By West Point Class of 2012 Cadet Michael Kohne, Maneuver Tactics Club PAOMarch 31, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y., March 31, 2011 -- During spring break, 19 cadets and three officers from the West Point Maneuver Tactics Club visited the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. The club members spent their first day orienting themselves to the historical background of the area.
"The area around the Austrian academy was beautiful, and there was history around every corner," Class of 2012 Cadet Ignacio Suarez said, in reaction to the picturesque mountains on the horizon and historical buildings that have seen countless wars and cultures come and go.
Maj. Stephen Banks, club officer-in-charge, noted that the variety of situations and organizations the cadets were put into added a variable of unpredictability that unintentionally enhanced the training.
Training consisted of two days of scenario-based, peace-stability operations exposing the club to situations and perspectives that are not encountered in normal cadet training. Acting as a part of a notional international coalition to keep the peace in a hypothetically unstable region, two cadets were placed in each Austrian squad.
Cadets became gunners for the MG-74 (an Austrian machine gun), crew members on anti-tank teams and otherwise aided the completion of the training missions.
The most surprising aspect of the training was the different expectations in the tactical environment. Conditioned to always be ready for contact, cadets found it surprising when they were told to reverse sling weapons while on patrol.
"They're training for peacekeeping missions, which is substantially different than the missions we train for," Class of 2013 Cadet Matthew Berman, a team leader for the club's second squad, said. "We always train for kinetic operations, and that tends to make us forget that there are other tasks we might be asked to do."
West Point cadet training commonly covers squads reacting to contact, while training with the Austrians included setting up food distribution points, interacting with the media and inspecting weapons in accordance with United Nations treaties.
A third training day included a morning of firing Austrian assault rifles, pistols and sniper rifles in assorted situations and ranges. Cadets engaged targets at 200 meters with assault and sniper rifles, and then moved to another range where they practiced transitioning from assault rifles to pistols to engage multiple targets at close range.
The Austrian range cadre said they found it hard to believe that cadets practiced marksmanship infrequently because of the overall proficiency of everyone on the trip with not only the assault rifles, but with the pistols and sniper rifles.
After the morning on the range, the club went to a local military base, home to the 35th Panzer Grenadier (mechanized infantry) Battalion, and received a demonstration by one of its platoons.
They ran through three iterations of an assault on a destroyed complex of buildings. For most of the cadets, this was their first time operating with Infantry Fighting Vehicles, which added an entirely new dimension to the battlefield.
By the end of the day, the cadets had learned a great deal about mechanized infantry tactics and got to know some of the Austrian soldiers who had facilitated the great training.
As the Americans left the base, most of the cadets were wearing Panzer Grenadier patches, and the Panzer Grenadiers were wearing West Point patches-souvenirs of international cooperation.
Following a farewell ceremony, the cadets toured the Austrian capital of Vienna and explored the city's vast wealth of culture and history, including St. Stephen's Cathedral and a tour of the parliamentary building of the Austrian government.