Leaders assess risks before testing Operation Warrior Forge Cadets

By Alexandra Kocik
U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs

Master Sgt. Frank Boaz conducts a secondary equipment check before Cadet Carlos Diaz from the University of Texas at El Paso rappels down the 30-foot wall during Operation Warrior Forge. U.S. Army photo by Alexandra Kocik

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Masks, ropes, helmets and maps are just a few of the tools cadets will use during Operation Warrior Forge. Although not all of these items are dangerous, the exercises they are used in must be carefully planned to avoid broken bones and equipment. Leaders with U.S. Army Cadet Command spend countless hours developing ways to avoid accidents during the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) with a motto of “Safety first, safety always.”

There are safety standards for everything from driving a 15-passenger van to running the land navigation course. Cadet Command uses a process called Composite Risk Management (CRM) to assess the dangers of any action taken on base. Risk assessment matrices measure the probability and severity of hazards and develop ways to control the situation for maximum safety. High-risk activities must be reworked to meet minimal risk requirements.

“We’re not in a paper cut environment. These cadets are coming out here in an environment that is inherently more risky,” Lt. Col. Jason Shrader, top safety officer for LDAC said. “What we do in the Army is inherently more risky so what we have to do is establish the control measures to mitigate against those risks.”

The practices that meet safety standards become standard operating procedures for later regiments to follow. The process is evaluated daily to ensure the operation is running smoothly and safely.

The water confidence course, overseen by retired command Sgt. Maj. Gary Fortunato, was put through the CRM process. Fortunato must fill out the risk assessment matrix and make plans to avoid potential hazards. Procedures include how to handle equipment failures, such as ropes breaking – and environmental conditions, including lightning storms and earthquakes.

A critical portion of the safety process is rehearsing. Practice runs allow participants to identify dangers and further develop procedures to minimize risk, without losing training value. This practice involves individuals, the Warrior Forge commander and everyone in between.

“For example, we spent six hours with the deputy commander at land navigation just going through all the processes. Safety is at the forefront of many of those rehearsals,” Shrader said.

The process continues to evolve through daily meetings and communication between the different groups involved with LDAC. This allows many to be involved with setting procedures and give their own feedback and concerns, Cathy Pierce, Cadet Command safety director said.

No system is perfect and injuries can occur. Mistakes mainly stem from human error, lack of supervision or proper supplies, and environmental or material failures. Hazards are considered during the planning process in an attempt to avoid injuries. Known dangers are coupled with controls in the initial plan.

Small injuries and individual anxieties are also considered. The water confidence course includes extra controls for preventative measures. Fortunato has medics on site to assess Cadets after finishing the trials, even if they finished the course without incident. Another control concerns the supervisors, who must train not only to use the equipment, but work with people being tested.

“We get a lot of people who are afraid of heights so sometimes it can take a little longer with a person as you combat fear and get through it,” Fortunato said. “It’s important to teach them that if they can trust themselves and trust their equipment, they can actually do these things.”

CRM is not new for Cadets who encounter and acknowledge the importance of risk analysis throughout their time with ROTC and the Army. The importance of trainers knowing exactly what is expected of them helps Cadets train in a safe environment. Leaders for each course must be confident in their duties and how the course should be run. Learning new procedures or taking shortcuts are the most hazardous times during training, Pierce said.

“We have standards. When standards break down, we have accidents,” she said. “We believe in the saying ‘safety is inherent in doing things correctly’ and if we are upholding these standards, that is our best chance for success.”

Check out our video on safety here!

Course Control Examples

Cadets must complete nine main trials throughout their 29 days at the Leader Development and Assessment Course order to graduate. Each of these courses has its own hazards, the main dangers and how they are controlled listed below:

Confidence Training

Info: This course teaches Cadets how to face their fears through rappel, obstacle and other courses.
Dangers: Slipping on slick surfaces, issues with the rappel equipment and environmental hazards.
Controls: Slip-proof paint on tall platforms and the log bridge, ropes and locking carbineers are inspected daily, and gloves and Kevlar must be worn at all times.

Land Navigation

Info: Cadets learn how to survive in the field through endurance and reconnaissance training.
Dangers: The night course has the dangers of twisted ankles and getting blisters from the moist ground.
Controls: Medical staff are on site with dry socks and splints for foot injuries along with typical supplies.


Info: By learning how to protect themselves and help others, Cadets learn how to deal with areas affected by contaminates. The training includes having Cadets wear full containment suits, including gas masks, as they carry a person up a hill.
Hazards: This exercise can cause heat exhaustion as the heavy suits weigh down the Cadet’s as they move.
Controls: Medics are equipped with cooling and rehydration supplies to help Cadets recover from signs of exhaustion.

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