By Lt. Col. Eric Kunak and Maj. Aaron Palmer, 1-79th FASeptember 4, 2019
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sept. 4, 2019) -- Six congressional staffers had a rude awakening the morning of Aug. 20.
Away from their offices and daily bustle of Capitol Hill, they paid a visit to Fort Sill and the 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery, for the Office of Congressional Legislative Liaison Army Days.
The purpose of this visit was for congressional staff assistants to gain an appreciation for the process involved in becoming a Soldier in the Army.
The staff members came from many different offices in Washington, D.C., representing congressmen and women from both sides of the aisle. This trip, however, was a bipartisan opportunity to experience the Army firsthand.
The staffers dropped their bags off at D Battery Aug. 19 and began their journey. The real test began the next day, when the lights came on and the drill sergeants' booming voices ripped through the air, giving them a taste of Basic Combat Training (BCT).
Following their harsh wakeup, the staffers completed physical readiness training, led by drill sergeants. After PRT was over, they had a busy day ahead of them, led by Senior Drill Sergeant (Sgt. 1st Class) Adam Hartle, D/1-79th FA.
"They're the next generation of American political leadership," said 1-79th FA Command Sgt. Maj. John Bamba. "There's plenty of uniformed personnel around [Washington, D.C.], but not many know what it takes to get there. It was a team effort, and it took a lot of coordination with our NCOs, but I think they gained a much deeper understanding of what it takes to become a Soldier."
The congressional staffers participated in rifle marksmanship training, Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, and Nuclear Training (including going in the gas chamber) and completed multiple obstacles on the Combat Obstacle Course.
Alex Attebery, deputy communications director of the House Appropriations Committee Republicans, said although he has friends and family in the military, the experience was eye-opening.
"Often these trips just become informational things, where you just attend a couple seminars, you get things here and there," said Attebery, who learned of the opportunity through the Army's liaison in Washington. "This was applying a lot of what trainees are doing, whether it be the obstacle course or the gas chamber, we were able to participate in what these future Soldiers [do]."
Bamba said the "Soldierization" process is something important for civilians to know, and it entails a lot more than just learning to shoot a rifle and march in step. Through a fast-paced sample of all the phases of basic training, the visitors gained an appreciation for the teamwork involved in BCT.
"I think we met the objective," said Bamba. "They came in super-motivated. They were attentive and asked a lot of questions. They went to dinner and got to sit and talk with the trainees, and gain their perspective of what the day-to-day life of a trainee is like."
Staffers were caught by surprise by lack of cell phone usage that trainees undergo during BCT.
"They went into their barracks and one of the first questions they asked was what the Wi-Fi passcode was," a drill sergeant said. "We told them there was no internet, and they were amazed that someone could go three [months] without their phone."
Gaining a greater appreciation for what it takes to become an American Soldier, the delegates will be better able to understand and advise their representatives in making informed policy decisions regarding the Army and Department of Defense. With a certificate and an honorary graduation diploma from D/1-79th FA, these staffers have an experience that they'll remember for the rest of their lives.
"You hear how a lot of the drill sergeants are tough on their [trainees] and they are," Attebery said. "But it is just for [the trainees] to succeed. The Army gives you a lot of opportunity if you apply yourself. You can be successful. The family at Fort Sill and 1-79th FA has been incredible and I call it a family because you all welcomed us and treated us so well. It's been an awesome trip being able to see firsthand what our Soldiers go through."