Fort Sill hosts USMA cadets for CTLT
Story and photo by Capt. Charlie Dietz
214th Fires Brigade
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 7, 2013) — The very first challenge officers have is standing up in front of their platoon and taking charge. With little to no experience in a true Army environment, a small age gap with their Soldiers and a tremendous amount of responsibility on their shoulders, the Soldiers of the platoon look to this officer as their leader.
To prepare these officers for this moment and the years following it, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Reserve Officer Training Corps have paired select cadets with active-duty lieutenants to shadow, giving them an up-close and personal experience and showing them what to expect when they join their first unit following graduation.
The 214th Fires Brigade at Fort Sill, Okla., hosted more than 40 cadets this summer and gave them a taste of what to expect in the future.
The Army’s Cadet Troop Leadership Training Program gives cadets three-and-a-half weeks to work alongside lieutenants and is a requirement for graduation. Cadets complete CTLT before their final academic year so they can share their experience with other classmates and underclassmen.
Cadets assigned to the 214th FiB had the opportunity to delve into platoon leader scenarios, essentially acting as a platoon leader with the actual platoon leader in the background for assurance. They were also given the chance to see how field artillery weapons systems work.
The lieutenant mentors trained cadets on officer scenarios such as writing operations orders, counseling subordinates, leading formation and instructing basic soldiering skills.
“Planning a convoy operation has been the most exciting thing so far,” Class of 2014 Cadet Robert Schrack, assigned to the 168th Brigade Support Battalion, said. “The attention to detail while planning was something that I will remember when it’s my turn to do this as a lieutenant.”
Class of 2014 Cadet Danielle Ullman had the experience of being the executive officer in addition to being the platoon leader.
“This has been an amazing opportunity to lead Soldiers and really learn how the Army works as well. I was able to learn what it takes to be a platoon leader in the 168th Brigade Support Battalion and hope that I branch Quartermaster so I can continue to work in that same field,” she said.
Being prepared for the life of a lieutenant will assist in reducing the amount of stress the officers have when they take the lead of their first platoon, and the brigade commander of the 214th Fires Brigade wanted it no other way.
“The goal with this program is for these young cadets to experience leadership challenges, especially those associated with leading Soldiers in this kind of environment because this is very similar to what they will be experiencing in a year as newly commissioned second lieutenants,” Col. Andrew Preston said.
Preston said while the primary mission is to ensure all cadets have a challenging leadership opportunity, he hopes the exposure to the field artillery encourages them to consider it for their top branch choice.
Previous training met this goal as more than half the cadets who completed the training from the first iteration stated they were planning on listing field artillery as their top choice for branch. “I really hope to be selected into field artillery. I find what artillery does to be fascinating and important in today’s Army,” Class of 2014 Cadet Matthew Ibsen said.
Preston met with the cadets and planned to do so with each group that arrived this summer.
“Meeting with the brigade commander was valuable because I was given a brief lesson on military life and career planning for not only myself, but my future family members as well. This is not something that many college students are already thinking about, but it will be very helpful for planning my future,” Class of 2014 Cadet Andrew Cansler said. “This training so far has given me a good idea of what I can expect from working as a second lieutenant and a chance to interact with noncommissioned officers. It also taught me the dos and don’ts of how I should perform when I first arrive at my first unit.”
1st Lt. Chris Schwen, executive officer for Alpha Company, 168th Brigade Support Battalion, and Class of 2014 Cadet Robert Schrack discuss possible routes for a convoy operation July 16. The Army’s Cadet Troop Leadership Training Program gives West Point and ROTC cadets three-and-a-half weeks to work side by side with the lieutenants.
At West Point, the cadets are put into leadership positions within the Corps of Cadets, but they are not in charge of actual Soldiers. While many of their instructors are active-duty Soldiers, exposing cadets to Soldiers outside the academy is a benefit of the CTLT program.
“Cadet Ullman handled platoon leadership very well,” 1st Lt. Kurt Wolford, sponsor, said. “She started off nervous when she first arrived to our platoon because she didn’t have firsthand experience, however, by the end of her three-week rotation she was much more confident with her interactions with junior enlisted soldiers and noncommissioned officers.”
A challenge young lieutenants face is relationship-building with their platoon sergeant. The platoon sergeant usually brings more than 10 years experience to the table and the lieutenant relies heavily on the sergeant to guide them on the best way to lead their platoon.
“The most important thing I learned during my time here is the importance of the noncommissioned officers in the unit and how a good platoon sergeant and platoon leader relationship is necessary. Without that bond, the platoon will be lead in two different directions,” Class of 2014 Cadet Justin Godes said.
The commander of Bravo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, Capt. Minoru Sorensen, was no stranger to the CTLT program. He too had gone through it more than five years ago. His experience has helped him plan how to handle the multiple cadets he will be hosting throughout the summer.
“CTLT gave me insight into what the Army was actually like in comparison to West Point. My experience was that I was slotted as a battery executive officer during my training. I heavily relied upon the senior NCOs to ensure I was doing the right thing, something that I found useful upon entering the Army as a lieutenant,” Sorensen said.
Bravo Battery was quick to have their cadets get into the mix of things, putting them in front of the platoon as soon as they arrived.
“The cadets were given leadership roles as if they were already lieutenants. As a result of being placed in these positions, they gave safety briefs, convoy briefs, conducted training meetings, writing reviews and counseling and even doing inventories,” 1st Lt. Jeshurun Plumb, executive officer for Bravo, 2-5 FA, said. “The sponsors were encouraged to give the cadets small missions that they could take charge of. The cadets not only excelled at these missions, but also lead Soldiers well in each mission that they were given, especially maintenance missions.”
At the end of the experience, the battalion commanders write the cadets their first evaluation report. While this report will not reflect in their official Army file, it gives the instructors at their respective schools the chance to see what the cadets excelled at and what leadership challenges they endured.