By Story and photos by Eric S. BarteltJanuary 26, 2009
The physical education curriculum at West Point has long incorporated gymnastics into its program to produce physically fit officers who can move well on the battlefield.
Cadets have been running the Indoor Obstacle Course Test for more than 60 years as part of the Department of Physical Education's goal to build a better fit officer. Now, the hope is to add another obstacle course to give cadets an additional opportunity to use their basic movement skills learned in their military movement classes.
Fifteen cadet teams, involving seven-to-eight cadets per team, participated in the inaugural Military Movement Assault Course Brigade Open at Hayes Gymnasium Jan. 14. It was open to all cadets as part of the PE117 Military Movement - Gymnastics course, which is a military movement class.
"We're piloting some data because we're considering doing something like this as part of the curriculum," said Maj. Adam Hodges, DPE instructor and officer-in-charge of the MMACBO. "It'll probably not be graded (like the IOCT), but it would give (the cadets) a chance to apply some of the movement skills within the military movement assault course."
Cadets had to tumble, scale walls, vault, rope climb, low crawl and dodge projectiles to meet their objective in disabling the enemy, which was played by the DPE instructors.
"The objective was for the cadets to disable the defenders and scale the height up to the platform (above the course floor)," Hodges said. "We had the course set up to force them to do certain skills such as vaults, low crawling, tumbling, scaling the wall and climbing the rope."
"All those things were part of achieving the objective and we teach all those skills in military movement," he added. "We wanted to show cadets that all these skills we teach them have relevance to achieve a potentially specific mission that they might see in the real world."
The cadets had to disable the instructors within three minutes with the use of a couple of different methods. They used direct fire, which they had to hit all four instructors with direct fire (tennis balls), or use an easier method, which was to climb the rope, scale close to the top of the platform and throw a "designated" grenade onto it, which would have killed all the instructors at once.
All the cadet teams had a chance to put some form of strategy to use on the course when Hodges provided photographs, a film showing the course on YouTube and a briefing about the course.
"We called it an intelligence package like you would see in a real Army unit," Hodges explained. "We tried to make it as realistic as possible because in the real world you may not get a chance to recon what you're about to attack, but you do have intelligence lines that provides some Intel.
"Teams were a little tentative, but the teams that did succeed finished at about a minute-and-a-half to two minutes whereas the second time up (those teams) had a better grasp on it," he added. "They realized the shock and awe method was probably more effective than going in tentatively."
Of the 15 cadet teams, five teams met the objective and three teams made the finals with similar times.
In the end, the Mighty, Mighty Gamecocks were the runners-up with a time of 44 seconds and one casualty while the Halfbacks, a team amassed of rugby players, completed the course in the finals in 34 seconds with only one casualty.
"It feels pretty good to win," said Cadet Curt Vanhooser, team captain of the Halfbacks. "I gave them my plan and they executed it flawlessly. They were pretty pumped up to do this; they were motivated and got the job done."
Vanhooser's plan was for his team to travel in groups, in waves, over the wall barrier to get to the platform.
The team effort worked as they achieved the goal while taking only one casualty, but they didn't think they were going to be as successful as the Mighty, Mighty Gamecocks, who went before them in the finals.
"The Gamecocks did it in 44 seconds, so after that we talked and said everyone just go for it," Vanhooser said. "We couldn't take our time after that because that was a really good time."
Vanhooser said the team had trouble spots especially on the rope where they got bogged down a bit and used everything they learned in their PE classes such as jumping over the wall as they learned in plebe gymnastics.
Vanhooser felt the assault course was chaotic, but that it was important to, "stick to your plan and think on your feet."
The Halfbacks' team consisted of Cadets John Wagner; Tom Moentman and Vanhooser (who captained the team but had a knee injury and couldn't run the course); Dave Geib, Brian Johnson, Trevor Mitchell, Jev Valles, Kyle Palmer and Alex Farinelli.
The Halfbacks' captain said the course wasn't cardio demanding, but it took athletic skill to jump over the barriers. He said when you add the strategy aspect to the course it helps bring everything together, both physically and mentally, when it comes to real world situations as an officer.
"You have to game plan before coming in; you just can't wing it," Vanhooser said. "At first, you have a preconceived notion what's going to happen when you're running the assault course and then when you're in there it's different. You have to be quick on your feet and be able to make changes on the fly."
Hodges was the brain behind the course with the help of a couple other instructors to try to apply the military movement skills on the obstacles. He put the idea in front of Dr. Jeffrey Coelho, the PE117 course director, and he said it was a great idea and for Hodges to develop it.
"I set up a very small assault course where the cadets had to run, roll and jump, and I'm a big fan of the American Gladiators show and I felt we should try to do something like that," Hodges said. "The Master of Sword (Col. Gregory Daniels) saw it and liked it. Coelho's idea was to get some pilot data and do this as a brigade open, get some interest and see how it goes."
The event could become more of a semi-annual or quarterly occurrence depending on how the after action review looks positively on the event. Like the IOCT, the Military Movement Assault Course has an importance to the use of skills that will be seen in combat as Hodges' used while deployed in Iraq.
"A lot of cadets ask us, 'what is the relevance'' and some of this course is to show them there is relevance to what we make them do, but a lot of things we make them do is also to have them overcome fear, the fear of heights and fear of inversion." Hodges said. "A lot of cadets have poor motor awareness when they are upside down and lose all senses ... they will be upside down at some point during their Army career. They're going to be flipped over and they need to be able to land on their feet without hurting themselves."
It wasn't all smooth sailing as it was hard for Hodges to communicate to the floor instructors on who was eliminated from the event when the tennis balls were flying fast and furious, but feels it's something that can be corrected and doesn't take away from the overall success of the assault course.
"I was pleased overall," Hodges said. "I think everyone had fun with it and it met the objective of applying the skills we teach in a simulated real environment by putting stress on them and having some fun with it."