FORT BENNING, Ga. (Aug. 29, 2012) -- "Leader Forge" - the name refers to a 10-day period of continuous operations conducted by students in Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course and held about two weeks from graduation. Another round of lieutenants, 130 in D Company, 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment, have just wrapped up the exercise, which started early last week.

"They've had 14 weeks of instruction," said Capt. Christopher Mercado, D Company commander. "Everything from individual, team, squad, section and platoon situational training exercises, all the way up to this point. And that's just the field. In the classroom, they've covered everything from professional military ethics, urban operations, counterinsurgency, offense-defense stability operations -- kind of the gamut. This really is where they put into practice, put into application all those principles they've learned and all the things they've been practicing over the last 14 weeks. This is really the culmination of all of that."

The first operation, which kicks off Leader Forge, is a platoon live fire. Soldiers go through a dry run, followed by a blank fire, before using live rounds.

"They'll treat the live fire exactly as they would any other mission they plan," Mercado said. "They'll go through the troop-leading procedures. They'll plan for their mission from start to finish to include consolidation, reorganization and their exfiltration off of the objective. We're specifically looking to see and validate that these platoon leaders can coordinate for and synchronize assets across time and space while controlling their platoons."

After the live fire, Soldiers take on a series of platoon situational training exercises that can include up to six daily patrols and finally a 16-mile foot march that leads into a full-scale company attack, with Armor and Cavalry elements.

During the course, everyone gets multiple opportunities to serve as a platoon leader. Most of the students will assume such a position after they graduate, Mercado said.

"The intent of Leader Forge is to forge that leader or produce that confident, competent leader who is both agile and adaptive, capable of synchronizing assets," he said. "Right now in Afghanistan and other theaters, there are so many assets, so many enablers out there, that lieutenants have to be proficient at employing -- anything from coordinating with tanks, scouts, Strykers, unmanned aerial vehicles … myriad special operations forces.

"It's really, really tough work. Managing those assets while controlling their own formation is incredibly challenging. So this is really where they get their opportunity to learn what those enablers' and those assets' capabilities and limitations are and how best to employ them."

2nd Lt. Jonam Russell, who served as the platoon leader during Wednesday's live fire, said he felt it was like he was in charge of "everything" during the mission.

"It definitely puts it in perspective because usually you'll just be a rifleman on the line," he said. "I had to clear the trench and then provide a support-by-fire position on the next objective. Once I confirmed the objective, I went back to the rally point. Then we moved down and I had to coordinate artillery fires to come on the objective as we were moving. At the objective, there were different squads that were providing overwatch. I had to coordinate that so that once we were assaulting the trench, we weren't getting pinned down by any fire. A lot of moving parts. If I was asked to do this 16 weeks ago, it wouldn't have looked like this at all."

Russell said he feels better prepared for his next position: a platoon leader at Fort Polk, La.
2nd Lt. Shameek Delancey, who will also become a platoon leader when he PCSes to Hawaii after graduation, said the course has provided a "good basis" for his next assignment.

"We learned a lot of the tactics and techniques of being a platoon leader but also leadership and working well with others," he said. "I've learned how to interact with my peers … with subordinates and higher-ups, to use all the assets available to us that we have in the Army: indirect fires, artillery, transportation. Not only the tactics, but also the garrison side: PT, paperwork, how to request things for our Soldiers, how to take care of our Soldiers' problems. We learned all that here in IBOLC, and I'll be able to take that to my unit in Hawaii and accomplish my mission."

With back-to-back missions and little time for sleep, food or relaxation, 2nd Lt. Jordan Thomas said Leader Forge is "mentally and physically exhausting."

"It pushes you to a physical limit that's not capable of being achieved in a classroom setting," he said. "(But) you learn through your peers. You have physical limitations, but you can push past those once you realize the group is greater than the sum of its parts and you've learned that on your own you can't push as far as you think you can. But in a group setting, when other people are relying upon you, you learn you can push farther than you ever expected."

Thomas said he believed the course has helped develop him into a leader and he was looking forward to his next assignment: platoon leader with the 25th Infantry Division.

"I'm ecstatic," he said. "We've all been training for a long time to get to this point, so just the opportunity to put what you've learned into action is in and of itself a great reward."

Thomas said the unit he will join upon graduation is slated to deploy to Afghanistan in July. The students will graduate from the 16-week course Sept. 6.