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Lieutenant Colonel Abrahm DiMarco, at the edge of the rappelling tower, taken from a camera strapped to my helmet. Photo: Natasha Haverty
Lieutenant Colonel Abrahm DiMarco, at the edge of the rappelling tower, taken from a camera strapped to my helmet. Photo: Natasha Haverty

How to jump off a 40-foot tower like an ROTC cadet

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Last Friday, eight Clarkson University students became Second Lieutenants of the United States Army. Students from four local colleges make up the Golden Knight Battalion, the North Country's ROTC unit, spending four years going to school and training.

But the Reserve Officer Training Corps is a small, and sometimes invisible minority here. So before the cadets said goodbye to the North Country, they invited the community on to their physical training course, to spend a few hours in their world. Natasha Haverty stopped by for a lesson in rappelling.

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Reported by

Natasha Haverty
Reporter and Producer

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Michael Matroniano commissioned as a Second Lieutenant this past Friday. Photo: Natasha Haverty
Michael Matroniano commissioned as a Second Lieutenant this past Friday. Photo: Natasha Haverty
Cadet Michael Matroniano is teaching me how to turn a piece of rope into a seat, getting me ready to launch off a 40-foot-high rappelling tower that we're standing at the base of.

"So this is called a Swiss seat, and basically there's lots that you can do with it for rappelling-wise. Once you get good at it you can put it together pretty quickly."

This is one of the first things Matroniano learned how to do when he got here four years ago. Matroniano's an Engineering and Management major, and on top of college classes, Matroniano and his cadre have been getting up at five every other morning for physical training; taking a class on army leadership skills once or twice a week. Plus, they have a lab, "which is about two to three hours where we'll come out to the back 40 at Clarkson and we'll run different tactical exercises or do some things today like rappel off our wall," Matroniano says.

 

So, with my knots tied, safeties secured, I climb the ladder at the back of the wall.

Lieutenant Colonel Abrahm DiMarco's there at the top. DiMarco teaches military science to the cadets here. "I'm here because the army assigned me here, it's an army assignment, active duty army."

DiMarco's done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His last assignment was in northern France working with NATO. Now he lives in the village of Potsdam. "It's a bit of a culture change."

The view from the ground (it looks a lot shorter from down here). Photo: Natasha Haverty
The view from the ground (it looks a lot shorter from down here). Photo: Natasha Haverty
In fact, he says, being here can be more of a culture shock than being on an army base in another country. "You can take a lot of things for granted. And then when you come to a place like this, that's no longer the case. People who don't understand what it's like the serve in the military, they haven't deployed to combat, they haven't lived in eight, nine, 10 different places. They don't know the same army language that you know; you have to very careful when you communicate and work through that type of stuff."

The fear factor goes a little higher, you get a little more nervous, and you have to be able to work through that.
But he says the skills that come from being a fish out of water, are part of what makes a good officer. He points to the group of seniors hanging out down there back on the ground, and says almost every one of them was scared on their first jump. "You gain that confidence, it's one of the reasons we do this type of training, you put somebody in a very different situation, something they haven't been in before and the fear factor goes a little higher, you get a little more nervous, and you have to be able to work through that. That's something that we want our leaders to be able to do."

DiMarco checks my carabineer and tells me to walk backwards until my heels are just over the edge of the wall. "Back up, back up, put your heels, you'll be fine, this is what we do. You've got a guy there to catch you, I'm here to talk you through it. Ready, get set, go." Once I've actually managed to walk backwards off the edge of the platform, and lean back, rappelling down isn't so terrifying. Cadet Matroniano is there at the bottom to greet me.

Reporter Natasha Haverty takes the plunge. Photo: Melanie Kimbler, Watertown Daily Times
Reporter Natasha Haverty takes the plunge. Photo: Melanie Kimbler, Watertown Daily Times
Matroniano will be going into the Army Reserves, working as an engineer on roads and bridges. He's committed for the next eight years. He says as the military gets smaller, positions in the army are getting more competitive.

"The golden egg is to try and get active duty army. That's where you'll get into it and that'll be your full time job kind of thing. The selections for that are becoming much more difficult to reach, either because of the army downsizing or the fact that we're going towards a more training army now that we're kind of pulling out of a few conflicts we've been in the past years."

Cadet Andrew Neldon did score that golden egg. He says after four years in the ROTC, most things that used to scare him don't, but now he's afraid of the unknown. "I had no idea where I was going all this year. I got orders this month, 'hey you're going to Alaska.' So it's kind of the unknown. That I have to leave here travel across the country and start my life again."

Neldon owes the army six years. And he says after that, he'll stay with the service as long as they'll have him.

 

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