Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Meade could have laughed while he surveyed the troops surrounding him April 13 at a Fort Carson's training range.
A lesser man might have.
The 28-year-old was a rare combat veteran in a sea of rubber gun-toting cadets, many of them baby-faced.
Some were star-struck by the Special Forces patch on Meade's left arm.
Others couldn't pass a solo land navigation test - something Meade could do with his eyes closed.
But Meade didn't laugh.
To the 300 cadets participating in field training exercises that weekend, Meade wasn't 'sergeant first class. '
He was 'cadet. '
Each spring, cadets from Boulder to Pueblo enrolled in the Army's Reserve Officer Training Corps program converge on Colorado Springs, where they hone their skills at Fort Carson or the Air Force Academy. Upon college graduation, cadets receive their commissions as Army second lieutenants.
But they're not all new to the service. Some are veterans. Others, such as Meade, are active-duty soldiers finishing their bachelor's degrees on Uncle Sam's dime.
Participating in ROTC after serving 10 years as an enlisted man is 'a step forward for my career, but it's a very different experience, ' said Meade, a college senior.
At Colorado Christian University, he's completing a degree in project management.
Since his school doesn't have an ROTC program, Meade participates in the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' officer training program.
Meade, like many enlisted soldiers, used to looked down on fresh lieutenants.
He has changed his tune.
'It's easy to see young lieutenants and think they're inexperienced, ' he said. 'Maybe the Army is vetting people more now, but a lot of these cadets are really bright with good leadership potential. '
Though cadets participating in this month's exercise dressed in fatigues and helmets, the focus was on leadership, not tactics.
Seniors organized the exercise and graded juniors on their leadership of underclassmen.
Juniors were evaluated on qualities such as loyalty, empathy and mental agility.
For juniors, the training was good practice for the Leadership, Development and Assessment Course, which they'll attend this summer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
When Meade graduates next month, he'll be assigned to Fort Carson, where he'll serve as a Medical Service Corps officer.
Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Caraballo has had to remind himself that becoming a cadet after three combat tours to Iraq is a step forward, not a step back.
Caraballo, a signal support specialist during his enlisted days, will graduate next month with a bachelor's degree in information and science technology from Colorado Technical University.
He'll serve as a signal officer. His reward for persevering: a fatter paycheck come May and a new perspective on leadership thanks to some wet-behind-the-ears youngsters.
'I learn a lot from them, ' he said. 'Sometimes it's humbling to take a step back and hear their ideas. '
Contact Erin Prater: 636-0304