Local 5 goes to Boot Camp

Local News

FORT MCCOY, Wis. (WFRV) – For three rigorous days, Local 5’s John Domol will join up with the Wisconsin Army Cadets as they welcome over 200 Wisconsin students to Fort McCoy.

(More on the cadet program here)

Over the course of the weekend, these students will learn what it takes to survive the U.S. Army.

They’ll experience life in the barracks, early morning PT, M.R.E.s, marching drills, and much much more.

Domol will be documenting the entire experience real-time online in this article as well as on Facebook throughout the mini-boot camp (5/17-5/19).

Be sure to check back often!

The full story will air Wednesday, May 22 at 10 p.m.

Follow the weekend

Blog updates: Right here in this article; it will be updated regularly.

Live video updates: Facebook live here: https://www.facebook.com/wfrvlocal5/

Quick updates: Twitter: https://twitter.com/wfrvlocal5

Photos: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wfrvlocal5

Any advice?

Vets, have any pointers for John? Join the conversation in the Facebook post below!

Not only will Domol be covering the story online all weekend, but he will also be live on-air.

Check the broadcast schedule below:

FRIDAY4:30 p.m.5:00 p.m.6:00 p.m.
SATURDAY  6:00 p.m.
SUNDAY6:00 a.m.6:30 a.m.7:00 a.m.

NOTE: All individuals are participating voluntarily. They have all agreed to appear online and on-air.

Jump to the live blog here

2019 US Army Cadets Xperience Wrap-up

More than 140 scouts (a good number coming from our area) converged on Ft. McCoy for the longest weekend of their lives.

“We started the Army Cadets Xperience about 24 years ago out of a desire for Boy Scouts troops that wanted to come to Ft. McCoy and experience a little bit about what the military had to offer,” said Col. Brian Blahnik of the Wisconsin Army Cadets.

It started out nicely enough–with a ‘luxurious’ joy ride around post in a Blackhawk.

And then reality set in.

“I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I was extremely nervous because I didn’t know what to expect,” said Kimberly Dahl of the Scouts.

“I imagined to myself, ‘This seems like a prison camp,'” said Trent Stephens, another Scout.

After being checked in by the friendliest staff in the world, everyone scrambled and sprinted to their beds.

But there was a method to the madness.

“Just understand what it takes to become a soldier,” said Col. Blahnik. “We can’t do that in two or three days, but we can give them a taste of it.”

No sooner than our heads hit our pillows, our ‘alarms’ went off and we were back at it.

“I don’t normally wake up at 5 a.m., so I was extremely tired and it was kind of brutal,” said Dahl.

From there, we became all we could be.

We marched in formation, learned how to read maps (because paper never loses signal), how to respect and protect our weapons, how to treat wounds, and properly camouflage ourselves.

Originally, this weekend was just for the boys.

“When I was growing up, I really wanted to be a Boy Scout and I couldn’t because I was a girl,” said Beth Dow with the Scouts, BSA. “And I was really disappointed in that. My daughter–who’s 12–can now do the things that I couldn’t do when I was her age.”

And now that girls are becoming a bigger part of the program, the ‘Cadets Xperience’ is taking on more kids than ever before.

“Males or females, when you go to basic training, it’s basic training. It isn’t ‘basic training for males’ or ‘basic training for females.’ It’s basic training,” said Blahnik. “And so if we can get as close to that experience as we can with the environment that they’re in, with the people that they’re serving with and training with, then we’re doing the right thing.”

And the ladies are proud to be a part of it.

“It’s just everybody’s experience,” said Dahl. “It’s not just boys. It’s not boy stuff. It’s everybody’s stuff.”

All of the lessons of leadership culminated in a combat scenario out in the woods.

And that is where the disciplinary transformation takes hold.

“You see it happen. Just because you put them in an environment that they’re uncomfortable in,” said Alex Switzer, a US Army Cadet. “They’re not sleeping when they want, they’re not eating when they want. If you take all their amenities away, it kind of forces them to be on our clock. And we make them move fast.”

As it all came to an end, the kids came out on the other side with a greater appreciation for those that serve.

“I was getting yelled at. A lot,” said Dahl. “But it was all worth it.”

“We accomplished something really neat, we did something great, and we want to do it again next year,” said Col. Blahnik.

If you’re interested in next year’s Army Cadets Xperience, you can contact the head of the program at brian.blahnik@gocadets.org and learn more of what’s expected at here.


We’ve arrived!

FRIDAY 5/17/2019 09:30 

Photographer Don Roznowski and I have arrived at Fort McCoy.

We’re getting checked in and heading to the helipad for a Black Hawk ride very soon!


Black Hawk up

FRIDAY 5/17/2019 10:46

The first group of cadets is heading up in a Black Hawk to experience what it’s like riding in a military helicopter.

We’re next and we’ll be live streaming it the whole time here: https://www.facebook.com/wfrvlocal5/


View from the sky

FRIDAY 5/17/2019 11:58

We made our flight around Fort McCoy with a group of young army cadets. It was quite the experience.

Watch the edited version in the video below or the extended cut on the Facebook Live post.


Moving In

FRIDAY 5/17/2019 14:00

The scouts are still expected to show up in around four hours. Colonel Brian Blahnik of the Wisconsin Army Cadets says their reactions exiting the bus could possibly be the best part of the weekend.

We’ve been escorted around post with Corporal Madison Skalmusky–she’s serving in the Army National Guard, but promoting the boot camp program this weekend. Without her, we can’t move. So, when you give your chaperone a time to meet, you best be ready.

Our living arrangements are the same as the scouts. Don Roznowski and I are sleeping in one of the many barracks on post, just a doorframe away from dozens of scouts (who’ll be given a rude awakening come 5 a.m). We’re sharing the room with one other person, so he, unfortunately, will have to pardon our mess of wires as we make sure our gear is juiced. 

The dining experience was typical–if you’ve ever eaten in a cafeteria, you can already picture the taste of the food and the aesthetic. That will seem like fine-dining come Saturday, as MREs become our only delicacy for the remainder of the visit.

The scouts are coming in from all directions of Wisconsin, with a good amount heading in from the Fox Cities. We’ll be talking about what to expect in our afternoon newscasts with some of the program’s planners.


What’s in store

FRIDAY 5/17/19 16:30

Colonel Brian Blahnik of the Wisconsin Army Cadets explained to me exactly what the scouts will be participating in throughout the weekend.

Watch our conversation below.


Map Reading and MREs

FRIDAY 5/17/2019 17:13

In a world reliant on GPS, the cadets preview a course with me live on-air that scouts will be sitting in on: Map Reading.

This is a class I’ll definitely be sitting in the back of the room for hoping that I’m not chosen as the teacher’s helper.

And what’s all this about MREs being unappetizing…it actually wasn’t all that bad!

Watch my first ever taste of an MRE in the clip below.


“Welcome” to Fort McCoy

FRIDAY 5/17/2019 19:56

Initiation A.K.A. the “Shark Attack”

FRIDAY 5/17/2019 20:34

Troops from Manitowoc, Two Rivers, Appleton, De Pere and so on got their first brush with boot camp.

Before being funneled into buses, a switch was flipped and all friendliness went by the wayside. Our language became rich with shouting. Several kids cried as they underwent a sort of shock therapy to their sensibilities. 

My group of 50 people was the second to find its barracks, and the fun begins again Saturday, dark and early at around 5 a.m. for PT. Cardio is not my strong suit, so there’s a distinct possibility I’ll lose out to someone half my age out here.



SATURDAY 5/18/2019 05:00

Some groups showed up to boot camp as late as 10 p.m., which means the morning was about to hit them a little harder. The trash cans in the barracks are metal, and about to become the drill instructors’ instruments of terror. Luckily, I was awake ahead of it, so I was spared from their bloodlust.

A few minutes rolled past 5 a.m. when the sounds of shouting and banging trash lids pierced the halls of all three barracks. Most of the scouts–fast asleep in dreamland–either flew upright or out of bed, onto the ground, scrambling to attention.

This is one of the first years for girls to participate in the ‘Army Cadets Xperience’, though you could have fooled me. Out of about 140 scouts, only about a dozen are female and they’re here with a purpose. Drill instructors pointed out that nearly all of the ladies were showing up the guys–they were punctual and rarely had to be told twice.

Everyone hobbled out of bed and into PT gear for some morning aerobics. From there, we marched a mile down the road to the mess halls for some chow (sometimes lovingly referred to as ‘slop’).


Boot in the Keister

SATURDAY 5/18/2019 12:00

For better or worse, breakfast was served. Now, it’s time for the scouts to deepen their leadership skills through a series of courses. 

(Rubber) weapons training showed the groups how to respect a weapon. Keep the muzzle down and fingers off the triggers. The instructors wanted it clear that this isn’t an action movie and any lapse in maturity can cause problems.

Across the street, they learned how to read maps because (shockingly) paper never loses signal. Versatility is a trait of any leader worth her salt, so being able to plot the best course forward is vital for a scout. Corporal Andrew Heidl also squeezed the phonetic alphabet into his course (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie…) because why not?

Finally, everyone took to the woods for first-aid and camouflage training. Students learned how to wrap a tourniquet, clot bleeding, and potentially save a life–another survival tactic useable in any field of life. Soon, we’ll be tearing into our hearty and healthy MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and I’m sure the reviews will be positive. Not really. We’ll see how many leftovers there are.


Assortment of Flavors

SATURDAY 5/18/2019 14:00

Welp. The MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) were a hit. Photojournalist Don Roznowski and I interviewed several scouts who all sang the praises of the MRE. Shocking. Two of the popular flavors were ‘beef taco’ and ‘beef shredded in barbecue sauce,’ which is pretty much packs all the flavor of a McRib. 

It came to the point where we specifically asked if anyone -didn’t- enjoy their meals. One hand went up, but when he traded his spinach dish for something more meaty, the 12-year-old became an advocate.

My Yelp review: Festival should stock these things.


Armed Forces Day

SATURDAY 5/18/2019 17:00

Boot camp weekend happens to run right through this special day, so the gang marched less than a half-mile to the Military Veterans Museum on post. Inside were military helmets spanning several generations from WWI to Vietnam, indigenous wildlife (including fertile turtles in the primes of their 80-year lives), a Civil War history lesson, AND (last but not least) an instant-dog tag vendor. Fill out some paperwork and voila–you’re official.

But boot camp is wrapping up. Luckily, the rain has missed us all day to this point. And HOPEFULLY it steers clear long enough for the combat scenario later on this evening, which would conclude the more hardcore training of the Army Cadets Xperience.


Final Mission

SATURDAY 5/18/2019 23:00

Ever since the first trash bin wake-up call, the entire day led up to the highly-coveted ‘live’ combat scenario at Fort McCoy. The formations, drills, and demonstrations throughout the day created a band of kids defying all the odds. They showed respect and discipline toward the superiors they barely knew, resisting the likely temptation to shout back or hide in a corner.

About a dozen of the event’s chaperones took to the woods to play the part of the enemy (or OpFor). By the time my group cautiously disappeared into the tree line, under the cover of night with rubber rifles in hand, we each had to trust the person beside us. When a drill sergeant signaled for us to drop, we dropped; to run, we ran. If we broke formation and strayed, the end result would probably have been a face-full of bark. 

The sound of live-fire exercises elsewhere on the 60,000sq. ft. Army post crackled far off, which made it easier for the imagination to transport you into a more threatening environment. When one of the squad leaders spotted an enemy, we whispered down the line and handled it with a hail of shouting.

Conforming a group of over 100 scouts to Army standards in less than a day isn’t possible (and judging from the lack of trigger discipline, there would have been quite a bit of friendly fire). But these youngsters showed an abundance of heart and such a willingness to learn that it was hard not to be impressed. At the start of the day, they were largely lost. And 15 long hours later, they were reciting the alphabet phonetically and able to stand at attention (with an eye for proper spacing). 

Boot camp starts winding down at 5 a.m., where the barracks will be wiped clean–something one of the instructors humorously called “the most realistic part of Army life.” Afterward, the class of 2019 will become civilians once more.


Farewell Ft. McCoy

SUNDAY 5/19/2019 13:15

Our short stint in boot camp at Ft. McCoy came to a close and the final morning consisted of waking up, cleaning up, and eating up. Scouts shot out of bed around 5 a.m. and shortly afterward, they stood at attention on another cold, ugly day. There were no workouts this time. Instead, the PT was replaced with appreciation.

The top scouts were summoned to accept commendations for excellence. The Local 5 team even got recognized as honorary cadets in front of the whole group. Our certificates read, in part: “For excellence and not barfing while completing your first UH-60 Blackhawk flight.” Accurate summary of the weekend.

Once the paperwork was stuffed away, the scouts marched to breakfast and proudly displayed how far they had come. Their spacing information was no longer a zig-zagged mess, they were more enthusiastic with their chants, and they’d were all in sync. Many of these strangers had become friends dependent on one another to make it through.

With HQ closed down, the 24th year of the program sent off another batch of kids possessing a keener appreciation of teamwork, leadership, how far a little discipline can take them. HOOAH!


Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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