By Class of 2021 Cadet Charles Larson
Irregular Warfare Group

From April 23-26, the residents of Hyde Park, Staatsburg and Poughkeepsie had understandable cause for alarm. Young, military-aged males and females carrying assault rifles while wearing woodland camouflage uniforms could be seen at different times and locations. One group could be seen stalking the woods near the Payne Mansion after making landfall from a motorboat near Dinsmore Point, while another could be seen setting up a deployable radio antenna on a hill overlooking a Hopeland Trails footpath.

Thankfully, these were not Russia's famed "little green men" or a nutty militia on a mission. Instead, these were cadets from the U.S. Military Academy Irregular Warfare Group. They were conducting their annual Unconventional Warfare Exercise-something they had planned and trained for since last year.

The Irregular Warfare Group is a military club at West Point dedicated to studying and practicing the various missions and roles that U.S. Special Forces fulfill around the world. According to the club's Officer-in-Charge and in-house Irregular Warfare expert, Lt. Col. Nicholas Thompson, IWG's purpose is to give cadets a strategic understanding of the unique capabilities special forces has to offer.

The growing number of special forces missions around the world almost guarantees that these cadets will encounter special forces members at some point in their careers. Having the knowledge and background afforded to them by their experiences in IWG will enable them to forge more effective working relationships with special forces in the future.

Among the many experiences provided by IWG, the Unconventional Warfare Exercise stands out above the rest. The UWEX is the culminating mission of IWG. About half of IWG was committed to planning and resourcing the three-day exercise with multiple missions, negotiations with local role-players, intelligence gathering and even a helicopter fly-by from the 2nd Aviation Detachment.

Cadets in the Operational Detachment-Alphas, the self-sufficient 12-man teams that are the fundamental feature of special forces, were treated to a depth of training unparalleled elsewhere at West Point. Operational Detachment-Alphas members simulated an unconventional warfare campaign by infiltrating into a denied territory, setting up an isolation facility at a family farm, negotiating travel with locals, linking up with guerrilla fighters, earning their trust and training them and finally conducting missions against local targets.

Critical to the UWEX, which is modeled on the special forces Robin Sage Exercise that qualifies special forces candidates to wear the coveted Green Beret, are the many people who assisted in the scenario.

These included role-players from the local community who acted as auxiliaries and hostiles, cadet candidates from the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School who acted as opposition forces and guerrilla fighters, and officers and non-commissioned officers from both USMA and USMAPS who acted as guerrilla chiefs and special forces commanders. The incredible time and support these volunteers provided enabled the UWEX to proceed largely according to plan.

On the last day of the UWEX, IWG gathered with its volunteers and community partners to conduct an after-action report meeting to review the exercise. Areas in need of improvement were discussed with proposed solutions for next year while successes were lauded. At the conclusion of the AAR, IWG in gratitude presented handmade gifts, cadet saber letter openers and unique patches to partners from the local area who braved the weather and gave up their time for the cadets' benefits.

So next year if you see something irregular or unconventional happening around Hyde Park in the spring, know that IWG has returned.