thirteen of the cycles are reserved for ROTC, while the others are for National Guard.

LDAC finishes with a four-day patrolling event that provides cadets with practical experience in leading soldiers. According to the Army's official Web site, "Patrolling builds on and reinforces all previous instruction, and teaches cadets the basics of air assault operations."

LDAC has been held in Fort Lewis since 1993. Plette said the performance of the cadets at the most recent LDAC has added credibility to USD's ROTC program.

"Obviously, they ultimately have to perform the task themselves, but we give them the tools and information and knowledge and training to perform at that high of a level," he said.

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