GRAFENWOEHR TRAINING AREA, Germany - As they woke up to a cool rainy day, the fresh-faced new arrivals donned their combat gear and applied face paint, putting on their best warrior faces to confront a day that would only turn wetter and grayer.
The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, doesn't embrace creature comforts while serving as a deterrent to aggression on its Atlantic Resolve mission, and the new leaders-in-training were getting an early taste of it.
Most had never been to Germany before, and most would be getting their first taste of the role of a platoon leader in an active-duty armor company's platoon live-fire exercise. The group of West Point cadets participating in the Cadet Troop Leader Training (CTLT) program looked eager as they fell in with platoons of Chaos Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment.
"Once we came out here, we met everyone, received gear and went out to the training area and really got to know everyone. Being out here is the real deal," said Cadet Nate Librizzi, a native of Mount Pleasant-Charleston, South Carolina.
As they gathered around a terrain model for an initial briefing, they met with 1st Sgt. Henry Uribe, Chaos Co.'s senior noncommissioned officer.
"For the training period, we will be conducting squad and platoon live-fire exercises," Uribe told them. "Today we are going over the troop leading procedures. Tomorrow we will do the dry run, and on the final day we will conduct live-fire day and night missions."
Each iteration of the live-fire exercise (LFX) lasted at least two hours, and each platoon went through the firing lanes covering several battle drills. The experience is a priceless introduction for the cadets in the CTLT program, which provides an opportunity to step up in lieutenant-level leadership positions over a three- to four-week period.
"The purpose of the training is to certify each platoon," Uribe told the cadets. "It's pretty much a different echelon of the platoon - team level and squad level. Now we are conducting platoon certifications."
The platoons, with cadets in tow, certified as a team while being validated by a platoon sergeant or higher.
As the cadets piled into Bradley Fighting Vehicles for the live run, they weren't the only fresh faces in the mix.
"'We have a lot of young teams and team leaders who are new to this. They had to step up, and they've done real well during our mission in Atlantic Resolve over the last seven months in the Baltics and now here. We have been able to overcome those minor challenges and adapt to the different environments so far," said Uribe, whose company provided an armored presence in Estonia starting in February before moving to Germany in June.
"The cadets are able to experience the Army in a real-world operation," said Uribe of the LFX training. "We assigned sponsors to them to train and mentor them. When the cadets start their career as commissioned officers, they will have this experience to look back on."
During the LFX, a convoy of mechanized infantry traveled a half-kilometer down a dirt road before stopping and dropping the fighting vehicles' back ramps. Infantrymen poured out and into a forest, moving towards a village another half-kilometer away.
Shots rang out as dismounted Soldiers identified targets; the cadets stayed glued to platoon leaders with each iteration, observing them orchestrate a synchronized attack, while breaching an obstacle, clearing buildings and later taking the fight back onto the Bradleys.
For Erik Peterson, a cadet entering his final year at the U.S. Military Academy, the live-fire lane offered a first time riding in a Bradley. The buzzing sound of rounds leaving the barrel of the 25mm cannon sent chills and excitement through the cadet, especially as the Bradley engaged targets while moving at full speed later in the lane.
"Hopefully I never get shot at by a Bradley," said Peterson, of Spokane, Washington. "That's all I was thinking when I was inside. It's a lethal weapon and I want to shoot one someday."
The exercise was an opportunity for Peterson and his peers to see how mechanized infantry works in a combined-arms framework. It's more complex fighting that requires discipline and synchronization among mounted and dismounted troops.
"We've done platoon live-fire with light infantry at West Point," said Peterson. "Just seeing how you are integrated with mechanized units, you get to see and understand how they operate better.'
Librizzi said the time he spent with Chaos Co. instilled him with additional confidence.
"I learned a lot from the platoon leaders as well as the enlisted Soldiers. This is a great opportunity to talk, ask questions and learn the Atlantic Resolve mission as well," he said.
In the upcoming week, the cadets will jump in to even more complex training, as 1st Bn., 68th Armor Regt., offers "graduate level" training during company-level combined arms live fire exercises.
The battalion is preparing for the upcoming Combined Resolve IX, which will serve as validation for the entire battalion to fight not just together but in synchronization with artillery and other enablers of the 3/4 ABCT.