West Point Tactics Team starts semester with weapons qualification
January 17, 2013
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Jan. 17, 2013) -- Because the pursuit of tactical proficiency doesn't end at summer training, the Small Unit Tactics Team exists. And the desire to achieve this proficiency is why cadets were found laying prone in the cold snow, mud and gravel for several hours Jan. 12 on Range 5 qualifying on the M249 machine gun.
For more than a dozen team members, there was nothing else they would rather be doing on a Saturday morning. It isn't simply that they all wanted to do this. These are cadets who always want more of it.
That's the draw of being on the Small Unit Tactics Team. When summer training ends and cadets aren't ready to stow away their field gear, this team, one of a handful of military clubs provided through the Directorate of Cadet Activities, will provide it year-round.
They'd much rather be conducting room-clearing exercises or sending rounds downrange than do anything else outside the classroom, according to the team's cadet-in-charge, Class of 2014 Cadet Andrew Carlson. Even more than a commitment to the team, Carlson said it's a commitment to the Army and their sense of duty.
"Whatever it is you do, you want guys who care about it," Carlson said. "They're taking their free weekends--which are few and far between, especially after last semester where we had seven home football games. So this is the first free weekend of the semester and they want to train."
By the end of the day, the team expended more rounds on the range using both the M249 and M240 than the average cadet does throughout Cadet Basic Training, where they are only required to qualify with the M16 rifle.
"This is the only time I've ever heard where cadets have qualified on machine guns at West Point," Carlson said. "I would say that more than half, maybe two-thirds of the team will qualify, which is incredible considering the only time they've shot live with these weapons was during a familiarization course at Beast (Cadet Summer Training). And the only time we've used them since was in training scenarios using blank rounds. It's a completely different experience."
As the team's cadet-in-charge, Carlson didn't get much of the hands-on action as his colleagues and spent most of the time in the tower in a "command and control" capacity. With planning and coordination for this operation starting two months out, Carlson acquired a different training opportunity. That included creating the operation order and arranging supply requests, Humvee and weapons draws and support from range control.
"A lot of people might not realize all the planning for even just a few hours of training," Carlson said. "There's a lot of planning and a lot of hours spent not sleeping for this one event."
Before qualifying, cadets had the arduous task of zeroing the weapon. Firing the machine gun one round at a time seems counterintuitive to its design and many cadets had never done so before with this weapon.
Maj. Dallas Cheatham, the team's officer-in-charge, and a group of noncommissioned officers from the Department of Military Instruction worked the range throughout the training and offered advice on adjusting fire because of weather conditions and familiarizing cadets with the M145 optical sight which they were using for the first time.
"They're all incredible instructors, very knowledgeable and professional, and have done a great job helping us out," Carlson said.
Following the qualification, the team conducted additional weapon drills using the M240 with four two-man fire teams.
Carlson said if there was enough ammo at the end of the day, the team would create a demonstration video for the Department of Military Instruction, which could be used for military science courses or summer training.
It's not surprising the majority of them are on Sandhurst squads since the annual military skills competition is a good litmus test to some of the training they conduct. Carlson said while the Corps can handle the physical aspects of the competition, Small Unit Tactics Team members frequently train up on the mental duress which is also factor.
During last semester's field training exercise, those new to the tactics team were challenged to perform as platoon leaders.
"We were trying to get back in before dark and all of a sudden we have a plebe leading a raid for the first time," Carlson said. "It went pretty well. Being able to handle that stress with a senior officer watching and 10 upperclassmen looking up to you for leadership can be difficult. There were complications but he was able to get through it."
As one of four military clubs among the rest offered through the Directorate of Cadet Activities, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. Class of 2013 Cadet Matthew Berman, the team's former cadet-in-charge, said they're not a high-visibility group of cadets and are known mostly for being a team that spends a lot of time in the field. Sometimes the team is confused with the Combat Weapons Club.
When able, the team promotes themselves while participating in community outreach. Berman said they're particularly proud to support the Boy Scouts' Camporee every year. They are also active in Black Knight Alley festivities during the Army Football season.
Right after weapons qualification, a few members supported the Army Boot Camp inside the Foley Center prior to the Army Women's Basketball game. There, Berman, Class of 2014 Cadet Garrett Kennedy and Class of 2016 Cadet Alec Chosewood spoke to community members about their club, applied camouflage to the faces of several children and allowed them to try on some of their gear.
Most clubs take it upon themselves to promote their activities and the Small Unit Tactics Team is doing its part. Carlson credits Class of 2015 Cadet Patrick Bauk for serving as the team's "combat cameraman," taking and editing most of the still photos and video found on its Facebook and YouTube pages. The team is embracing social media to highlight its training and show others what the team is all about.
"The level of training we do is at a higher proficiency level, but on a smaller scale than what we do during summer training. That's harder to explain without the videos and pictures," Carlson said.
One video reveals last semester's tryouts, which was the team's first. In years past, Carlson said they'd begin the semester with about 60 cadets signing up for the team which would whittle down to about two dozen by the end of the year.
"We held tryouts to try and get that attrition rate at the beginning so we can start the semester with those 20-25 dedicated team members," Carlson said.
Something that has yet to be documented on video was the morning training regimen the team developed last semester.
"It was the first time we actually had morning workouts based on what we could build for them where they could sustain themselves out in the field," Carlson said. "That meant a lot of rucks, leg lifts, Humvee pushes and things like that. We're developing our training scenarios mostly with foot patrols now and no Humvees."
The new standards have definitely yielded good results, Berman said, and it has created a team dedicated to the training.
"I've really been impressed," he said. "And I think it's the way we've recruited--we want tough guys who want to be there. No one needs to be here; they could all be sleeping in right now. This is what they've chosen to do and they want to be here."