By Sgt. Brandon BanzhafApril 24, 2019
OROGRANDE, N.M. -- A squad leader watches his new infantryman show up to his first unit and greets him.
The young infantryman is told what will be expected of him and given detailed material on what he will have to know as an infantryman in the 1st Armored Division.
Fast forward a month: during his brigade's major training exercise, that Soldier is kicking in doors alongside his teammates - clearing rooms and operating synchronously with his new family.
"I think the biggest thing for me is that my Soldiers are not compromised or shot in the process," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Sylvester, a Columbus, Ohio native, and squad leader for Company C, 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. "That's what I have been focusing on lately with my squad because this is a new squad with new teams and young team leaders."
Sylvester's squad was one of two that assaulted "Zamineah," an urban training facility located in Orogrande, New Mexico, April 8. The two squads dismounted from their M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and made their way to buildings predesignated for them to capture.
"Some immediate obstacles we faced in this training was getting to the buildings," Sylvester said. "We had a really long sprint and once we got there, getting in (was the next obstacle). One door was too secured, and we had to find a secondary entrance to clear our first building."
Sunlight beamed into the pitch-dark rooms through cracks in the window shutters and under doors, forcing the Soldiers' eyes to adjust continuously.
It's the squad leader's responsibility to make sure his team leaders and their Soldiers know every role in the squad and can take control if the leadership is taken down, he said. This education process starts when new Soldiers meet Sylvester for the first time.
"When I first meet with a new Soldier, I give them an initial counseling where I explain to them what I will expect from them," said the squad leader. "I have a new guy packet which contains materials that they will have to know and comprehend. And on each day, they are here, we'll test their knowledge on it. Just to see where they are at, knowledge-wise, and to determine where I will place them on the team."
If Sylvester can successfully integrate new members into the camaraderie and train the squad efficiently, he's not just building a unit, he is building a family. With the extended hours that they spend with each other and sometimes in confined spaces, they learn to care for each other and ensure their battle buddies are physically, mentally and spiritually ready before they kick in doors.
"I ask them what is going on in their lives, not just during their counselings with me or their team leaders, but daily," he said. "If they ever come into work and seem down, we are quick to ask what is wrong. Even if they don't want to tell us, we make sure they know that we are here for them and are more than willing to help."
He knows that the first time he learns of a problem a Soldier may have shouldn't be on the battlefield. When they are entering rooms, their minds shouldn't be at home.
"Whenever we have white space, or open time during training, I want my guys studying," he continued. "I push them to go to boards and compete against their peers, to take college courses and put them into situations they are uncomfortable in. That's how they grow into a better Soldier but also mentor them to be great leaders."
With the squad watching out for each other, studying and working together, they become a lethal force their command team can rely on.
"The squad and fire team leaders are the last positions where [noncommissioned officers] can interact with a Soldier on a one-on-one basis and actually see the impact of their training and mentorship," said Capt. Jacob Risinger, a Morton, Illinois native, and commander of Company C, 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 2nd BCT. "This is even more so at the dismounted level due to the high physical rigor the squads are put through during their training."
The physicality can break an ill-prepared squad. But this squad performs a physical training session two to three times a day. This allows them to fully surprise the opposing force, attack them and push forward during their training.
"They performed the best out of all the units that conducted dismounted training during Strike Focus 19," said Risinger. "The platoon sergeants and squad leaders proved they were 'thinking' leaders by reframing the plan into a course of action for their echelons that was far simpler yet, had more audacity that led to a successful mission and clearing of Zamineah."
Putting into practice what the squad trained for, they used the time to refine their procedures and identify how they could do better.
"My goal for our squad, what every squad's goal should be, is to be the best squad in the whole brigade," Sylvester said. "I want our leadership all the way up to the sergeant major and the colonel, to know who we are and that we are reliable at any given time."