FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — There are hundreds of new pieces of information a trainee learns during One Station Unit Training here, from the basics of how to be a Soldier, to intricate details of the military occupational specialty they will be expected to perform.
When a company of trainees come together to form a strong team early in training, however, their leadership occasionally has time to provide extra training opportunities. That was the case with the most recent cycle of combat engineer and bridge crewman trainees assigned to Company B, 35th Engineer Battalion. Their leaders found time during the final weeks of training to teach the building of poncho rafts — a skill they might not have learned without attending a more specialized school, such as the Sapper Leader Course, said Capt. Taylor Huddlestun, who took over as Bravo Company commander during the cycle.
“It all depends on the class cohesion and time if we can fit in other tasks,” he said. “The better a class cycle is, the more efficiently they accomplish required (program of instruction) and the more time we have available. The trainees came together early on, according to the drill sergeants and previous commander, and began working as a team to accomplish everything. They truly lived the motto of never leave a Soldier behind.”
Huddlestun said poncho rafts help enable Soldiers to make safer water crossings while also keeping equipment dry and serviceable.
“(They allow) for alternative methods to cross a body of water without the use of a bridge or boat,” Huddlestun said.
They are built by tying two ponchos together to form a water-tight seal with equipment — such as ruck sacks and sleeping equipment — placed inside. They also have knots tied on top for securing weapons. The Army has an official instruction for the proper construction of a poncho raft. It is found in Army Techniques Publication 3-50.21, titled “Survival.”
Before building their rafts, the trainees first underwent combat water survival training on July 8 at one of the installation’s swimming pools, Huddlestun said. This allowed their company leadership to mitigate risk by assessing the trainees’ swimming strength and ability to perform tasks such as walking off a high dive, treading water, utilizing a side-stroke swimming technique with a weapon over their head and taking off a carrier vest while underwater.
A few days after their visit to the pool, the trainees found themselves in the water at Training Area 250.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Smith has been a drill sergeant with Bravo Company for about nine months and was the lead planner for the event.
“My goal was to give the trainees an experience and knowledge they may never get unless they go to Sapper School or a specific unit that does it,” he said. “(The poncho raft is) another tool in the toolbox for them to utilize.”
One of the Bravo Company trainees, Pfc. Dekeria Toney, said besides learning something new, the poncho raft training gave her the chance to face one of her fears.
“I never thought I would get in a lake,” she said. “I have always been scared to but having this chance to do this event made me realize it’s not that bad.”
Toney, who graduated alongside her fellow Bravo Company trainees on July 22, said her company leadership did a great job preparing her to be a combat engineer in the Army.
“They showed me how to defeat my enemies and face challenges, and to know how to look out for my battle buddies,” she said.