By Staff Sgt. Jennifer Bunn, 2nd Brigade Combat Team PCO NCOICMay 7, 2015
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 7, 2015) -- With deployment just around the corner for 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the battalion commander and company commanders took time to give the lieutenants in their ranks special attention during a three-day training event called Platoon Leader Challenge.
Results from a sensing session and various questions about the deployment from junior officers prompted Lt. Col. Christopher Landers, Polar Bear commander, to schedule time with them April 21-23 to answer those questions they may have about the upcoming mission.
"You cannot substitute (this event) for experience," Landers said. "A lot of these lieutenants have not deployed before. The best we can do is try to replicate that combat experience as closely as possible."
The battalion will be spread out to nine different locations within Afghanistan.
"Most of the lieutenants will be geographically dispersed and have no interaction with each other at all for the entire time," Landers explained. "This is one opportunity before we leave to get them all together and do some team building."
The focus of the challenge was not to have teams complete a task or compete for a score. The challenging tasks were a method to teach the lieutenants how to be better officers.
Landers and the company commanders spent nearly six hours talking to the lieutenants on several topics ranging from Army values and personal values, Sexual Harassment / Assault Response and Prevention Program to tactical situational awareness.
"I'm not evaluating tasks. The principle training focus is building teamwork among them through shared hardship and through an introspective look at our own values and focus on their decision making as they get ready to deploy," Landers said.
With that in mind, the events not only included basic Soldier skills like weapons maintenance and casualty assistance, which everyone needs to know, but also conflict mediation and critical thinking. Strenuous physical fitness activities like the Mountain Athlete Warrior assessment and an eight-mile ruck march were added stressors.
Within the first 24 hours, after a long day of physical activity and the discussion panel, the lieutenants found themselves conducting a situational training lane at a village in the middle of the night.
Using concepts learned earlier in the day, the village scenario tested the lieutenants' ability to assess a situation and come up with a reasonable solution that diminished hostilities and disagreements -- a technique needed as they deploy more as advisers than combatants.
"The fight that we are having now, overseas, is not going to be so much kinetic as it is building relationships, building teams, working with our Afghan partners and working with partners from other countries," said 1st Lt. Nikolas Anninos, who planned the event. "So, one of the things we want to get out (of this training) is not just a kinetic raid on a village, but actually go through and do something more realistic of what we will see."
Nevertheless, Soldiers need to be proficient on their weapon. So, on the second day, with less than five hours of sleep, they had to maneuver a short-range marksmanship course with an M-4 rifle. The ability to engage enemy fire while tired can be crucial to mission accomplishment.
On day three, with rucks on their backs and weapons in hand, the officers broke into four teams to navigate a round-robin type of course of five stations. The whole group had to work together to complete the tasks, which included a memory game and setting up a tactical checkpoint.
All in all, the challenge was a training event that focused on interpersonal skills that will not only help the platoon leaders face difficult situations within Afghanistan but also be more effective leaders for their Soldiers.