Story by Sgt. Christina Dion
He listens, waits for the command and moves toward the objective. Working with his team, he crouches and watches for enemy positions. The village is near, but armed men surround it. The most direct route is through a clearing that is wide open, so he decides he can’t go through the kill zone. He and his team move through the woods around the side of the village to remain concealed while getting closer.
He knows that if he runs across the road, he could be a target, so he throws a smoke grenade. Purple and white smoke fill the air. He runs across the road with his team one at a time, each covering one another. Once across, he spots the enemy and fires.
Although a common scenario in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, the cadets aren’t on a combat mission. The bullets weren’t real in this scenario and the enemy combatants were actually friendly forces. On this day at the Hohenfels Training Area, it was all a training exercise meant to test the skills of the Army’s future leaders.
Every cadet that graduates from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point goes through cadet leadership training, usually on the grounds of the academy. It’s this mandatory training that enables the cadets to simulate command and control of military operations under the supervision of instructors.
For cadets Jonathan Hunter, native of Lockhart, Texas, and Brad Mikinski, native of Salina, Kansas, along with 48 of their peers, this summer’s CLDT brought them closer to a real-world mission. They traveled from New York to England where they integrated with the British Army Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for a week-long competition followed by travel from Britain to Germany for Exercise Dynamic Victory July 7-18.
Dynamic Victory, held at the U.S. Army’s 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command’s Grafenwoehr Training Area and Hohenfels Training Area for the third time, brought the British and American cadets together for real-world training that incorporated both live-fire and maneuver scenarios in an exercise meant to prove that the cadets are ready to lead.
Sandhurst cadets completed their final field exercise, which prior to training at Grafenwoehr, was done in Scotland. The training moved from the Afghanistan-like terrain of Scotland to Germany where they have more assets from U.S. military support as well training areas to simulate multiple global scenarios.
For those from West Point, the training differences were intense due to the nature of the training they receive at the academy.
“I’ve kind of gone through similar things like the rural phase here and not so much the (forward operating base) phase at West Point, but the real difference is the live-fire,” said Mikinski. “Here they kind of let you run free with it and tell you, ‘here, devise your plan’.”
During their first week in Germany, the cadets ran through live-fire exercises at Grafenwoehr Training Area in individual, squad and platoon elements.
He explained that at West Point they go through lanes with blanks, but at Grafenwoehr it was an actual live-fire exercise.
“That was a great learning point for me,” he said. “They had safeties in place, but on that same note you’re not just sitting there at a range shooting at a target. You are moving around and you are actually assaulting objectives. You’re flanking and you have to make sure your fire support is actually changing where they are firing. So, that coordination is really important and it hits you that I can shoot my buddy if I don’t do the right things.”
Unlike at Sandhurst where all of the training is comparable to the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School, at West Point the summers are set aside for military field training.
“The first two summers are set on what you are going to do,” Mikinski explained. “You have your cadet basic training the first summer and then you also have your cadet basic field training your second year.
“After that, you can decide how you want to do your summer training. During our third summer we have (cadet leadership development training) and I tried out for the Sandhurst mission instead of doing CLDT.”
As challenging as the Dynamic Victory exercise was, making the cut for the training exercise wasn’t easy, said Hunter. Although 150 cadets tried out for the exercise, only 50 made it and they each earned their spot by competing against their peers.
The competition to join the Sandhurst cadets started at 3 a.m. on a cool fall Saturday morning, with an Army Physical Fitness Test with pull ups added. Directly following the APFT, the cadets did a 9-mile ruck march in as little time as possible. Both Hunter and Mikinski said that there is a ski hill on campus that makes the ruck march especially brutal.
After the ruck march they did an obstacle-course test and a swim test. Throughout each portion of the competition cuts were made to the number of cadets in the running based on event points, Hunter explained.
The leadership reaction course that followed also included about 5 more miles of a ruck march along with challenges to identify those who would integrate best with the British soldiers, said Mikinski.
Integrate is what they did, according to both cadets. After learning differences and similarities between the two nations’ armies, the future officers pulled together for intense training that tested their military skill and internal fortitude.
Fail or succeed, they have to think on their feet and react to everything, said Mikinksi. “At (West Point) CLDT is a little more structured and you run through lanes multiple times. You know what to expect there, but here we didn’t know where the enemy was. That played a huge factor in today. If you mess it up, it really hurts. I feel this is one of the best exercises I’ve ever had in the military.”
Cadets from both the British Army Royal Military Academy…