WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 16, 2012) -- Six weeks ago they were complete strangers. Cadet Basic Training forged them into cadets and trained them as Soldiers.

The Class of 2016 returned to West Point Monday, sharing a 12-mile trek from Camp Buckner with cadre, staff, faculty and alumni. The March Back was the final hurdle new cadets endured before they could officially claim they had completed Cadet Basic Training, or CBT.

Before that, the Steele Challenge served as the capstone event for their summer training, Aug. 9-10, and demonstrated through squad-level military skills events that these strangers-turned-comrades have what it takes to join the Corps of Cadets.

The challenge proved that although they came to West Point as individuals, the cohesive units these new cadets formed could overcome any obstacle. It showed they could falter yet push forward, stumble and still succeed. They persevered with the support and guidance of an ever-present cadre determined not to allow them to relent until they completed the challenge.

At the marksmanship site, new cadets were required to shoot targets at ranges between 50 to 200 meters in three positions: standing, kneeling supported and kneeling unsupported. They had one minute to engage targets in each of these positions before moving to another station where they were required to disassemble and assemble the M249 and M240B weapons.

The Tactical Casualty Combat Care and radio communication site demonstrated their ability to repel an ambush while providing medical assistance and exfiltration of casualties. This was a test of the basic premise of Soldiering, "never leave a fallen comrade behind," and required them to call in a medical evacuation report after moving the treated casualties to a rally point.

Getting from site to site took its toll on the squads, and many said afterward that navigation proved most challenging, considering it was a race against the clock with no time to waste. New cadets were also tested on their ability to accurately throw hand grenades and maneuver a squad across a rope bridge.

The final event to the Steele Challenge for the Class of 2016 was the inauspicious sounding problem-solving site. New cadets encountered a scenario where their squad leader was rendered unconscious in an attack and they were left to navigate their own way to the finish line. It would require teamwork and ingenuity to race the clock and devise a plan to get across Lake Popolopen in a Zodiac raft with all their equipment and no paddles.

Most squads chose to swim the raft across which proved slower than those who decided to hand paddle, though the swim was decidedly a cooler choice after a long day of activity. Once across, the new cadets had to figure out the best way to get the raft, the equipment and their squad leader down the road, several hundred feet, to the finish line. The raft itself weighed more 300-pounds, and adding additional burden to it had many squads struggling under the weight.

New Cadet Brigette Ocran, hailing from Burtonsville, Md., saw her squad mates had enough muscle to get the raft moving so she took it upon herself to carry their squad leader to the finish line. It was physically exhausting, requiring a short pause or two on the way, but she handled the load and completed the challenge with her squad.

"Honestly, I think the adrenaline I had got me most of the way, but then it was gone," she said, out of breath. "But I got here to the end; it wasn't that bad. It feels great to be finished."

Ocran said everything she'd learned over the past six weeks came out during the Steele Challenge.

"I had never met these guys before we became a squad, but our communications were always on point," she said. "I think that's what helped us the most today, our communication skills."

Each squad visited the memorial for 1st Lt. Timothy Steele at the conclusion of the Steele Challenge. There, an audio message from Lt. Col. Brian De Toy, director of the Defense and Strategic Studies Program at West Point, described the Class of 2009 graduate who had once written:

"My favorite time of the day is at 2330 when Taps plays over the speaker in the hallway. For those 20 seconds or so all I think about are the men who have fallen fighting for this country. One day it will play at my funeral and when it does, I pray that I am deserving enough of that honor and the respect that it shows."

The memorial also included photos, awards and papers Steele had written as a West Point cadet. During the second iteration of Cadet Basic Training, the regiment adopted one of Steele's favorite sayings, "Actions, not words," as their motto.

With the Steele Challenge behind them, new cadets had but a final Army Physical Fitness Test to complete before they could bid farewell to Camp Buckner for the summer and return to West Point upon completing the 12-mile March Back.

"The regiment developed a unique identity in terms of honoring First Lieutenant Timothy Steele," said Class of 2013 Cadet Thomas Ott, the CBTII regimental commander. "That was where our focus was this detail, and through all the training we were trying to honor his sacrifice."

The biggest achievement for the regiment was the completion of the Steele Challenge, Ott said.

"We powered through some bad weather--the rain, thunder and lightning--and came out strong in the end."

Cadet Basic Training II Awards

Best Company: Company A
Best New Cadet: Cadet Daniel Allen
Best Squad Leader: Cadet Sgt. Charles Kelly
Best APFT Score (Male): Cadet Blake A McPherson
Best APFT Score (Female): Cadet Hannah E. Tuffy
Triple Crown Winners (qualified expert in marksmanship, grenade launcher and hand grenades):
Cadet Matthew McDaniel (Co. D)
Cadet Jung Son (Co. D)
Cadet Nathan Weir (Co. D)
Cadet Connor Wernecke (Co. D)
Cadet Tyrone Young (Co. D)
Cadet Ryne Flores (Co. G)
Cadet Nathaniel Pieringer (Co. F)
Cadet Justin Seim (Co. F)