Focus turns to military skills for new cadets
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 7, 2013) — From marksmanship and weapons training to rappeling off a 75-foot cliff, land navigation, foot marches and confidence courses, the focus for new cadets during the second detail of Cadet Basic Training is on soldiering skills.
Much like recruits at any of the five Army basic combat training installations, the new cadets at the U.S. Military Academy have become familiar with training in a field environment to complete the transformation from civilian to Soldier.
Class of 2014 Cadet Jae Yu, the CBT regimental commander, said when the cadre assumed responsibility of the regiment of new cadets just two weeks earlier, the transition was a seamless success.
“We were able to sit down with our counterparts from the first detail and discussed what needed to be done to achieve this smooth transition,” Yu said. “I couldn’t be happier with the cadre we have for CBT this summer. They trained hard during the Leader Training Program to make sure they were proficient and ready to train the new cadets.”
Yu said the focus on this second detail of CBT is on basic Soldier skills, such as land navigation and familiarization with crew served weapons and hand grenades.
“We also continue basic rifle marksmanship training, which includes a night shoot and, of course, the gas chamber,” Yu said.
Class of 2014 Cadet Richard Dulce serves as a platoon leader for Company D’s 4th Platoon. He was also the cadet-in-charge of Range 5 when his new cadets came through for crew served weapons training.
“This training is important because when they become platoon leaders they’ll need to know the effects of the weapon systems and how to maintain them,” Dulce said. “That also includes knowing where you want them placed on a particular mission. It’s not to make them experts but just familiar enough with them.”
New cadets were able to fire live rounds with the M249B and the M203 grenade launcher. They also received training on the AT-4, a light anti-tank weapon, and Claymore mines, which a select few were able to set up and detonate under NCO supervision from the active-duty task force.
The nighttime live fire is more than just shooting rounds downrange.
“We have a laser system mounted on our rifles that fires an infrared laser. So with our night vision goggles on we can essentially aim a laser at the target and engage it,” Dulce said. “It’s a really good experience because a lot of current operations happen at night when the enemy can’t see us, and that’s obviously a clear advantage.” With the exception of prior service cadets, most of them have never handled a rifle before or felt their hearts beating rapidly under body armor while holding a live grenade.
“Fire team live fire is probably on the top of the list with the risk associated with it, but we have a lot of measures in place to ensure that new cadets are safe while focused in the task at hand,” Yu said.
New cadets won’t go anywhere near a live fire exercise until after hours of progressive training builds confidence and mitigates risk.
“They start off with individual movement techniques and skills before they go to the range with blanks so they can see how it feels to work as a team during walk throughs,” Yu said.
This sort of training becomes a reality check for new cadets, Dulce said.
“I would say once they get to the fire team live fire, you see the most maturing happen for the new cadets at that specific range,” Dulce said. “Just watching them go through it, they completely understand this is what America’s Army does. Soldiers hit the ground, take cover, return fire and that’s the job the Army asks of them.”
Class of 2014 Cadet Theodore Ivanco, 1st Platoon Leader, Co. F, agrees.
“The second detail is tasked with turning new cadets into Soldiers,” Ivanco said. “We’re out in the field for about 70 percent of the time putting the uniforms and gear they were issued to work.”
Ivanco said the company has totaled roughly 30 miles in ruck marches within two weeks time and, as of Aug. 2, completed three of four days on the various weapons ranges. Before they could begin the fire team live fire training, the company rucked about five kilometers to the Ski Slope and camped overnight near the site.
Ivanco has participated in the fire team exercise four times before and said nervousness is inherent when firing live rounds with teammates nearby.
New Cadet Luke O’Neill communicates with fellow members of 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Company F, during a fire team live-fire exercise Aug. 2.
“Going through it the first time is very nerve-wracking. I’m actually more nervous now watching my company do it rather than being on the line myself,” he said. “It’s a high-risk range and puts a lot of emphasis on us training them to standard and making sure their skills are up to par.”
Perhaps the most basic but essential of Soldier skills is land navigation. Learning to use the compass, distinguish terrain features and map reading is about developing confidence in those particular skills instead of relying on technology like GPS.
“It’s a crucial skill to have no matter what branch you’re in,” Ivanco said. “You’re going to be leading convoys or on foot and land navigation skills will apply throughout your career.”
Co. F began the second CBT detail with four days of land navigation, which Class of 2014 Cadet Michael Houghton, the Co. F first sergeant, said was a good “gut check” for the new cadets.
“They were just getting used to being new cadets and we just hit the ground running with a lot of field training,” Houghton said. “In the past two weeks with the training we’ve put them through, the new cadets have had to break through so many physical and mental barricades. You can tell how they’re feeling when they come out of the gas chamber or having bounded with those live rounds. It’s a mental thing when they’re processing all those experiences and then it’s ‘what else can I do? It moves that failure line even more to the right so they can do even more.”
Sometimes it seems there’s no bounds to what new cadets can accomplish, and Houghton said he’s been surprised on more than one occasion.
“When you think about where they came from to where they are now—bounding on command, doing proper execution form and throwing lead downrange, it’s kind of awe-inspiring, humbling, really.”
In addition to the skills training, Ivanco said the cadre of Co. F have also committed to exchanging meaningful dialogue with the new cadets.
“We felt there was a better way to connect with new cadets this summer and that meant developing some newfound respect between cadre and new cadets,” Ivanco said. “We wanted to identify strengths and shortcomings on each individual cadet and not really generalize training across the company. We’ve tried to connect as much as possible with them and provide ‘real Army’ talks with our cadets every single day.”
With the end of Cadet Basic Training approaching, Yu said the new cadets are ready to enter the Corps of Cadets.
“The new cadets are getting more motivated as they see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Yu said. “They’re excited to go to Camp Buckner for the Kennedy Challenge.”
The Kennedy Challenge is the final test for the new cadets, named in honor of Maj. Tom Kennedy, a Class of 2000 graduate who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan.
“It’s a cumulative event for all the new cadets and their squad leaders and platoon sergeants, which encompasses all the training events from the past six weeks of CBT,” Yu said. “After that, the March Back (on Monday) is one of the most significant events in their 47-month experience,” Yu said. “It signifies the completion of Cadet Basic Training and the beginning of their first academic year with Reorganization Week."
It also signifies the end of the leadership detail for the upperclass cadets as they part ways with the new cadets. The new cadets will officially be recognized as members of the Corps of Cadets on Acceptance Day, when they return to the Plain Aug. 17 for the parade.
On Range 7, a new cadet sets her sight on a target as Company D became familiar with the M203 grenade launcher.