By Brandon OConnorNovember 21, 2019
In April, the communities around Hyde Park, New York faced an invasion.
Soldiers could have been found in the woods throughout the area or possibly spotted infiltrating the area via motorboat from the Hudson River. For three days, the Soldiers worked to build alliances with guerilla forces in the area, gain intel on combatants and finally eliminate enemy targets.
The invasion took months of planning and built upon multiple field training exercises used to hone the military skills needed to operate in a hostile environment.
While Hyde Park may not seem to meet the definition of a hostile environment and isn't an area ruled by an opposition force, for the three days of training conducted by the cadets in the U.S. Military Academy's Irregular Warfare Group it became exactly that.
The cadets partnered with local agencies, brought in role players and staged the multi-day "invasion" as the annual culminating exercise for the club creating a mini version of the Robin Sage Exercise Army Special Forces trainees conduct as the final step toward earning their green berets.
"It's not just people running around the woods," Class of 2021 Cadet Nicholas Desimone, the sergeant major of the club this year, said. "You're going to actual businesses and you're talking with these role players that you may not know where their allegiances lie. You're dealing with the local police force, so they're getting training out of it."
The Irregular Warfare Group conducts specialized training throughout the year geared toward building on the foundational skills learned during Cadet Summer Training and training weekends at the academy.
Cadets are selected to join the club following a multiday tryout. Because of the nature of the club, the roster includes a high percentage of prior service cadets as well as cadets chosen for specialized skills such as medical experience, construction skills or familiarity with communications equipment.
For cadet's first two years in the club, they mostly serve as participants in the training honing their skills and learning to be better Soldiers. Once they become upperclassmen, the cadets transition into leadership roles. They begin planning the training, running exercises and learning skills that will be vital when as second lieutenants they have to make sure the Soldiers in their platoon are adequately trained and ready for combat.
"I think our team, especially the backside support, has learned a lot on how to run a training event at the most basic level," Desimone said. "Learning about the logistics of it. Learning about how to not just run a mission, but how to also step back and say, 'How can I create a training event in which someone will run a mission and learn from it.'"
The club holds weekly classroom sessions to teach skills they may not get in other forums such as visits from the West Point Negotiation Project or a class on demolition. Then on the weekends, they conduct field training exercises to teach skills that will be needed in the culminating exercise such as patrolling, building raids and reconnaissance.
The training throughout the year builds-up itself with consequences or mistakes made by participants carrying over from week to week and influencing future scenarios.
The group also conducts after action reviews following each training to talk about mistakes, why they were made and how to avoid them in the future.
The main body of the club currently includes a platoon-sized element of 40 cadets divided into teams. As part of the training, they also have a group of cadets who have volunteered to serve as the oppositional force and additional cadets who serve as third-party participants such as civilians or local guerilla fighters.
During the training, the cadets in the opposition force dress like enemy combatants and carry weapons America's enemies use. They also spend time studying the enemy to try and mimic their fighting style and bring in native speakers from the area they are portraying to add an extra level of realism to the scenario.
"It's a little bit different than a raid or ambush," Class of 2021 Cadet Brandon Cea, the cadet in charge of the group, said. "You have to go take on a communications tower or something, but in order to do so there's local forces you have to work with. Or maybe, you have to work with a translator. We try to involve that in some of our scenarios, in addition to those basic military skills, and this is some training that you probably wouldn't really ever get unless you're put in that situation."
The weekend trainings and weekly classes build up to the culminating exercise, which is a multiday fully immersive training exercise that requires the participants to problem solve, plan and conduct the mission without help.
"There's an outline of what should be happening, but they're the ones writing it," Cea said. "If they fail, they fail. If they succeed, they succeed. The intent isn't really for them to check all the boxes and be 100% good to go. It's for them to do things and then learn from that."
The club takes the cadets through outside of the box training to teach them to problem solve, think creatively and be prepared for challenges they will face as Soldiers following graduation.