FORT SILL, Oklahoma (April 30, 2020) -- Almost 200 basic combat trainees from A Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery were pushed to their limits at the Combat Conditioning Course (CCC) here April 23. It was the final event in their Forge Field Training Exercise (FTX), where trainees performed numerous grueling drills while living in the field for four days.Capt. Anthony Manduca, A/1-79th FA commander, said the Forge was a crucible which provided trainees with confidence to move forward in theirArmy careers.“They have to execute all the skills they’ve accumulated over the past nine weeks with minimal, if any, guidance from the cadre,” Manduca said. “It’s also a display of how far they can push themselves because rucking 10 miles with 30 pounds on your back is not an easy feat for anybody.”FTXThe FTX began Monday, April 20 with a 10-mile tactical road march at about 6:30 a.m. that had to be completed within 7.5 hours, said Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Devin Clifton, A/1-79th FA.Then at Potato Hill observation point the trainees went through a series of Situational Training Exercises (STX), such as reacting to enemy contact, said Clifton, whose Military Occupational Specialty is Construction Operations Supervisor.After the STX, the trainees ruck marched 3.5 miles to Wyatt Range and created a diamond-shaped patrol base, Clifton said. There they dug their individual hasty fighting positions, which are holes about 1.5 feet deep, that provide cover during an attack.Many trainees said the ruck marches were the most difficult part of the Forge.“The 10-mile ruck march is something you just can’t physically or mentally get yourself prepared for until you start it,” said trainee Pvt. Dillan Hall, age 24, from Stet, Missouri, “I was a little stiff and sore the next day, but I made it through.”Trainee Pfc. Christopher Graham, 43, from Savannah, Georgia, said the battle march the day after the ruck march was the most difficult event for him.“You march about 4 miles with body armor and a full kit,” he said. “You go up a huge hill with about a 30 percent grade. The hill  just doesn’t stop.”Back at the patrol base at 1 a.m. the trainees went through a night infiltration course. During the course led by drill sergeants, trainees low crawled with machine-gun live tracer-fire going over their heads, Clifton said.“We’re also popping smoke grenades and throwing artillery simulators into barrels to give the perception of moving under indirect fires.”After the night infiltration course the trainees returned to the patrol base. They slept in their “hasties,” and took shifts performing perimeter-security, Clifton said.The next day after breakfast and a teardown of the patrol base, trainees donned full “battle-rattle” including carrying M4 carbines for a 3.5-mile tactical road march to a 25-meter rifle range.The purpose of the battle-march-and-shoot is to stress the body like it would be in combat, Clifton said. “You’re tired, your muscles are shaky, but you still have to engage the enemy.”After the range, the trainees were transported to the battery for a heat dump. It’s a safety precaution to ensure the trainees get a good night’s rest, and to refit their equipment.“Refitting is done in combat to clean your gear, stock up on uniforms, and a chance to get off your feet,” Clifton said.Wednesday began at 5 a.m. and after an MRE breakfast, trainees were headed to the 1st Lt. Henry Medical Training Lanes Complex but severe weather moved in.Thunderstorms packing 40 mph winds and hail approached the battery so emergency transportation took the trainees back to the  barracks area until the weather passed. “The No. 1 priority is safety,” Clifton said.Later at the medical training complex, trainees performed tactical team movements through wooded areas while receiving enemy contact, Clifton said.That night a mass casualty exercise awaited the trainees. This involved retrieving a downed pilot from a helicopter.“When they get there we simulate them getting hit by indirect artillery fire, which wipes out about half their formation,” he said.During the mass casualty sometimes trainees in leadership positions are given notional, or simulated, injuries, Clifton explained, so other trainees have to take over. “Now they have to provide aid to their battle buddies and still complete the mission. It’s complete chaos.”Obstacle courseClifton was at the CCC Thursday morning monitoring the trainees as they went through about a dozen obstacles.“The CCC shows the trainees how much they’ve progressed, how much stronger they’ve gotten (since beginning BCT),” he said.Trainee Pvt. Regina Jackson, 18, from Junction City, Kansas, and the daughter of a retired Army major, said the rope climb to be the toughest obstacle for her. Conversely, the log vaults were the easiest.Trainee Pvt. Rosa Gomez, 19, of Chicago, said it took much mental strength to finish the Forge.“I gained a lot of confidence, I did a lot of things that I thought I’ would never be able to do,” said Gomez, who will become a combat medic.Hall said the Forge was difficult, but still he found it to be fun.“It was tough at times, but with motivation from my platoon members we got through it,” said Hall, who is a National Guard Soldier who will continue to train at Fort Sill to become a cannon crewmember.Clifton said the Forge is his favorite part of BCT because it’s here where drill sergeants get to see a tangible product of all their time and effort -- a brand new Soldier.Graham had to get an age waiver to enlist. The Forge was definitely a mental challenge, he said.“The military prepares you to overcome challenges through discipline, and pushing through using every bit of training,” he said.COVID-19 adjustmentsIt was about their third week of BCT when trainees heard about the pandemic from their drill sergeants, said trainee Pvt. Regina Jackson, 18, from Junction City, Kansas, and the daughter of a retired Army major.Manduca said battery leaders were forthcoming about information relating to the pandemic.“We wanted to be very open about what’s going on. We reinforced to them that their security and safety is our top priority, as it has always been,” the commander said. “We encouraged them to remain focused on BCT.”The drill sergeants explained to the trainees that training would be modified as the 434th Field Artillery Brigade took prudent and proactive steps to ensure trainee safety. The leaders understood the gravity of the pandemic, Clifton said..Graham said it was pretty emotional at first. “Calmer heads prevailed and we just took it one step at a time and see what actually is going to happen versus rumor.”Combatives, which involves hand-to-hand fighting, and pugil stick training are temporarily ceased in BCT, according to Army Training and Doctrine  (TRADOC) orders. Facemasks and neck gaiters were issued, social distancing was implemented in classrooms, dining facilities, living areas, etc.; and bay areas were frequently sanitized.To spread out trainees while outside, an extended rectangular formation, which is commonly used in physical training, was frequently used by the drill sergeants, Clifton said.Manduca said TRADOC is also temporarily reducing the size of BCT batteries during the pandemic, “but we’re still here  making training happen.”