Plebes no more: West Point Class of 2014 completes field training
July 27, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. (July 27, 2011) -- The promotion to yearling and the cadet rank of corporal did not come easy for the Class of 2014. By all accounts, this summer’s Cadet Field Training proved to be one of the toughest ever.
Perhaps Class of 2012 Cadet Charles Phelps, the CFT regimental commander, said it best when he addressed the new members of the cadet noncommissioned officer corps following the Run Back July 22.
“If you all remember that first day at Camp Buckner we met on the parade field out there and I said a couple of things. I said you would spend more nights in the field than any Buckner in the past decade; I said you would ruck march more miles than any Buckner in the past decade; and I said you would take part in training that has never been done before in CFT history. And all that is true,” Phelps said.
Ask any cadet in the Class of 2014 coming out of Camp Buckner how they persevered through CFT and two words are indubitably mentioned: motivation and teamwork. Like the motivation Class of 2014 Cadet Scott Williams displayed while hanging from a wire 25 feet above Lake Popolopen, reciting this season’s Army Football game schedule.
“That was all about motivation and being enthusiastic about the training,” he said after taking the plunge at the Water Confidence Course.
Or when Class of 2014 Cadet Michael Janowski had just received the best Team Leader Medallion and the Simon B. Buckner Medal and Plaque during the CFT Awards Ceremony July 22. Rather than explain what he did during summer training to be recognized as a standout leader, Janowski acknowledged being part of a class of leaders.
“To me this is like accepting an award for all of us; showing all of our accomplishments,” Janowski, 3rd Company, said. “This whole Class of 2014 is incredible and I know we’ll be great leaders.”
Cadets had much to struggle with out in the field, but they never did it alone.
“There were some bad times ... but you get so close to those 10 people in your squad that no matter how bad it got you had those 10 friends to help you through,” Janowski said. “So I didn’t think it was a bad experience at all. I knew nobody coming into my squad, but now they’re my best friends in the world.”
He admitted that after rucking countless miles, spending nights on patrol or getting ambushed and moving from one training lane after another, marksmanship, combatives, live-fire urban operations, branch orientation, land navigation, the culminating field exercise and so on"the training takes a physical and mental toll on a person.
“It came down to staying motivated and being mentally tough through it all,” Janowski said.
Squad members can offer support in many ways, but CFT also tests the individual’s skills and fitness. How does a cadet get through a day starting with a 10K ruck march, followed by an uncompromising excursion through an obstacle course and then a four-hour block of combatives training? Class of 2012 Cadet Anthony Davila, 1st Company commander, said even when surrounded by a squad, sometimes it is all about personal fortitude.
“Teamwork is a big thing, and it’s important to spot each other,” Davila said. “But a lot of the training depends on individual fitness, mental toughness and confidence.”
As 4th Platoon Leader in 7th Company, Class of 2012 Cadet Benjamin Johnson hoped his leadership style would instill confidence in the yearlings.
“Not everbody is going to go infantry or become a Ranger or Sapper, but every single one of them will be a Soldier who knows how to properly fire a weapon, read a map, plan and conduct a raid ... that’s what we teach at CFT,” Johnson said. “We’re just helping them find that confidence in their ability to be a Soldier and confidence in their ability to be a team leader.”
Phelps said the cadet cadre gets as much as they give, if not more, from this summer training. Of the 250 upperclass cadets in the CFT cadre, 63 of them arrived to the Leader Training Program after completing their own summer training at Cadet Leader Development Training. More than nine consecutive weeks of field training proved the resiliency of these leaders, Phelps said.
“It starts to wear on leadership as time goes on, but we’ve seen the chain of command out here is extremely tough and willing to take on any challenge,” the CFT commander said.
With the exception of the engineer and fire support training, which required the expertise of the active-duty task force to oversee, the cadet cadre took ownership of training the yearlings.
“It was completely planned, executed and resourced by the cadet chain of command,” Phelps said. “The individual squad leader is the primary trainer for that squad and there’s a huge amount of responsibility that comes with that.”
Some would think cadets would be hard-pressed to admit their own training wasn’t as difficult as what their colleagues experience. Phelps and others say it with pride.
“It really is like a badge of honor for us because we are the ones who designed and executed it that way,” Phelps said. “CFT and summer training as a whole has progressed to being more difficult as a result of the philosophy of outcomes based training. Training in general is going to be more advanced than what was experienced before.”
Johnson cited the live-fire operation as one of the new components of CFT and the long-distance land navigation course at Harriman State Park.
“We gave them 17 kilometers of points to go through and it wasn’t self-correcting at all; they just had to get to the point and verify themselves if they were at the right spot,” Johnson said. “It was really challenging, but they did it well. This kind of tough training will make them that much more confident in their abilities.”
To put it simply, the mission of CFT is to put yearlings in the mindset to lead, according to the 7th Company’s first sergeant, Class of 2013 Cadet Michael Gillin. Just as he had been elevated from leading one cadet last year to 192 this summer, the training empowers the rising yearlings to develop their own leadership skills.
“My big emphasis is to give them a reason for being here,” Gillin said. “If we ask them to be team leaders, it’s more than just giving them a title. It’s a real job they must perform.”
Class of 2014 Cadet Alec Carrier got a taste of peer leadership during urban operations with 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, 1st Company.
“It’s hard because you’re a member of the squad with them. But then you have to step up to that role of team leader and actually take charge when just the day before you were just another squad member. It can be challenging.”
Plebes no more, the Class of 2014 spent their first year at West Point taking care of themselves. Having earned the yuk bar on their uniform, they must now extend that care to others.
“It wasn’t that long ago when I was in the same situation the new cadets are in now,” Carrier said. “Now there’s a lot of thoughts running through my mind about how I can make their experience better. I think I have some great ideas about how to help my plebe and make this experience as beneficial as possible.”