Lt. Gen. Ted Stroup, USA, Ret.
Vice President, Association of the United States Army
Each summer thousands of young Americans enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps travel to the Pacific Northwest to put into practice what they have learned at the 273 colleges and universities, known as host institutions, – and in an additional 1,063 partnership schools – across the United States and in U.S. territories with the ROTC program.
LDAC – the Leadership Development and Assessment Course or Operation Warrior Forge – conducted at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and hosted by the U.S. Army Cadet Command’s 8th ROTC Brigade, is an all-important and essential part of the cadet’s training which allows the Army to grow its future leaders who will soon be commissioned second lieutenants in the nation’s premier land fighting force.
The Operation Warrior Forge training program is sequential and progressive.
It begins with individual training and leads to collective training, building from simple to complex tasks.
This building-block approach permits integration of previously-learned skills into follow-on training, thus reinforcing learning and promoting retention. This logical, common sense training sequence is maintained for each training cycle through use of the tiered training structure.
To properly develop and assess the cadets, LDAC is comprised of the following training programs and exercises:
Confidence Training: This training phase includes rappel training, the Slide-For-Life, Log-Walk/Rope-Drop and a Confidence/Obstacle course. Confidence Training is designed to challenge the cadets’ physical courage, build confidence in personal abilities and assist in overcoming fear.
At the rappelling site, each cadet executes one 17-foot rappel and several 37-foot rappels. Cadets demonstrate confidence in their ability to overcome fear of heights by executing the Confidence/Obstacle Course, Log Walk/Rope Drop and Slide For Life.
Field Leader’s Reaction Course: FLRC is designed to develop and evaluate leadership and to build teamwork early in the camp cycle.
Course administration is accomplished by using the established cadet organization and chain of command.
Cadet leadership potential is assessed by committee evaluators – members of the cadre. Cadets are provided the opportunity to get early feedback on their leadership strengths, weaknesses, styles and techniques.
Land Navigation: Land navigation training must be mastered early in the camp cycle for the cadets to be fully successful in the tactical training that follows this exercise.
Land navigation evaluation consists of three events totaling 100 points. The written examination is worth 20 percent. The day land navigation test is worth 50 percent. The night land navigation test is worth 30 percent.
Each cadet must earn 70 percent on each test to pass this event.
A passing score in land navigation is a camp-completion criterion.
Prior to land navigation, cadets will learn field craft while living and sleeping in the woods. They will set up field expedient shelters using ponchos and whatever else is available. They’ll learn how to maintain noise, light and litter discipline.
CBRN: Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Training teaches cadets how to administer a nerve agent antidote, how to protect themselves from chemical and biological contamination using their assigned protective mask, decontaminate themselves and individual equipment using chemical decontaminating kits and how to react to chemical or biological hazard/attack.
U.S. Weapons: This training phase familiarizes cadets with the operation and employment of infantry squad weapons and, in addition, calls for fire grid missions.
The cadets train in the fundamentals of the operation and engaging of targets and emplacement of crew-served weapons such as the M249, M203, and M136.
Cultural Awareness: This teaches cadets a basic understanding of cultural matters and how cultural awareness will facilitate mission success.
Cadets learn how to conduct bi-lateral discussions with local officials in host nations, how to conduct a knock and search mission and how to defuse volatile situations using an interpreter.
First Aid: Cadets develop confidence in their ability to react properly to battlefield wounds. Through hands-on training and evaluation, cadets learn critical first aid skills.
Maneuver Training: In the first block of instruction at LDAC, cadets learn individual battlefield skills, combat movement techniques and procedures necessary for subsequent tactical training at the squad level.
Maneuver training is a vehicle to teach and evaluate leadership.
It introduces conditions of stress that parallel those found in combat.
Tactical training introduces new skills, provides performance-oriented reinforcement opportunities and increases the degree of difficulty and sophistication of training events.
Cadets learn the skills necessary to function in a Tactical Training Area.
This building-block approach provides the best opportunity for cadets to learn and for the cadre to assess leadership potential.
Tactics: This year Squad Situational Training and Patrolling Situational Training Exercises have been combined under the tactics committee. They take place back-to-back while cadets are at the Tactical Training Base.
Tactical Training Base: Cadets operate for five days from this base and experience maneuver training and patrolling. They learn how to provide security by guarding gates and doing squad-level reconnaissance around the FOB—Forward Operating Base; how to conduct FOB operations and what they have to do to prepare for patrolling.
Squad Situational Training Exercise: Squad STX is a four-day, two-phase event.
The first day, the squad training phase, is designed to train squad battle drills and collective tasks.
The last three days, the Squad STX lane phase, are designed to evaluate leadership using tactical scenarios.
Each cadet receives two formal evaluations of his/her performance as a squad leader during this phase. Squad operations build on and reinforce all previous instruction.
Cadets use knowledge of land navigation, terrain analysis, weapons systems and all individual training previously presented.
Patrolling Situational Training Exercise: Patrolling STX is a two-day event that provides cadets practical experience in leading soldiers at the section level in a challenging, realistic and fluid environment.
Developmental feedback is provided to all levels of leadership. Patrolling STX builds on and reinforces all previous instruction received during the course.
The event ends with a 10K foot march.
This 29-day course, filled with soldiering tasks and doctrine, is principally focused on leadership development and ensuring those about to become Army lieutenants are qualified to do so.
LDAC is an Army-directed prerequisite for commissioning, and the single common focal point of training and assessment for every cadet who wants to become an Army officer.
"I’m ecstatic to be done," Heidi Schultz, a cadet from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., said of the training. "I’d have to say I’m officially ‘warrior forged.’"
The course also instills a sense of accomplishment and confidence in the cadets’ ability to lead that they can be achieved in no other way.
"I think the first thing that cadets come away with is a new self-confidence in their abilities to lead," Col. Paul Wood, the commander of LDAC 2010, said. "We establish leadership standards and set the tone for our future Army officer corps."
Wood highlighted the Army standard as the cornerstone upon which all officers are made. He and his staff weave that standard into everything they do at LDAC, and are prepared to do so.
"Setting these standards is a tremendously vital function for the sustainment of the institutional Army," Wood explained. "That reinforces the reason this is an Army-level mission. Each cadre and staff member here undergoes a validation process, so that the entire supporting cast has an appreciation for what our Cadets experience."
The cadet population for 2010 was the largest in memory, but the year of planning the complex, arduous task of carrying out the Army’s largest training exercise ensures the staff and cadre are ready.
More than 6,200 Army Cadets reported to LDAC and 340 were commissioned as second lieutenants during their graduation ceremonies.
Having the support of battle buddies throughout the mental and physical stress of the LDAC is priceless, according to cadets. The support propelled Cadet Caleb Pearl, from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., across obstacles he may have mentally shied away from on his own.
"Every time I started to doubt myself or get psyched out, I leaned on my team and they supported me – clapping and shouting and chanting our motto," Pearl said. "It gave me the confidence to grab my gear and keep moving."
Combining the total experience of the odyssey of LDAC into one defining moment is almost impossible. However, the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that results on graduation day is summed up in the sights, sounds and stories emanating from the parade field as cadets look back on 29 days they will not forget.
Cadet Danielle Shaffer, from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, was nicknamed "The Tough One" by her platoon when she outperformed other males in her squad and scaled an obstacle of the same name during the land confidence course.
"I got up the rope that some of the guys just couldn’t climb," Shaffer said. "And I’ve been cliff-diving since I was little, so the trip down was a breeze.
"The most challenging part of all this for me was going seven days without a shower. When we finally got out of the field and cleaned up, I knew I was almost at the finish line."
Kevin Rice, one of 30 West Point cadets who attended LDAC this year, developed relationships with his peers that he plans to maintain even in the years after commissioning.
"I met friends out here that I will definitely keep," Rice said. "I actually just traded a school patch with a guy out here that I’ll hold on to as a keepsake."
Second Lieutenant Ellis Coleman, a recent graduate of Hampton University in Hampton, Va., who attended LDAC in 2009, served as a platoon training officer this summer.
He relived the sense of accomplishment he felt last year as a cadet at Warrior Forge. His platoon faced and overcame a certain fear of falling on the water obstacle course.
"They’re scared of heights, just like I was," Coleman said. "Just like any of their friends back home would be, the cadets have a natural fear of climbing twenty feet and walking across a wooden beam with nothing but water below. The difference is these cadets volunteer to do just that and prove to themselves and their peers that they have what it takes."
(Editor’s note: Lt. Gen. Stroup visited Operation Warrior Forge in July. Jeremy O’Bryan, public affairs officer, U.S. Army Cadet Command, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, assisted in the preparation of this article.)