FORT BENNING, Ga. – Generations of Army veterans are familiar with what's known as the "shark attack," that shock-and-awe pile-on of shouting and in-your-face personalized commentary visited by bull-necked drill sergeants on new recruits fresh off the bus for basic training.
But as far as the U.S. Army Infantry School here is concerned, the shark attack has had its day.
The Infantry School trains Soldiers for service in the Infantry branch, and has come up with an entirely new approach to the first formative hours of turning civilians into proud members of the Infantry force.
Called "The First 100 Yards," it's done on the first day the recruits report to the units they've been assigned to for Infantry One-Station Unit Training, also known as Infantry OSUT. It was developed earlier this year by the Infantry School and senior noncommissioned officers at the 198th Infantry Brigade. The brigade is one of the Infantry School's units that conduct Infantry OSUT at Fort Benning.
The First 100 Yards uses a series of training activities to instill – on the first impressionable day of a recruit's training – the Infantry's core warrior values and attitudes, and to foster pride in the Infantry, partly by drawing on its battlefield history.
Details of The First 100 Yards are outlined in a video narrated by the Infantry School's senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Robert K. Fortenberry, himself a veteran Infantry Soldier.
"We’ve taken a close look at how we instill the 'spirit of the bayonet,' and the spirit of the Infantry, from the first moment our Soldiers arrive here as their initial training event on day one," Fortenberry says in the video.
"It is critical," he says, "that our newest generation of Soldiers have the experience at the beginning of their journey to becoming an Infantry Soldier. This lays the foundation for the next 22 weeks of Infantry training ...
"Today with an all-volunteer force, and a large cohort of seasoned combat leaders, we have implemented a training event that captures the essence of our Army Values and ethics," he says.
The new method does that partly by "highlighting the culture of our Infantry, dating back to the Doughboys of World War I in trench warfare," he tells the viewer.
The First 100 Yards puts the new arrivals through a series of activities that include introducing them to the Infantry's history and its "spirit of the bayonet" offensive ethos, as well as series of mentally and physically demanding activities.
At one point Fortenberry quotes a section of the Army's World War II-era Basic Field Manual 23-25, titled "Bayonet M-1905," which "really speaks to the essence of the Infantry," he says.
"'The will to meet and destroy the enemy in hand-to-hand combat,'" Fortenberry reads, "'is the spirit of the bayonet. It springs from the fighter's confidence, courage, and grim determination, and is the result of vigorous training. Through training, the fighting instinct of the individual soldier is developed to the highest point.'"
That spirit of the bayonet, he says, "comes down to will. The will to meet and destroy the enemy in hand-to-hand combat."
Fortenberry also makes reference to the motto that appears on the Infantry School's shoulder patch: "Follow Me."
"The motto of the Infantry – 'Follow Me' – two simple words embroidered on our patch, embody both 'the Spirit of the Bayonet' and the spirit of our Infantry."
The activities include, among others, a mock battlefield re-supply mission, physical fitness tasks, and a demonstration of the weapons, equipment and methods Infantry Soldiers use in combat.
The Infantry School is part of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, which trains Soldiers for service in the Infantry and Armor branches. Those two branches comprise the Army's maneuver force. MCoE also trains those who hope to become paratroopers, Rangers, snipers, or to be trained in certain other military specialties.
"While always being true to our core values of the Infantry profession," says Fortenberry of the Infantry School, "we are constantly assessing, developing, implementing, and evaluating training and training methodology to provide the best possible training for our Infantry formations throughout the Army."
That meant, among other things, a hard look at the traditional shark attack, he tells the audience.
The shark attack was seen as way to launch trainees into a whole new way of life in which they'd have to obey the Army's rules and listen closely to and follow instructions. The aim was to first establish psychological dominance – impress upon them at the outset that now that they're in the Army, the Army's the boss.
This was deemed especially necessary during the Vietnam War period, when vast numbers of those in uniform were draftees. After the Vietnam War, authorities ended the draft and the Army has been all-volunteer since.
The shark attack, Fortenberry says, "was developed during our draft Army years, where the cornerstones of the event were to establish dominance and authority using intimidation and fear to weed out the weak of heart.
"It created," he says, "a chaotic environment that centered around applying physical exertion under stress ... Drill Sergeants were charged with assessing the trainee’s ability to handle stress, singling out the perceived undesirables by enveloping them in a manner that emulated a shark attack, thus the name of the event.
"This activity, however, does not instill the spirit of the Infantry," he says. "It betrays the innate trust between teammates and worse, betrays the crucial bond of trust with our leaders."
The First 100 Yards is designed, says Fortenberry, around the following tenets:
• An understanding and appreciation of the "Spirit of the Infantry," by exposing trainees to physical hardship while also developing "a belief in oneself, belief in your teammates and a belief in the leaders with whom they serve," he says.
• "Intuitively knowing that when an Infantry leader says, 'Follow me,' that they, the Infantry, will accomplish all missions and defeat any enemy, under any conditions."
The Infantry School's new approach "is in stark contrast to what most Soldiers across our Army have experienced over multiple generations during the first day of basic training" involving the shark attack, he says.
During the video, Fortenberry explains the First 100 Yards events in detail.
They include a mock battlefield re-supply mission in which trainees must pull together on the fly and figure out how to most efficiently move a load of supplies from one place to another, just as they might have to in an actual combat zone.
There are also physical training events based on the new Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, which next month becomes the official fitness test of record for Soldiers Army-wide. For the trainees, AFCT events in The First 100 Yards will include, among others, as many repetitions as possible of the test's leg tuck, hand-release push-up and standing power throw.
At the start, trainees are given facts to memorize for a later quiz. The questions cover key specifics about the Infantry and their new training units at Fort Benning – names and positions of unit leaders, the unit's history, including its mottos.
There is also an exercise in which they have to pick out their baggage from that of others and move it from there to another location. That event is designed to foster a teamwork mindset and to start forming the habits of paying attention to detail and carrying out tasks with urgency and timeliness.
In another phase of The First 100 Yards, the drill sergeants and other training cadre formally introduce themselves to the trainees, who then get to watch an Infantry Demonstration Squad showcase some of the skills and methods the Infantry uses in combat.
The squad is composed of Soldiers in full combat gear who have completed the very Infantry OSUT training the recruits are about to go through. A narrator on the field will highlight some of those items, accompanied by use of pyrotechnics used in training to mimic the noise and certain other effects of combat.
The demonstration is intended to "inspire the trainees to stay the course and complete the last 100 yards of training," Fortenberry says during the video, "and shows them what they can achieve through hard work and commitment to the Infantry way of life ... The narration highlights the equipment that they will become familiar with and the training events they will be participating in."
The video was developed for viewing during MCoE's 2020 Virtual Maneuver Warfighter Conference. It ran Sept. 9 and 10 and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was online. This year's conference focused on lethality and leadership, and was formally titled "Delivering Lethality and World-Class Leaders."
It featured some of the Army's leading military experts, including some of its top leaders, among them the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Sgt. Maj. of the Army.
Participants were able to view the conference's sessions, which were streamed live, and could also watch a set of "Warrior Corner" videos, in which military experts discuss various topics related to maneuver warfare. The videos included "The First 100 Yards" narrated by Fortenberry.