West Point cadets train with 2nd BCT Soldiers
First Lt. David Choi, a 2011 West Point graduate, sponsored Cadet Melissa Box during her Cadet Troop Leadership Training with B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, from May 18 to June 10. Choi gave Box, class of 2015, invaluable lessons on what it is like to be a platoon leader. Each summer, senior West Point cadets participate in CTLT with active-duty Army units to gain experience as platoon leaders before they are commissioned as second lieutenants.

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- With any military position, leader development programs are an integral part of career enhancement. At the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, the Cadet Troop Leadership Training is an invaluable tool that allows senior cadets an opportunity to gain hands-on experience at an active-duty Army post. The program takes place within a three- to four-week period during the summer between junior and senior year.

The 2nd Brigade Combat Team was host to several cadets May 18 through June 10. Each cadet paired with a sponsor who educated them on the different tasks inherent in a specific duty position and the responsibilities every leader will be expected to accomplish on a daily basis. By the end of the program, the cadets had a better understanding of what to expect after graduation from West Point.

Second Lt. Jerryl Randolph, maintenance control officer for D Troop, 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, served as the sponsor for Cadet John Lim. As a mentor, Randolph wanted to show Lim what right looks like and what to expect as a newly commissioned second lieutenant and platoon leader.

"I'm including Cadet Lim into every aspect of the daily duties of being a maintenance platoon leader, including briefing the squadron commander on maintenance-related issues to attending the brigade maintenance meetings," Randolph said. "(I have him) interacting with my own Soldiers, so he isn't surprised or overwhelmed when he graduates from West Point."

As with most cadets, Lim does not know which military branch he will be assigned to after graduation. Branches are broken down into specific disciplines such as infantry, field artillery, quartermaster, engineer, ordnance and so on. Cadets submit their preferences, and depending on class rank or the needs of the Army, each receives an assignment.

Lim, an environmental engineer major who is ranked in the middle of the 2015 graduating class, hopes to get assigned as an engineer officer. He said there are a lot of positions open in the field, and he is optimistic. Last summer he was able to go to Korea and work with the Corps of Engineers.

He is also interested in quartermaster, a branch with a lot of potential.

"Quartermaster is the branch I am following right now (with 1-89 Cavalry); that was my second choice," Lim said. "I do not know how long I am going to serve in the Army realistically, so I know branches like logistics and engineer will set you up for success later on if you decide to leave the Army."

At West Point, cadets receive plenty of experience in the field during the summer. They train on weapons marksmanship, land navigation, obstacle courses and all the common core task training just like any Soldier going through basic training. The CTLT brings them full circle and introduces them to officer leadership with enlisted subordinates and office work.

"I did not know there was so much paperwork involved with being a platoon leader," Lim said. "When you're a cadet, they are teaching you how to be like a Soldier, but when I was out in the field (this past week), I was more like the officer being a lane walker as opposed to actually shooting."

Lim was basically given free range as the maintenance platoon leader. Randolph said he gave Lim left and right limits and enough guidance to make well-informed decisions.

"My role during his CTLT experience is to facilitate and have him make the decisions. Sometimes, I'll make suggestions on what I've done in the past or seen in my experiences to help him," Randolph said. "I let him make the final call, but I won't let him make a poor decision. He's been doing a great job with independent decision making."

When Cadet Melissa Box was a little girl, she always liked following the rules, but it was not until she attended a West Point information briefing that she thought about obeying the strict regulations of the Army.

"I really bought into the whole 'leaders of character' and 'making a difference,' but I didn't really understand it until my sophomore year at WP," she said. "I think the realization happened when I could see that my efforts as a team leader as a sophomore had impact and I saw that I could actually make a difference."

Box, whose top branch choices are engineer and military intelligence, is doing her CTLT with 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment. Her sponsor is 1st Lt. David Choi, a 2011 West Point graduate. Fortunately for Box, Choi was moving from platoon leader to B Battery executive officer during her training. She went through the transfer process as though she was taking his position.

"She got to be part of the RIP (relief in place) process and learned what a platoon leader needs to do; (it) completely empowered her," Choi said. "I was just there to give her guidance on day-to-day things and some technical things she may have had trouble with, but otherwise we just threw her into the fire and she's done a great job so far."

For Box, field artillery was sixth on her list, but it jumped up to "maybe" fourth because of the positive experience she received from B Battery. She was able to see what goes into maintenance for the howitzer during field recovery operations; learn how to counsel noncommissioned officers and write awards; and learn what goes into a concept of operations.

She also learned the importance of unit history and Family involvement when she helped with the Molly Pitcher Day for the battalion's spouses.

"Even though we are not doing cool things like shooting howitzers, which would be awesome, I'm really enjoying my time here," Box said. "It's actually confusing because I do not know if I really love field artillery now or just really love B Battery."

Lim said he received invaluable training and guidance from not only his sponsor but also from the NCOs with whom he worked. As a platoon leader, an experienced NCO is an asset.

"I learned a lot from all the NCOs. The important thing I need to keep in mind is that everyone is, to an extent, a bit more knowledgeable than I am because I am just a cadet," Lim said. "Even though I am making decisions, they have their expertise, and their input was great. They made me feel right at home."

Box was just as grateful for her experience. She received a lot of great advice from NCOs that she will be able to use when she is commissioned as a second lieutenant.

"One of the things that the program offers is working with NCOs; doing the small stuff and learning the little details that make up being platoon leader. That's invaluable, and I wish I actually had more time," she said.

Page last updated Thu June 19th, 2014 at 11:03