Cadet Summer Training at the U.S. Military Academy will be conducted differently than in previous years in many ways this summer, but one thing remains the same. More than 1,000 active duty Soldiers will be at West Point, taking responsibility for developing and training cadets.
This summer's task force comes from 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Polk, Louisiana, with the main force of Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Ramrod. There are currently 785 Soldiers on the installation preparing to run summer training, and that number will swell to more than 1,000 once all auxiliary units arrive.
The task force members underwent COVID-19 testing before leaving Louisiana and heading to New York for the deployment. After arriving at West Point and moving into Camp Natural Bridge, the Soldiers entered a controlled monitoring period before interacting with cadets.
The task force typically deploys to West Point for four months over the summer to conduct all phases of summer training, but due to COVID-19 their time at West Point will be closer to two months this year. The training schedule has been adapted from previous years to fit the compressed schedule and will include about 80% of what is typically conducted, Lt. Col. Adam Sawyer, West Point's chief of military science and training, said.
"We've been telling the task force, 'Hey, if we only do half of what we currently have planned, it's still a success, because we've done more than zero,' which was always a possibility a few months ago when COVID-19 emerged," Sawyer said. "We've been cognizant about not putting pressure on them. It's OK if we can't do something that we planned, because of possible impacts from COVID-19."
The summer training schedule has been modified, and extra measures have been put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during training.
Sawyer said they built the response playbook by seeing how the Army is conducting Basic Training at places like Fort Jackson, South Carolina. It was then adapted to meet the needs of West Point. That includes all task force members, returning cadets and incoming new cadets in the Class of 2024 being tested for the virus. Masks will be worn, and social distancing will be followed when possible. Firebreaks have also been established to reduce unnecessary contact between cadets and task force members.
"It's obviously always complicated when you have a lot of people living in close proximity, but there are a series of measures that we can and are taking to ensure the safety of our force and the safety of the cadets in the community at West Point," Lt. Col. Andrew Sinden, Task Force Ramrod commander, said.
During their time at West Point, the members of the task force will be training the Army's future leaders, but they also have an extensive plan in place to increase their own readiness. Before the cadets start training, members of the task force will be validating training lanes and conducting their own exercises. Over the next two weeks, task force Soldiers will be performing live-fire field training exercises, doing land navigation and working on basic rifle marksmanship.
"A quote I learned as a young officer is, 'Good units train for war. Good units train while at war.' If I can train myself while I'm in a combat zone, I should be able to train myself while I'm here supporting training at West Point," Sinden said. "At the end of the day, it's our responsibility to continue to build and maintain readiness."
One of the resources they will be able to take advantage of is the West Point Range Complex, which has already been adapted to meet the Army's new marksmanship standards that will go into place in October. Sinden said the terrain here also provides a unique opportunity for his squads to work on their light infantry skills in a mountainous environment.
"When you think of the 10th Mountain Division, this is a wonderful place for us to get back to our namesakes and really build strong infantrymen as we get ready to meet any challenge faced before us," he said.
While training the cadets throughout the summer, the task force has a unique opportunity to make an impact on the Army's future leaders. Whereas during the school year cadets are mostly surrounded by Army officers, the task force is made up largely of enlisted Soldiers and non-commissioned officers.
"What I really want to get out of this summer is our NCOs having the opportunity to sit down with cadets and get them comfortable with what may be a conversation with their own future platoon sergeant, and really continue to grow and develop their own skills," Sinden said.