By NICK DUKEFebruary 1, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Jan. 31, 2013) -- More than 140 future rifle platoon leaders got a taste of realistic combat Jan. 22 as they participated in a staged company attack at Selby Combined Arms Collective Training Facility.
The attack was the culminating exercise of the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course, which the group of Soldiers spent 17 weeks working their way through.
And while previous IBOLC classes have conducted similar exercises, this class participated in a first for IBOLC.
In previous IBOLC classes, the presence of Air Force joint terminal attack controllers has been simulated. For this class, however, JTACs were included as part of the preparation for and execution of the attack.
"Maybe about four months ago, I got the idea," said Capt. Christopher Mercado, IBOLC instructor. "I thought, 'Why are we simulating JTACs into our training? Why not just actually have JTACs come into our training?' It's been a little bit more difficult than I thought. Schedules have to match up, but we managed to make it happen, and these guys have been fantastic. They're a great asset, and phenomenal representatives of the Air Force. They've been teaching these lieutenants not just the JTACs' capabilities and limitations, but how they can actually communicate using a professional military language before they ever get out into the force."
In addition to JTACs, the attack also included tanks, as well as scouts and humvees.
"They're going to have artillery, they're going to have close air support, they'll have the UAV, they'll have the tanks, they'll have the scouts," Mercado said. "They're going to have all these assets, and what we're trying to do is train them on how to control all of these assets at one time. It's extremely tough."
The company attack began with 10 days of preparation, during which time the Soldiers were out on foot patrol, often covering as many as 20 miles a day.
After patrol duties, the Soldiers were given 24 hours to plan their attack before making a 16-mile march to Selby CACTF, where the attack was carried out.
There, the company's objective was to capture a high-value target before securing Selby CACTF, thus enabling another company to pass through.
After completing reconnaissance, the attack began with a two-man team approaching Selby CACTF under the cover of machine gun fire. The team cut and cleared a section of razor wire, enabling platoons to breach Selby CACTF.
Those platoons then worked their way through the village, securing buildings and eliminating simulated opposition forces along the way to their objective.
During the operation, an unmanned aerial vehicle flew overhead, providing the three JTACs involved with a real-time overhead view of Selby CACTF, including enemy positions.
That viewpoint proved to be advantageous for the Soldiers involved, as it enabled them to track the high-value target that was a main objective of the attack.
"The combined arms fight is tremendous, and as much as you read about it and you study it, you really don't understand it until you work with the JTACs," 2nd Lt. James Rafferty, who served as a platoon leader during the attack, said. "They were phenomenal. The energy they brought and the skills and assets that they brought are invaluable."
And while the presence of the JTACs was educational for the IBOLC class, it was also beneficial for the JTACs as well.
"It's an excellent opportunity to show the future platoon leaders that we'll be working with in a combat environment what we can do for them and how we can help them prior to actually meeting them in a combat zone," Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard Garrett said.
"They were seamlessly integrated with the future platoon leaders running the mission. It was a great opportunity to work with battalion all the way down through company and platoon. We get a lot out of it, as well as our Army counterparts."
In addition to the planned attack objectives, the Soldiers were also forced to deal with additional objectives and changes in scenario that they were informed of via radio.
Rafferty said these changes simply made the exercise more of a learning opportunity.
"Anytime you're put in a position to lead, especially when you have a lack of experience, events like this really challenge you," Rafferty said. "They put you out of your comfort zone, and they put you in a position where you need to realize that you're in a very unpredictable scenario. When those scenarios arise, you do everything you can to make sure you do your very best."
Mercado said this IBOLC class did an excellent job of preparing, which helped them to overcome the additional obstacles that were thrown their way.
"Because their plan was so thorough, they were able to adjust on the fly, and that's really what this is about is creating agile and adaptive leaders," Mercado said. "We need folks that are able to plan for contingencies, and then execute when the plan doesn't cover that particular curveball."
With the company attack and IBOLC now behind them, the future rifle platoon leaders will now turn their attention to applying the leadership skills they have learned to their new units.
And while they may have performed admirably during IBOLC, one Soldier said he is not content with simply performing well during training.
"I'm set to deploy to Afghanistan with the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, which I'm very excited to do," 2nd Lt. Glover Gossett said.
"I'm not scared or nervous, but it's something that I want to do really well because I realize that we're going to be asked to deploy with 35-40 individual Soldiers, and we're going to be responsible for their safety based off of decisions that we make under pressure. So, I think that my performance up to this point isn't really valid anymore. It's all about what's to come. I have to constantly get better by continuing to learn from experience."