By Roland Hesmondhalghm, ROTC Cadet
Florida Tech provides more than books, lectures, and mentors—it provides access to hundreds of career-enhancing internships. These internships can be lucrative practice runs to earn professional experience without the liabilities of permanent employment if things don’t work out.”
The Beginnings: The Florida Tech Crimson
Last semester, I took a one-credit course that included writing for The Crimson, Florida Tech’s campus newspaper. I immediately visited the Florida Tech college of Military Science to ask if I could cover their activities for The Crimson.
Lieutenant Colonel Terrence O’Connor and the other members of the ROTC Cadre gave me a universally warm welcome and lightly restricted access to cadets. I was free to report on their training and any other newsworthy activities or accomplishments—this led to my internship.
Midway through the following summer semester, Captain Sheiloh Carlos of Florida Tech ROTC telephoned to ask if I would be interested in a journalism internship with the Public Affairs Office (PAO) at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The PAO internships usually coincide with the Summer Cadet Training from May through August—when thousands of ROTC Cadets from colleges and universities across the United States attend Basic Camp or mandatory Advanced Camp.
Since I was taking summer classes, I received permission to attend the internship for several weeks in July. Within four days, I received my roundtrip travel itinerary and a welcome packet containing a suggested packing list, directions to Ft. Knox, a chart showing Insignia of the United States Army, a factually impaired list of on-base dining options, and four paragraphs outlining the intern dress code.
The PAO Internship: Intern Training & Responsibilities
The Cadet Command internship was a mix of journalism and military science. My job was to file daily articles and photos on the cadets and their training as publicity and to reassure parents that their sons and daughters weren’t being thrown into spike pits or dismembered by drill sergeants. The PAO interns serve as a link between the Cadets and their families. I couldn’t count how many Cadets would come up and ask after they saw my camera if I could take a picture so their family would know they’re okay.
PAO interns received training for two weeks before being placed into teams. Each team consisted of three members: photographer, videographer, and writer. Teams worked five days on and two days off.
Same-day deadlines were routine, and work product was tightly controlled. Topics covered everything from Cadet marksmanship or visits from former and current Army Generals, to equipment inspection.
There were two questions interns were required to ask everyone they interviewed: “What is the activity here today?” and “How does this activity impact a Cadet’s training and future?”
Articles followed a predictable template of narration, quote, quote, narration. Rinse, spin, repeat.
The emphasis was on total uniformity—and it wasn’t difficult to imagine a software program or robot eliminating the need for the PAO interns in 20 years.
A Day in the Life of a PAO Intern: Meals, Transportation, & Fort Knox
For meals, interns were authorized to eat at only one of the cafeterias or DFAC (Dining Facility). I managed a single meal at the DFAC. I overheard many cadets complaining about the quality, texture, and taste of the food. Complaints were dismissed by officers with the response, “If the food tastes bad, you just haven’t been in the field long enough.” Cadets learned to go heavy on the hot sauce or ketchup and light on the chewing.
Except for two occasions when I bummed a ride, I marched six miles from my barracks to the office every day in business casual attire. Once I finished my assignments for the day, I took the same route back. A twelve mile journey each day. I can confidently state that I could qualify for the marching portion of the Cadet RECONDO badge having trudged a total 127 miles in the pottery kiln known as the Kentucky Summer.
Fort Knox may be fully fenced off from the surrounding area, but the wildlife is plentiful and indifferent to the presence of the Cadets training. I saw snakes, spiders, deer, beavers, birds, and an apocalyptic amount of ticks.
My Personal Experience: Covering High Ropes Training, An Inspection by a Lieutenant General, & More
While at the internship, I covered Alt-C rifle qualification twice, an inspection by a Lieutenant General, rappel tower training, high ropes training, obstacle courses, fireteam movement, and equipment check-in.
When I covered the high ropes course, I saw how officer interaction was supposed to play out. The high ropes course is a straight-line obstacle course 40 feet off the ground. It’s constructed so that once you start, the only way down is by finishing—you can’t crawl down or go back. A female Cadet broke down in tears during the course. She was terrified and couldn’t move past the midway point—but the officers and instructors taught and supported this Cadet so she could succeed.
Midway through my internship, I was assigned as support photography when a three-star general came to inspect a regiment of cadets. I’d never met an actual general before. I was so thrilled I had the jitters the night before. I wore my best shirt, shaved twice, and did everything except bring flowers for the man.
The Pros & Cons of the Internship
Interns were paid at the official Department of Defense local per diem rate for meals and incidentals, but there were intangible benefits from the experience.
Interns were provided with professional grade equipment including GoPro cameras, Cannon EOS Rebel 7D or 4D cameras, access to the full Adobe Creative Suite, boom microphones, etc. There was the opportunity to learn from professional-grade staff. One of the most talented was Sergeant Rodney Roldan. In the civilian world, Roldan’s production company and awards were listed on IMDB.com. His skills in videography and editing were amazing and well beyond what I had expected.
The PAO internship program did have a few rough edges. After each mission, raw video and photos had to be dumped into a LaCie Drive (a massive 20-plus terabyte hard drive). When the interns returned each day to begin uploading data for editing and collaborating, the connection to LaCie would slow, chug, or stop completely. It felt like she would gauge her mischief by how important the assignments were or how little time we had left. LaCie would occasionally refuse to disgorge a finished product or just sever all communications between computers and herself.
For someone interested in journalism, ROTC, or who just enjoys writing, I recommend this internship. Yes, the food is terrible and there will be culture shock. But you get to see Army life without contractual obligations and can hone your craft with professional deadlines and equipment—that’s not something you can normally do until after you’ve finished college.