By CourtesyJune 18, 2014
WEST POINT, N.Y. - Despite the thick fog and constant drizzle of rain at the Camp Buckner Parade Field at West Point, 500 high school seniors participated in the United States Military Academy Summer Leader Experience June 12, 2014.
The students received their first taste of Army life as well as hands-on-experience with Army soldiers, equipment and tactics.
Soldiers from Company C, 3rd Battalion 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, part of Task Force China who are spending the summer at West Point to help mentor and train cadets, also had the opportunity to interact with the younger high school audience.
Sgt. Andrew Diaz, an infantry squad leader with Company C, found out quickly what a receptive audience he had. "This was really cool," said Diaz. "It's not every day we can come out here and look like rock stars in front of these kids."
The excitement of the students grew as they moved to each of the four stations. At the first station, they were able to get hands-on experience and learn about various pieces of Army equipment including body armor, squad weapon systems, and a fully-loaded rucksack.
Another station provided them the opportunity to learn about different military vehicles and experience sitting behind the wheel. Next, they moved to a covered area near the edge of the field where they had the chance to ask a variety of questions to Staff Sgt. Joseph Bastanzi, an infantry platoon sergeant with Company C and a veteran of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
The questions ranged from curiosity about weapons systems and tactics to personal questions about the daily life of a soldier both in garrison and in combat. "It was a unique experience being able to speak with aspiring soldiers and possible future leaders in our Army," said Bastanzi. "Being able to share my knowledge and experience with them was rewarding."
The highlight of the day for many students came at the final station, where a squad of infantrymen led by Sgt. Matthew Kitch conducted a full speed squad attack using blank ammunition, smoke grenades and grenade simulators.
The squad, wearing their standard combat kit, bounded across the field behind a screen of green smoke towards their objective. The students, fixated on the action, were given a textbook example of what an Army infantry squad is capable of with the proper equipment, training, communication and leadership. "We had a lot of fun showing what we can do in front of potential future cadets," said Kitch. "We take pride in showing them what we can do and they seemed to enjoy it which makes it even better."
After the demonstration, the students received one final opportunity to ask questions of the Soldiers before departing the field with a little more knowledge and a lot more respect for what soldiers do on a day-to-day basis. The experience can give those who choose to join the Army, either through enlistment or possibly a commission from the United States Military Academy, a lasting memory with the 3-15 Inf. soldiers. An experience many soldiers from China Battalion can share of showing the students just what it means to be a "Can Do" soldier.