By Roland Hesmondhalghm, ROTC Cadet
As an ROTC Cadet, there may be times when you think you are alone among thousands of other Cadets. It’s true that you might not know anyone outside of your friend group, but you should never feel isolated.
During every mission, every exercise and every patrol, you have constant companionship. There are those around you who 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.
The next time you go on patrol consider these creatures and give thanks to your Cadre for learning the hard way, so you don’t have to.
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 rare 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 and 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.”
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 wo
unds that appear to be caused by a small ice cream scoop. While stationed in Iraq, Colonel Christopher Belcher discovered that 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.
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’s not a bad idea to consider nature as another OPFOR (opposing force)—especially when you are lying down for the night.