Upperclass West Point cadets motivated to instruct
June 18, 2009
There was something familiar about the field exercises a team of firsties and cows have been completing the last two weeks.
They knew all about the famous Slide for Life--a trip down a zip line and plummet into a pond--at Camp Buckner and remembered some of the tricks required to conquer the obstacle courses from the last time they encountered them.
The cadets all had completed the ranges and courses at Camp Buckner before their yearling year. But this time around, the U.S. Military Academy cadets had an extra element in the mix. They had to learn how to teach this stuff.
"It has been a considerable leadership challenge, but it is a challenge all of us are loving," Firstie James McKinney, commander of Cadet Field Training's 6th Company, said. "This is the reason we came here (to West Point)."
As rising yearlings get their Camp Buckner training kicked off this week, they'll have some familiar faces leading them instead of the task force of active-duty Soldiers who have led CFT in years past. The task force has been replaced by upperclassmen.
While some active-duty components still will assist with tasks USMA cadets are not certified to do, such as explosive ordnance disposal, most of the training will be led by cadets.
The decision to have cadets lead CFT was made last year, Col. Casey Haskins, Dept. of Military Instruction director, said.
But, Gen. George Casey, the Army's chief of staff, hurried the process to a cadet-led training when he decided about six weeks ago that sending active-duty Soldiers to West Point for three months of the 12 they have in the United States between deployments was not in their best interests.
The change makes CFT "truly a leadership experience," Haskins said.
But, before the cadets can teach their comrades about Soldier skills, they first had to brush up on them.
The cadets have spent the last two weeks refreshing their knowledge of marksmanship, land navigation, small-unit tactics and other skills and have practiced teaching them to each other.
While remembering how to complete ranges and courses simply requires dusting off a few memory cobwebs, the cadets had to learn a few extra details before they could lead others through Camp Buckner.
"The cadets are motivated, but they have to remember safety and being in charge and seeing how everything is flowing," Maj. Shawn Tenace, a Dept. of Physical Education instructor who was teaching cadets how to run the Slide for Life and Water Confidence Course, said. "They are going to have to be concerned with these things when they are platoon leaders, so why not have them start now'"
Leadership has been pushed to the lowest levels in the current conflicts, and junior leaders are charged with some of the toughest decisions in the history of the Army. This is all the more reason to have the future officers practice their leadership skills as soon as possible, Tenace said. Plus, the skills they are teaching to underclassmen are some of the same they could soon be teaching to the Iraqi and Afghan army and police.
While most deployed units teach Iraqi and Afghan security forces, some of the USMA cadets could be assigned to Military Transition Teams, which focus on one-on-one training with security forces, West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Buster Hagenbeck said after observing some of the cadets' training at Range 5.
"I came back from Iraq a few days ago, and this will all be very useful to them," he said. "In order to provide this training, you have to learn it before you can teach it. So, the cadets are really learning this in more detail."
The underclassmen being taught by upperclassmen also will have the opportunity to watch the leadership styles of the other cadets, Hagenbeck said. They will have the benefit of another new approach to training this year--what Hagenbeck called "outcomes-based training."
Cadets will learn the answer to the all-important "why" question rather than just complete the training for the sake of "checking the block," Hagenbeck said. They will understand why specific skills fit into a larger picture of success, which promotes more creativity in leadership.
"We are teaching critical thinking and analysis, not just book doctrine," CFT Regimental Commander Tom Olmstead said. "We are responsible for knowing (the training) and teaching it, so we are having fun learning and thinking up ways to teach it."
Many cadets admitted to having a great time getting reacquainted with Soldier skills while polishing their leadership techniques. They said it had been a challenge learning how to lead large groups and how to focus their peers on a common task. That extra element of outcomes-based training adds to the challenge, too.
"We are focusing on proficiency but also understanding the why," Firstie Hazumu Yano said. "Before, it was not really explained. It was just following the leader. Now it's explained, and we see how it all fits together."
But, the cadets said they feel ready to flex their leadership skills. They are used to speaking in front of crowds and leading groups through the academic year.
And they do have a selection of tactical officers and noncommissioned officers upon whom they can rely for the real-world experience that was lost when the active-duty task force was dissolved.
"In year's past, you have the experience of people with multiple deployments under their belts," Cow Ryan Schubert said. "We don't have the experience from being in a unit and real enemies with real ammunition. But this is making us more proficient."
The CFT lasts for five weeks. Olmstead expects the yearlings to not only learn the Soldier skills being presented but to observe the leadership skills being used by the upperclassmen. Just having the opportunity to lead has been refreshing, he said.
"This is leader empowerment," Olmstead said. "It is allowing us to explore our leadership skills. The (CFT) leadership is really caring about this and taking a lot of ownership of their companies."