FORT BENNING, GA - Soldiers in Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course completed their culminating exercise Thursday - the nine-day scenario-based Leader Forge.

"This is where they really become certified as leaders," said CPT Darrell Fawley, platoon trainer.

"It's a chance to bring all the skills they learned in the first 10 weeks and apply them in a tough and stressful environment," Fawley said. "The goal is at the end of the time they've learned a lot but also been challenged through stress, through physical and mental strain, exhaustion, the confusion of battle ... We're forging leaders."

The lieutenants conducted day and night operations, negotiated with sheiks, led security patrols and faced ambushes in preparation for their future roles as platoon leaders. Students rotated positions, so they learned to fill a variety of roles, from medic to platoon leader.

"The big thing for me is just learning to operate on the platoon level," said 2LT Daniel Loeffler, an Infantryman who has deployed once to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq. "I've always seen it from the squad level down, so operating more at the platoon level and having to maneuver all of my squads instead of just maneuver my fire teams is a little bigger picture for me."

Loeffler said he perfected his field craft during Leader Forge and learned to understand the fight at a company level, too.

Leader Forge is designed to be as realistic as possible to help prepare the students, many of whom will deploy soon after graduation, Fawley said. Although several students have prior experience in the enlisted ranks, others have never deployed.

"We want to make sure the first time they really feel stressed, knowing how tough it is, it's not going to be when everything's on the line," he said. "It's better to have it back here in the situation where they can make the mistake and learn from it than make the mistake over there."

2LT Randy Hodge said the practice in field helped prepare him for what he might see when he deploys.

"It puts you in a situation similar to what you might encounter overseas," he said. "You have to assess the situation that's being presented, what troops you have at your disposal, the terrain, your mission. Then, taking all those factors into account, you can find the best way to solve the problem. It's chaotic."

The exercise has given him confidence, Hodge said.

"Just being able to practice it over and over, that's what gives you confidence: confidence you'll make the right call in a timely manner," he said.

"It may seem a little difficult at first. You can't be overwhelmed by it. Everybody's running around yelling; there's gunshots going off. They call it tactical patience - taking a moment to assess the situation. You have to be able to make decisions. And the more times you're put in that situation, even in a training environment, it just reinforces making those good decisions."