Leading under pressure
July 23, 2012
By Hannah Van Ree
U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – Infiltrating the enemy and obtaining intel are just two skills that Cadets master during tactics training at the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC).
In the days leading up to training, Cadets spend hours learning how to interact with the people of Atropia during their Cultural Awareness training. Atropia is a fictitious country, primarily Spanish speaking, that is meant to resemble culture in the Middle East and Southwest Asian countries.
Understanding the kinds of environments they will be introduced to overseas helps Cadets to succeed while operating in those circumstances at LDAC.
The land of Atropia is populated by Atropian civilians as well as the South Atropian People’s Army, SAPA, also known to Cadets as “the bad guys”.
Cadets are taught how to complete their mission and extract the SAPA forces with the least amount of civilian disturbance as possible. This can be hard at times since SAPA forces can lay low and disguise themselves as civilians. Telling friendly civilians apart from enemy forces can at times be almost impossible.
Tactics training is composed of four different parts: living at the tactical training base (TTB), conducting squad situational exercises (STX), patrolling and the culminating 10k foot march.
This training starts individually with each Cadet learning about the enemy and then progresses to collective training, where Cadets learn to accomplish their assigned mission.
“The mission of the tactics committee is to conduct maneuver training which is small unit tactics, fire team and squad, building up to two section size elements,” said retired Lt. Col. Steve Lopez, the tactics committee operations officer. “The Cadets go on four days of squad situational training exercises, followed by two days of patrolling operations.”
Cadets either arrive at TTB East or TTB West to begin their tactics training and assessments. Prior to occupying the TTB the regiment must coordinate with the bases cadre.
“They send an advon -or advanced party- to the TTB where they will receive an intelligence briefing and an overview of TTB operations and layout and then they will guide the main body of the regiment into the TTB,” said Lopez.
This process is similar to what actually Army units do prior to entering a combat zone overseas.
The TTB’s purpose is to imitate conditions that Soldiers on the front line live under. The TTB is designed to replicate a Forward Operating Base (FOB) on the modern battlefield. The cadre running the base are Soldiers with a mix of valuable experience who provide authentic scenarios for Cadets.
“We are here to provide the best conditions for the Cadets to be successful,” said Maj. Carl Meredith, mayor of TTB West. “If they can come here and not worry about food, water, hygiene and other life support things, then they can focus on executing their training.”
The TTBs are situated in the middle of a large open field surrounded by dense trees and dusty roads. A high fence encloses the training base and rows of large green tents make up its interior.
At the TTB Cadets will conduct entry control, vehicle and personnel inspections, tower operations, quick reaction force operations and guard mount. They will be issued special equipment to use throughout their patrol. They will then conduct squad training where they will learn how to use hand grenades, claymore mines, and AT-4s (anti-tank weapons).
Cadet Paul Sprinkle from the New Mexico Military Institute said during his experience at the TTB he had already experienced simulations varying from sniper attacks to bombings where Cadets had to quickly throw on their gear and help their comrades during the attack.
“As far as being out here, it has opened my eyes to how operations should go. We train for 12 hours a day, come back here and do TTB operations following Standard Operating Procedures,” said Cadet Kewan Holder from St. Augustine College.
They also go over “what we need to do for the next mission, what we did wrong and what we did right,” said Holder.
“We have chow, sit amongst each other and give each other tips because some of us have weak points and strong points,” said Holder.
Once Cadets are settled in, Squad Situational Exercises (STX) and patrol lanes begin. Each “lane” is an exercise made to train and assess Cadet’s field reaction and leadership skills. There are a total of 80 STX lanes and 20 patrol lanes at Operation Warrior Forge. The first four days of STX will be composed of two-hour squad training exercises six times a day where Cadets will have to either conduct an attack, ambush or a reconnaissance mission.
“The average distance of a lane in STX is about 300-350 meters in length from line of departure to actions on the objective,” said Lopez.
Each Cadet will get an evaluation from two different cadre evaluators during these missions before their “refit” day, where they will reorganize into patrol size sections, said Lopez.
At this phase of LDAC Cadets must apply most skills they have obtained over the course and complete difficult mock-combat missions.
As they prepare during “refit” for the excitement of the upcoming patrolling lanes, the section will be issued a machine gun and four radios, one for the patrol leader, assistant patrol leader, and two squad leaders, said Lopez.
The following morning Cadets mobilize to begin patrols and leave the TTB for good, starting a schedule of four-hour patrol missions three times a day. The Cadets missions could either be reconnaissance, ambush, raid or cordon and search.
“The average is 800-1,000 meters in patrolling, hence they get twice the amount of time to conduct a patrolling lane,” said Lopez.
Once the lane begins, the team leaders give the mission brief and plan of execution. After maneuvering through the woods, hours after they have left their starting points, Cadets reach their objective.
One mission for example, requires Cadets to find Col. Manuel Dehoya, who is hiding in a heavily forested area on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Dehoya is actually Sgt. Jeff Berger, who is acting as an Atropian villager by day and SAPA forces leader by night. Dehoya is a vital intelligence source living among a town of Atropian civilians and SAPA forces, making it hard to detect the enemy in a sea of innocent bystanders.
During this exercise, Cadets must find, identify and capture Dehoya to obtain his useful information. Dehoya, however, does not want to comply with American forces.
Each section of Cadets conducts the lanes differently. For instance, those after Col. Manuel Dehoya -when they are almost out of time- assault straight through the objective during their raid mission, sacrificing subtlety for shock. This is not unusual.
The vast forests of Join Base Lewis McChord can be disorienting to Cadets, causing them to reach their objective later than planned. Using up valuable time to get back on track creates more of a hurried pace when assaulting the target.
“This training teaches them how to make a quick decision on the fly, and that it’s better to make a decision, even if it’s the wrong one. Be confident in that decision so people follow you,” said Berger.
Before the Cadets are visible, blasts from their M-4 carbines can be heard coming from the tree line surrounding the encampment. Blank shots are exchanged between Cadets and SAPA forces (cadre) as the Cadets infiltrate through the trees like a pack of wolves. They immediately surround the buildings on their hunt for Dehoya.
The Cadets yell back and forth while laying down fire, “‘Has anyone found him?’ ‘Is that him?’ ‘I think that’s him!’ ‘Get him!’”
With minimal prior intel on Dehoya’s description, Cadets must try and spot him as they arrive on scene.
Cadets try to contain the SAPA forces as the Dehoya character runs away from the city. Cadets must pursue and capture him before searching his credentials to see if he is the man they want.
Sgt. Berger –who has played the role of Dehoya for over a month- said that one of his most memorable moments was when Cadets tackled him in mid-air.
“I don’t mind if they are rough, at least they are doing what they are trained to,” said Berger.
Once they have identified Dehoya and the other SAPA forces are killed, the Cadets take the captive away and the mission is over.
Eight lanes down Cadets take a different approach to their raid mission, ending in a more successful operation time-wise.
The cadre, acting as SAPA forces, know that Cadets will be arriving on site as soon as they hear the rustle of leaves and the swish of combat uniforms skimming the brush. A radio antenna attached to the backpack of a Cadet sticks out behind a log, swaying back and forth as the Cadet crawls forward. Helmets, like big turtle shells, bob up and down behind the bushes.
Seeing more Cadet silhouettes than he expected, a cadre yells out “this isn’t a recon, they are coming!”
Immediately, the radio antenna and helmets vanish, like they were never there.
Moving tactically, the Cadets have become deadly quiet, and the cadre lose them in the dense woods.
Once the Cadets get close to the encampment, the raid begins and they charge.
One Cadet is told by an evaluator that he has been “shot” in the leg, so he pretends to be wounded and is carried to the rear by his comrades.
Chaos ensues while Cadets and SAPA forces exchange heavy fire. In just moments, the enemy is defeated and the Cadets capture their high-valued target. The patrol leader gets on the radio to call for medical support for the “injured” and to report a successful capture of the enemy.
Then as quickly as they arrive, Cadets leave, moving their target and their wounded Soldier safely out of the city. Once the mission is complete, the timer stops and Cadets are brought back for an After Action Review (AAR), in which evaluators review with Cadets some sustains and improves for their mission. The AAR is perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of tactics training.
After patrolling is completed, the 20 patrols return to their regimental assembly area, where they turn in equipment and all unexpended ammo. Later that evening Cadets are given their final orders for the culminating 10k foot march, said Lopez.
After the foot march, Cadets have officially completed their tactics training and return from the field feeling more confident in fast-paced situations.
“Every Cadet comes out of tactics with three evaluations but ultimately it’s a leadership improvement course,” said Lopez.
“This is a collective training event. Although there are individuals that are getting evaluated, we say that everyone is a leader supporting another leader that is getting evaluated,” said Lopez.
“The biggest thing I’m getting out of this is learning how to lead people by learning how to follow. I get to learn both sides of the whole army experience,” said Sprinkle.