New approach to CFT
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 2, 2013) — A seemingly non-stop training tempo for the Class of 2016 belied the fact Cadet Field Training would feel the effects of fiscal constraints this summer.
It didn’t stop cadets from learning how to shoot artillery rounds and call for fire support. Nor did it stop them from completing Recondo course requirements or conducting 24-hour field maneuvers, which had them training on reconnaissance in force, repelling an ambush, conducting a raid and occupying an outpost.
It did, however, put the onus on the CFT cadre to provide all this in a compacted timeline.
“It’s basically a week short which doesn’t seem like much,” Class of 2014 Cadet Markos Magana, the CFT regimental commander, said. “But when you’re out here doing multiple training lanes you feel the difference. The cadets are going on back-to-back-to-back events without rest, so we’re working them hard and you can see them getting tired.”
Magana said the focus of “quality over quantity” was their priority.
“So if we have eight hours total to get them prepared on the marksmanship range to learning proper techniques and procedures for clearing a room to conducting a live-fire exercise, we need to make sure it’s quality training the entire way through,” Magana said. “We had to make sure the training we’re conducting was of the best quality possible while mitigating risk.”
When cadets enter West Point, they begin in the crawl phase during Cadet Basic Training where they follow commands throughout as they become familiar with a new training environment. CFT allows cadets to “walk,” and take on more responsibility as they’re learning. Magana said to prepare them for the “run” phase, CFT had to keep training standards high.
“While we’re sending them out on multiple training sites, of course, we’re making it tough, we’re making it realistic and they’re getting the maximum value out of it,” he said. “That’s how every single training site has to be conducted.
They might not have the training time and resources seen in previous iterations of CFT, but when out observing the training, Magana saw a lot of initiative from the cadre.
“When you go out there to each site, the companies are all meeting the same end state but may get there a little bit differently, using ingenuity and being flexible and adaptive,” Magana said. “It’s awesome to see that. Just awesome to see the chain of command taking charge and getting the job done.”
Sometimes that required pre-training sessions among companies and platoons so when they arrived on site cadets could seamlessly conduct the actual training.
“Company commanders had to think creatively. Knowing what training was going to happen in the next 48 and how they could use any free time to prep cadets for that,” Magana said. “They weren’t focus on the 25-meter target or today’s mission, but on that 75- or 100-meter target coming up and how to get some good training out of it.”
Additionally, Magana wanted to see a higher degree of professionalism out in the field.
“The attitude we wanted is that we are professional Soldiers and this is a dangerous profession that we are in,” Magana said. “We wear the uniform with the U.S. Army across our hearts. And you have to be professional, whether you’re hungry, tired or soaking wet, you have to conduct yourself in a professional manner.”
That’s the new culture Magana wanted to inspire through summer training with the Class of 2016. Though no longer plebes, he didn’t want to see the rising yearlings become lax in standards, and cultivating a professional atmosphere at Camp Buckner would set the tone.
“In the future we are expected to lead America’s sons and daughters regardless of any conditions we face or situations we encounter,” Magana said. “We have to be ready 100 percent.”
Given a shortened timeline for Cadet Field Training, the rising yearlings were constantly on the move to complete all the requirements and to earn the rank of cadet corporal.
Class of 2014 Cadet Markos Magana, the Cadet Field Training regimental commander, and the CFT cadre had the unique experience of planning and executing a summer training schedule which faced budgetary and time limitations. By all accounts, the cadets succeeded in providing a quality leadership experience within a field environment for the Class of 2016.
For many, CFT is a pivotal experience in the life of a cadet.
“As a plebe you’re just trying to get through CBT by following orders,” Magana said. “You’re trying to survive the seven-week detail without being called out for not doing something well. Once you get to Cadet Field Training, you have the opportunity to talk with your peers, make decisions and work to get the mission done.”
Magana knew as a plebe he wanted to serve in a Ranger battalion and become a Special Forces officer. He was intent on doing everything at West Point with that focus.
“But when I came to CFT and became a member of a squad I was able to learn and grow with my team and share successes and failures,” Magana said.
“That’s when I saw my whole mentality was wrong. It’s not about me and what I want to do for myself. It was about staying up late to pull security while my teammates slept, or giving someone an extra MRE because they were hungry. My CFT experience completely changed my perception of the academy and the training here. If cadets had that same perception I had coming into the academy, I hope that’s something we’ve changed this summer.”