By Ms. Marie Berberea (TRADOC)July 15, 2010
FORT SILL, Okla.--They greeted U.S. Military Academy football Coach Rich Ellerson almost as they would a general. A consistent "Hi, coach" came out from the group of West Point football players as they made their way to the Lawton High School track for an early morning workout.
Running in the grass; metal and sweat; early morning hours. These all sound consistent with a normal Army day, except these cadets are still in training. They came to Fort Sill to get a taste of what a "normal" Army day is actually like. It's part of Cadet Troop Leader Training, a West Point requirement for cadets going into their junior or senior years. They shadow officers to find out more about the branches they are interested in joining when they graduate the academy as second lieutenants.
Ellerson touched ground in Lawton/Fort Sill to say thank you to all that have made this training possible for his team and said he understands the importance of the trip for them.
"West Point is a unique experience, but it's not the Army. As that destination gets closer for them, these opportunities become really important. As they visualize their future the three plus weeks of time on the ground here will really influence that vision they're going to have for the next however many months at West Point," offered Ellerson.
Away from the morning rush at Fort Sill's workout facilities, the group lifted free weights in Lawton High School's gym performing a regiment meant to help their explosiveness on the field. Ellerson said every cadet is an athlete at West Point but these cadets were brought to Fort Sill together to try and take full advantage of their learning experience and get some team practices in at the same time.
"The idea was they could have their developmental experience that CTLT provides but at the same time they could continue to train in a manner consistent with the sport and prepare for the season."
Ellerson said having the team train together is often a challenge as their Army demands put them in different places at different times. While some of the football team going through CTLT is at Fort Benning, Ga., the others got to experience some of the units that make Fort Sill unique.
Kingsley Ehie, a senior linebacker at West Point said he is interested in the military police branch as well as air defense artillery. He acknowledged with those two choices he may very well see Fort Sill again in his career.
"Honestly, my favorite part, so far, had to be the ride alongs with some of the MP officers and seeing how they do things. We also got a chance to work with some of the bomb sniffing dogs. It was a good experience and I definitely enjoyed it," said Ehie.
Cadet Daniel Hinkson, defensive back and junior, was interested in seeing how the different units operate but is a little more laid back about his choices since he has a full year before he'll really have to pin them down.
"I think right now field artillery is my third choice. I'm more interested in being a combat engineer which is kind of like infantry but you get to blow things up," he added with a boyish smirk.
For most seeing is believing and being able to visualize Soldiers in their normal daily capacities is exactly what the cadets craved.
"This is the best training West Point could offer because it shows you the actual Army side instead of just hearing stories about it," said Antuan Aaron, a defensive back and linebacker for the team.
Aaron also said it was nice to talk to enlisted Soldiers and get their perspective. He continued to pump information from a former West Point graduate and captain on post. Aaron asked very honest questions and wanted honest answers. One thing he asked was how ready the captain felt about leading troops after he first graduated. The captain offered simple advice saying he used common sense and having confidence served him well. With that Aaron asked more branch specific questions as the junior tried to figure out which one he will choose in the future.
The cadets got the chance to see the inside of equipment and even fire them in the field and on the range. No detail was spared as the cadets also got to experience the mundane tasks that are necessary to make sure the Army keeps rolling along. Soldiers swept a motor pool and made sure everything was dress-right-dress before close of business Friday as the cadets watched. In the meantime, Ellerson explored the inside of a Paladin with the sound of push brooms sweeping as added ambiance.
Ellerson said while yes, their football team will experience the glitz and glamour of playing in front of huge crowds and on national television, it's not the reason the teammates choose to don the black and gold.
"That's why others may play football but that's not why we play at West Point. We play at West Point, because it is part of the developmental experience. My job is to develop leaders of character. Football's my venue, and football is a leadership team-building laboratory."
The cadets concluded their evening with a social at the Patriot Club where they met with officers and their fellow cadets peers. The cadets will leave Fort Sill soon and resume their training at West Point.