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Building confidence key to effective leadership

U.S. Army photo by Al Zdarsky

U.S. Army photo by Al Zdarsky

Crossing a wooden beam 4 inches in width while balancing 37 feet above  a small lake tucked away in the Northwest corner of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash, 1st Regiment Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Cadets attempted to conquer their fear of heights July 6 at the water confidence course during the 2013 Leader Development and Assessment Course.

With overcast skies looming above them providing no heat as they stood soaking wet in their uniforms, Cadets kept their mind off the cold and their fears as they shouted words of encouragement to fellow students on the obstacles.

“I don’t like heights at all,” said 1st Reg. Cadet Roshawnda Brown of Fort Valley State University. “Either I fall or I fall. There is no other way I can get down so I dropped.”

Before dropping into the water below with arms and legs crossed, Cadets have to shout out their name, school and what area of the military they want to branch into.

Even taller than the 37 foot obstacle is a 57 foot “slide for life”, a zip line that Cadets hold onto tightly with their wet hands, dropping into the water when instructed by Cadre at the end of the rope.

In order to pass the water confidence course, Cadets must attempt four different obstacles, the log walk and rope drop, the slide for life, building a poncho raft using two rucksacks and two ponchos and the zodiac assault course where they are taught to man and operate a zodiac boat with paddles.

“As leaders, they have to set the example and overcome their fears,” said Lt. Col. James Ryan, head of the confidence committee. “If they’re not able to do that, then their Soldiers that they are leading are obviously going to have trouble doing it as well.”

When they arrive on site, Ryan talks to them about varying levels of fear. Some people don’t need to be encouraged, while others need to be talked through their fear of heights to develop the courage necessary to complete the obstacle and build confidence to become a more effective leader.

Those who are unable to do it are instructed to go through a practice round where Cadre talk them through it, showing them the proper technique to cross and take them back up to try again. Cadets have to at least attempt each obstacle to pass.

Although the water confidence course focuses on conquering fear of heights, not all Cadets have a fear that they have to overcome and in fact enjoy going through the training.

“It’s a lot of fun once you get down and are wet,” said 1st Reg. Cadet Brian Macnab of Temple University. “It’s different than all the training that we’ve went through, mainly because everything else you are getting evaluated on and here you just have to attempt it and try to get a go.”

Taking place toward the end of the training cycle, the water confidence course builds on the confidence they have gained over the course of the summer.

“I think building the confidence to do all of these makes sure that we are able to lead others to set an example and learning to…find the confidence within yourself,” said 1st Reg. Cadet Devin Xayasomloth of Claremont McKenna College. “I think that will translate into [becoming an effective] leader.”

Story by Sara Nahrwold.

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