By Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox NewsMay 31, 2019
Rain made the boards and poles slick as a dozen members of a Congressional staff delegation tried to negotiate two obstacles during a leadership obstacle course at Fort Knox May 30.
Most of the staffers had never met prior to the visit, although all of them work on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Two days after touring major commands throughout the installation, the obstacle course provided a different environment for them.
"This has definitely been challenging; not like our day-to-day work on Capitol Hill," said Elaina Murphy, military legislative assistant to U.S. Representative Brett Guthrie of Kentucky. "It's been a really good trip."
Prior to the obstacle course, the delegates visited U.S. Army Recruiting Command on the first day, including a Virtual Recruiting Center tour and an overview of E-Sports by members of the U.S. Army Marketing and Engagement Brigade.
On the second day, they learned about components of the new Army Combat Fitness Test and why the Army has changed the fitness standards, followed by a road march to the ranges where they shot rifles and watched a demolition demonstration. The day culminated with a visit to Godman Army Airfield and the rappel tower.
"From my office's perspective, we are a little bit more familiar with Fort Knox," Murphy said. "This really underscores the importance of Fort Knox and the bigger Army picture and what these guys do here."
The fourth and fifth days at the installation involved a windshield tour of the post, a visit with leaders from First Army Division East and U.S. Army Human Resources Command, and participation in the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month observance.
At the Field Leaders Reaction Course on the third day, staff delegation members faced their first obstacle -- two walls, each with a tube running through it, and two wooden posts between the walls that delegates needed to navigate over with wooden boards to get an ammunition can from one side to the other.
The course's lead officer, Lt. Col. Dan Gregory, said the purpose of all six obstacles at the course is to present cadets with various challenges that simulate what they may face in combat or austere environments during conflicts.
"What we do is we give cadets equipment that's just enough to accomplish an obstacle," said Gregory. "It forces them to use synchronization, communication; leadership. They have to make a plan, try the plan out, and then figure out what to do when the plan doesn't work because invariably, the first plan never works."
Army testers gave the staff delegation members five minutes to plan how to get themselves across the obstacle and then 20 minutes to make it happen. They formulated a plan well under the five-minute limit that they stayed with throughout the scenario. It was working, but completing to the time standard proved far more difficult. Eight of the 12 staff delegation members made it across at the end.
Testers then led the staff delegation members to the second obstacle. Similar to the first, it had no walls, no tubes, but included an additional post; one with steel pegs that they could stand on.
They again formulated a quick plan and got to work on making it happen. However, the plan fell apart early.
Gregory said when cadets go through the course, they often fail to complete four out of the six required, and don't start gelling as a team until about the last two or three obstacles.
"It's very simple, but it's a lot of fun for the cadets and us," said the University of Hawaii professor of Military Science. "The ingenuity you see at times will blow you away. When you meet the young men and women who come out here for Cadet Summer Training, it offers a bright light for the future."
When the staff delegation members realized their plan wasn't working, they quickly devised a new plan. After a little over 17 minutes, they managed to complete the course, even after incurring some time penalties.
"The hardest part was communication. Coming on this trip, I didn't know anyone," said Lily Douthitt, military legislative correspondent for U.S. Representative James Comer from Kentucky. "The Army has been great hosts; it's impressive how hard they work and their sense of duty and public service."
Douthitt said she was most impressed with Soldiers' work ethic.
"They really are hardcore. They're training every day; their defending our country," said Douthitt. "I'd say we're in good hands."