Surviving CLDT at West Point
June 16, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- To say it was hot would’ve been a severe understatement. Nearing the end of the three-week summer military training, cadets conducted missions under an oppressive heat wave, sweat dripping off the linings of their helmets and T-shirts soaked under the added weight of vests and patrol gear.
Cadet Leadership Development Training can offer cadets realistic battlefield scenarios and an environment that somewhat reflects today’s major areas of operation. However, it can’t simulate the weather. With temperatures reaching the highest heat category on post, last week was as close as it gets.
Despite the heat, Class of 2012 Cadet Chris Bonner didn’t mind pulling security in the village while his platoon leader conducted tedious talks with the sheik. Progress was slow, and crowds became anxious as they waited to see if the American forces would provide them with food. Baking in the sun, Bonner kept it all in perspective.
“Only two more missions left,” he said. “But you can’t get out of here quicker by doing it wrong.”
Six companies"more than 700 cadets total from the Classes of 2012 and 2013"participated in CLDT, which ended June 11 with an awards presentation and barbecue.
“CLDT is meant to develop the leadership qualities, technical skills and decision-making abilities of all cadets that participate,” Class of 2012 Cadet Alexander Pagoulatos, the CLDT battalion commander, said. “Through privation and stress"added intentionally as part of the training"cadets are forced to gather information and make hard decisions which require them to build on the moral-ethical foundations they have developed over the course of their time at the academy.”
Leadership roles are rotated to give cadets opportunities to test their skills. The primary leadership positions were platoon leaders and platoon sergeants, and cadets also served other duties such as squad leaders, medics and forward observers. A cadet could join a quick response force during a military operation on urban terrain one day, and the next lead a platoon through an ambush and raid on opposing forces.
“But once you’re given that top spot of platoon leader or sergeant, that’s your time to really develop and use that leadership style you’ve gained over the past two or three years at West Point,” Class of 2012 Cadet Alex Wood said. “Now you can put that into action and see if it actually works.”
Cadets are evaluated by officers and NCOs who observe their leadership and communication skills throughout the scenarios. If a mission is poorly planned or executed then the trainers will reset the scenario for a second attempt.
“I had a pretty simple recon mission as a platoon leader, but in those 12 hours I learned more about myself than probably the past two years at the academy,” Wood said.
At the academy, Wood explained, there is always a senior leader or instructor to offer guidance when needed. At CLDT, the trainers take a hands-off approach to allow cadets opportunities to succeed or fail on their own.
“You’re in charge, there’s no one to turn to and 40 people are relying on you to get them out alive,” Wood said. “With that stress, pressure and those time and resource constraints, to have a successful mission is a huge confidence booster.”
Wood also served as a platoon sergeant during a long foot patrol"a scenario called platoon attack. The objective was to clear a hill that was potentially a mortar site with enemy soldiers. Wood discovered this wasn’t limited to just getting troops up the hill. The organizational and logistical requirements of the job involved everything from making sure trash is deposited to ensuring each radio functioned properly.
“But then suddenly you become exposed to simulated artillery fire, and then it becomes a question of whether you can now lead and make decisions under stress,” Wood, who served last summer as a squad leader during Cadet Basic Training, said. “It’s not even about making the right decisions, because if you’re going to make mistakes, make them here and now when you can learn from them.”
When Class of 2012 Cadet Alexandra Giraud served as a platoon leader at the MOUT site, she found herself conversing with native Arabic speakers through an interpreter. Dozens of contractors throughout the training sites provided this authentic backdrop to the missions. Giraud said bridging the language barrier was a challenge.
“Our mission here was to secure the village and provide humanitarian aid because their water supply was cut off,” Giraud said. “We brought in food, water, medical and school supplies. I spoke with the sheik about how we could help them, but we were asking questions to gain intelligence on possible enemy attacks.”
With the humanitarian aid delivered and peaceful relations maintained, Giraud said it was a successful mission. One of their objectives was to photograph village members for future identification purposes.
“That was the first time we’ve left the village without a mob behind us so I would say we had a good mission here,” she said. “The language barrier was the biggest challenge, and I didn’t understand the religious constraint would prevent us from getting pictures. I wasn’t tracking on that.”
Approximately 150 cadets from the Class of 2013 also participated as role players and the opposition force to supplement the contractors and active-duty task force. Also behind the scenes a staff was working within the CLDT tactical operations cell keeping tabs on all the maneuvers and sites, providing logistical support and ensuring lines of communication were running smoothly.
“(They) run the administrative side of the operation while their officer counterparts mold the training side,” Pagoulatos said. “They work to bridge the gap between the officer world and the cadet world.”
As a battalion commander, Pagoulatos was tasked with writing operation orders and planning staff duties in the TOC. He also kept a presence in the field and participated in as many missions with his fellow classmates as his job would allow.
“In the end, I learned how to build and manage a successful team, steer the movement of a regiment-sized battalion and relate to and receive feedback from individuals, regardless of rank,” Pagoulatos said.
Class of 2013 Cadet Luke Hutchison went from being a leader of one last semester to being responsible for 120 cadets at a combat outpost during CLDT. As the company first sergeant, he made sure his troops had food, latrines, ammo and the right uniforms. Everything that went into and out of the area became his responsibility.
“That might have been the worst week of my life,” Hutchison said. “Of course it was our first mission and with anything, you’re adjusting to something new. So I had to learn how to run a tactical operations station during the day, and then at night I was responsible for the defense of the COP while the commanding officer ran patrols.”
Then it became a matter of tracking where the attacks initiated, figuring out the appropriate response, recording casualties and ordering medical evacuations.
“One time we had two (cadets) who were captured and had to send out search parties for them. That was definitely a unique experience,” Hutchison said.
Three weeks later, Hutchison found his stride and even took on the commanding officer role to plan a humanitarian aid mission.
“By far I’ve learned more in the past two weeks than the past two years,” Hutchison said. “It’s probably been the best training I’ve had so far.”
CLDT ended with an awards presentation and barbecue June 11 where awards were given to the cadets who performed the best in each platoon for all six companies and for the best cadet in each company. Best in CLDT and Best in Company C was awarded to Class of 2012 Cadet Joseph Bailey. Best in Company A was awarded to Class of 2012 Cadet Zachary Palmieri; Best in Company B went to Class of 2013 Cadet William Moffitt; Best in Company D was awarded to Class of 2012 Cadet Zachary Kennedy; Best in Company E went to Class of 2012 Cadet Jose Ramirez; and Best in Company F was awarded to Class of 2012 Bruce Compton. The Best in Company for the Opposition Force was awarded to Class of 2013 Cadet Michael Garman.