By 1st Lt. Coleman Grider (3rd ABCT, 4th ID)May 30, 2017
BABADAG TRAINING AREA, Romania - As a fire team maneuvers up a hill, two Soldiers move into position and throw grenades to destroy an enemy bunker while the rest of the team keeps an eye out for additional enemy troops.
The team leader commands the rest of his team to form a line to assault through the objective.
These Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, are crew members on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle practicing infantry battle drills at the Babadag Training Area in Romania.
Leading this team is Cpl. James Dean, an infantryman from 3rd Platoon, Company B, who formerly served as a gunner on the Bradley.
This is the first time Dean has trained as a dismounted team leader since joining the "Fighting Eagles" Battalion in 2014, and it's an opportunity afforded to him and other junior leaders in the battalion who are training daily as part of U.S. Army Europe's Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The battalion recently completed a month-long series of situational training exercises and live-fire exercises like this with the Romanian 282nd Mechanized Brigade in an overarching exercise dubbed Justice Eagle.
Dean formerly distinguished himself as a mounted crew member when he earned the titles "Hero of the Battle" during an August 2016 rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and as "Top Gun" during gunnery at home station Fort Carson, Colorado, as part of the brigade's train-up to this European deployment.
Now he's setting himself apart in an even more complex Atlantic Resolve environment, where junior officers and noncommissioned officers often are tasked to not only work alongside NATO Allies or partners, but lead them.
Dean joined the 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Regt., as a specialist in December 2014, and immediately was put onto a plane that was on its way to Qatar as the 3/4 ABCT served in support of Operation Spartan Shield.
"Although I never tactically trained as a team leader there, I learned a lot about leadership," said Dean. "I planned physical training and guard schedules. Initially, I had so much to learn about leading a team. At the time, I knew nothing about it. My squad leader, Staff Sgt. Richard Cardenas, taught me a lot about being a leader. The most important lesson he taught me was to always put my Soldiers before myself."
Now in Romania, where the 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Regt., is serving as a deterrent presence against any act of aggression on NATO's eastern borders, he's getting the opportunities to step into the role of his former mentor.
"I have served with him since November 2015," said Dean. "He can be strict at times, but he cares a lot about his Soldiers and does his best to pass on everything he's learned. There aren't a lot of leaders like that."
Dean's leadership praises his ability to lead his Soldiers.
"James is one of best junior enlisted soldiers I have ever worked with," said Cardenas. "His unwavering discipline and military bearing are leaps and bounds above his peers. You can always count on him to accomplish whatever task you put in front of him."
When Dean returned from Qatar, he joined Cardenas' squad as a gunner. In a new role, he didn't fare so well as the unit jumped into Bradley gunnery.
"New gunners didn't get a lot of training before we went into gunnery. As a result, a lot of crews failed. I remember we shot a 412. It was embarrassing," he said.
Dean viewed the experience as a chance to grow.
"Some people get critiqued and take it to heart thinking they didn't do a great job," said Dean. "You have to learn from your mistakes and be able to grow from that. I went into the next gunnery with the mentality that I was going to shoot Top Gun. I did my retraining based off that."
His efforts paid off as he shot a 924 on the gunnery reshoot, earning him the title of Top Gun.
In Romania, Dean called his first experience maneuvering a team "mind boggling."
But he said the advantages of training with the Romanians at Babadag Training Area is that the unit's crews have had ample opportunities to run through fighting scenarios.
"We had access to a lot to training resources at Babadag, and being able to shoot and maneuver like we did got us some great practice. I understand the tactics of a mounted unit much better after the training at Babadag, and it's going to make the dismounts' job a lot easier if I can do my job better," he said.