Last Updated: July 3rd, 2024By

FORT KNOX, KENTUCKY– In the depths of a challenging field environment, Cadets with 3rd Regiment, Advanced Camp, go through the Panther Phase portion of the Field Training Exercise on Fort Knox, July 3, 2024. The Panther Phase of the FTX is designed to push cadets to their limits, cultivating their critical thinking and creativity under immense stress. Courtney Johnson, a Cadet from the University of Pittsburgh, reflects on the profound impact this training has had on her development.


“We are brought out here in this environment, we’re sleeping in the field,” said Johnson. “There’s already a good amount of stress because we’re being evaluated, and we also have, all these years of work that we have three hours to show.” The high-pressure setting of the FTX demands that cadets demonstrate their learning and skills within a constrained timeframe, often among simulated threats such as improvised explosive devices, ambushes, and flanking maneuvers.


For Cadet Johnson, the exercise has been a journey of “leveling up” in handling these challenges. She emphasizes that the training is about more than just physical endurance. “Building that creative thinking under unmeasurable amounts of stress is what we’re really out here to do,” said Johnson. The combination of tactical scenarios and environmental hardships pushes cadets to think on their feet and adapt swiftly.


One of the key strengths Cadet Johnson identifies within her platoon is their strong sense of connection and trust. “From day one, we did a really great job of team building,” said Johnson. “Getting to know everybody because that I believe is what really sets a platoon apart.” This camaraderie enhances communication and coordination, essential for their success in the field. However, she also acknowledges that their weakness lies in fully understanding and leveraging each other’s strengths and weaknesses, a challenge they continuously strive to overcome.


Courtney highlights the importance of discipline, particularly noise discipline, as a critical takeaway from the training. “Noise discipline, it’s the most important thing out here.” Said Johnson. “Walking through the woods in the patrol base, even using the latrines, like noise discipline, it’s so important. And the way that we communicate without speaking – our arm and hand signals – all of that comes down to individual discipline as well, which helps our platoon discipline.” Noise Discipline refers to the strategic management of noise levels to avoid detection by potential threats.

Cadet Johnson’s journey through the Army ROTC program displays her determination and passion for service. When asked why she joined ROTC, she shares, “I wanted a job that would allow me to explore my creative thinking skills, my critical thinking skills, but also give me a purpose that’s bigger than myself,” said Johnson. “When I explored all of my options, the United States Army was really the only thing that called to that.”


As she approaches graduation and her commissioning in October, Cadet Johnson has clear goals for her military career. She aims to join Military Intelligence with a branch detail in Field Artillery, and eventually hopes to work in Psychological Operations. “PsyOps is basically just a lot of human intelligence,” said Johnson. “Learning how and the ways that the enemy reacts to certain things that we do and implementing and integrating different skills and tasks to help the United States military defend against enemies.”


Cadet Johnson’s journey is made even more remarkable by her role as a mother. Her daughter, Clara, is set to turn six months old on the day of her graduation. Balancing the demands of ROTC training with motherhood is not an easy task, but Johnson draws immense motivation from her family. “Everything I do here is for my family and for her,” said Johnson. “I’m here and I’m telling myself, ‘Okay, I have to do it for Clara.’”


The separation from her daughter is undoubtedly challenging, but it fuels her determination. “I have had no issue with motivation because everything I do here is for my family and for her. I want her to know when she grows up that as a young woman, you can conquer anything as long as you put your mind to it.”


Cadet Johnson’s story is one of dedication and the unwavering pursuit of excellence. Her experience in the ROTC program, particularly through the Panther Phase, has not only honed her skills as a future Army Officer but also reinforced the values she wishes to impart to her daughter. As she prepares to embark on her military career, Cadet Johnson embodies the spirit of service and the strength of character that defines the US Army.

About the Author: Ayiana Andrella