By 1st Lt. Kyle KeyOctober 26, 2009
CAMP ATTERBURY JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Ind. -- High school students from the new National Guard Patriot Academy took a break from the books and embarked on their first field training exercise at the ranges here, Oct.16-17.
The students, who were once high school dropouts, joined the military under the National Guard's new program, designed to give deserving applicants a second chance to receive their high school diploma, become more proficient Soldiers and give back to the community.
"This was not your ordinary high school field trip," said Patriot Academy Commandant Col. Perry W. Sarver, Jr. "Our student-Soldiers have opportunities within the academic year to visit museums, attend collegiate and professional sports events but this weekend was a little reminder that they are also being trained to be the best Soldiers in the Army National Guard."
Students loaded up their gear and arrived at Camp Atterbury Oct. 16. From the garrison, students marched in full battle gear to the training range. After arriving, Student Platoon Sergeant Pfc. Ryan Grieger, from Delta, Colo., occupied the range and ordered his squad leaders to establish perimeter security while a reconnaissance team prepared to gather intelligence on the enemy.
The advance party began movement and arrived at an objective rally point where Pvt. Brandon Deal and fellow squad members crawled through mud and dense vegetation to determine the number of enemies, their activity, and the number and types of weapons.
Beyond the tree line, Patriot Academy cadre posed as opposition forces securing a building armed with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
Without detection, Deal carefully scribbled down a few notes and returned to the rally point with critical information for his leadership.
"I had to low crawl through the forest floor covered in briars," said Deal. "I thought that was pretty fun. This is way more engaging than a regular high school field trip. I get to do a lot more. I get to have a sense of pride that I'm actually training and learning the skills that I need to defend my country."
Students executed missions throughout the entire field training exercise and were placed in leadership positions to test and sharpen their abilities.
Company Commander Cpt. Steven Conway, of Somerset, Ky., said the training is designed to make Soldiers dependent on their own ability and interdependent on their team.
"As Soldiers progress through the Patriot Academy, they are given more responsibility to lead themselves with limited cadre supervision," said Conway.
"The FTX is a good measuring event to see how much the Soldiers have grasped the military training we have provided up to this point at the Academy."
Pfc. Timothy Valley of Jacksonville, Fla., said the training proved their strengths and more importantly where they needed improvement.
"After the ruck march up here and the recon, we went through the improvised explosive device lane," said Valley. "Everything went successfully. Then we conducted raids."
Valley's demeanor changed from excited to distress. "We had really good recon and our movement was good, but we had some problems getting into the building."
Students' and the opposition forces' M4-style weapons were loaded with air canisters, ammo hoppers and paintballs, making the training more realistic. From above the shoot house building on a wooden walkway, cadre observed and advised as the students entered the kill zone.
"If you get hit, go down!" yelled Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Latham, of Valdosta, Ga. A burst came from the corner of the room. A student splattered with red paint hit the ground.
"Talk...communicate with each other!" instructed Staff Sgt. Wesley Colinger, of Harlan, Ky. "What are you going to do...what's next'"
Pvt. Stephen Pruitt from Boiling Springs, S.C., took action and kicked down an obstruction in the doorway.
"Keep security on the door behind you!" yelled a student. As he entered the next room, shots rang out. Opposing forces hit two more students. "I'm down!"
Every student had been hit with paintballs by the OPFOR. "Everybody take a knee and take your mask off," said Colinger after the exercise. He praised the students for what they did correctly, and discussed areas which needed improvement to survive in close-quarters combat. According to statistics, there is a 70 percent casualty rate in military operations in urbanized terrain.
"[Explosive action] is really important," he said. "You stack up there [at the door] and you go! Come in there like you're the baddest man on the planet."
The area at the doorway is referred by the military as the "fatal funnel." As personnel stack up, it is the point where team members are most vulnerable to be hit by enemy fire. From there, it takes surprise, speed and explosive action to minimize casualties and successfully clear a building. Hesitation was not the only thing that hit the students as they breached the door.
"Paintballs are a good way to learn because there is no questioning if and where you got shot," said Colinger. "I don't want y'all to hang your heads low. At the same time I want you to understand how quickly and how easily making bad decisions or no decisions or being timid can get you and your buddies killed."
Pvt. Wesley Beck, from Fort Wayne, Ind., said that learning to work as a team is a lesson that must be consistently taught. "Teamwork was the most important thing I took away from this FTX," said Beck. "Everything can be planned perfectly but if it's not executed as a team, everything crumbles."
Students executed their own security plans, identified avenues of approach and placed rifleman on the perimeter and set up inactive claymore mines. During traffic control operations the Patriot Academy students interacted with "host nationals," searched vehicles and processed detainees. Three different scenarios were presented to the students and were required to apply escalation of force procedures.
As dusk fell, Grieger gave instructions to personnel at the gate.
"Do not blow those claymores until you call it in!" said Grieger. "If you see a vehicle approaching, you call it in."
Night patrols were about to begin and students were preparing for contact with the OPFOR.
"We're pulling security," said Pvt. Jonathan Kern of Martinsville, Ind. "We've got teams out front, out back, up on the roof and guarding the doors. We're expecting to get hit tonight."
Kern and his patrol spread out in a wedge formation and began to patrol the area. OPFOR hid in the tree line and opened fire. The patrol returned fire.
"Get on line!" yelled Kern. "Right side, bound backwards...we got you covered!" The students bounded back and got behind cover while returning fire.
"We've been doing a lot of training this weekend that we've been rehearsing over the past three months," said Grieger. "We've been setting up traffic control points, conducting raids, recon missions and the cadre is putting us out here to see how well we can execute. The training seems very realistic."
The National Guard Patriot Academy is an accredited high school by the Indiana Department of Education and provides a high school degree completion program for dropouts from around the nation who qualify to enlist in the Army National Guard.
The school is located at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center and features a main academic building with 21 classrooms, full gymnasium, library, conference rooms and three dormitories for up to 500 students. The current class of 47 students is scheduled to graduate in March 2010.
Recruiters nationwide are now accepting up to 250 male and female applicants for the 2010-2011 academic school year. Interested applicants should log onto www.nationalguard.com to locate their local recruiting office or www.NGPatriotAcademy.com for more information.