Having Fewer Boots in the Creek Aids Jungle School
While soldiers deep in the tropical jungle of Oahu, Hawaii, were learning survival, navigation and the importance of keeping dry when the 25th Infantry Division Tropic Lightning Academy’s Jungle Operations Training Center opened in 2013, the division’s cadre was learning a completely different lesson. They discovered one of those instances when less is more, because soldiers could absorb more from one-on-one instruction than being in large classes.
Two years later, the jungle school in Hawaii has applied that lesson by limiting overall student population and class size while also becoming a key element of the Army’s so-called Pacific shift by teaching the lost art of fighting in the jungle, where maneuvering, communicating and surviving require specialized skills.
After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a combination of renewed attention on the Pacific and a move to regain lost or overlooked combat skills has prompted the Army to prepare soldiers for jungle fighting.
“We are getting back to the basics that we’ve long lost,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jaime Oliveros, a platoon sergeant at the Jungle Operations Training Center (JOTC). A similar jungle training school at Fort Sherman, Panama, trained its last group of soldiers in 1999.
The living is tough. The entire 12-day course is spent in the field, where troops are immersed in their training environment—sometimes literally—while learning water crossing, patrol base operations, reconnaissance, security, resupply, sanitation, preventive medicine and other jungle-unique skills.
The training starts fast. On the first day, troops also learn how to pack. Oahu’s jungle—like most jungles—has random rainstorms, sometimes multiple times a day. Gear has to stay as dry as possible or preventable issues occur. Troops learn how to build shelter, tie knots, and conduct tracking and waterborne operations.
‘Build Agile and Adaptive’
“My goal is to build agile and adaptive,” said Maj. Andy Lyman, Lightning Academy commander. “We also aim to create responsive, flexible, small-unit operations capability for the division in jungle and other harsh environments. Lastly, we aim for regional partners to view the Lightning Academy as the premier U.S. training venue to develop soldier leadership and jungle skills.”
To make the coursework more effective, class size is kept small to allow for more one-on-one training. Before, “we attempted to train every single soldier in the battalion task force,” Lyman said. “We only achieved a brief familiarization of different jungle warfare tasks and subjects. There was very little hands-on training and practical exercises while training in the large numbers.”
Changes were made based on feedback from experienced jungle cadres from Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia. The individual/small-unit training was doubled to 12 days, and the population was limited to 100 students per iteration, Lyman said. “This helps ensure a better student-to-instructor ratio, and also allows time for all students to get hands-on experience, conduct practical exercises, and be individually tested on various jungle tasks to ensure they’ve learned them.”
Since making those changes, the center has trained more than 2,500 students from a variety of ranks, military career backgrounds and services, including all partnered foreign military.
The U.S. Army cadre also trains at the foreign jungle schools, which have different terrains and much longer courses. “Australia’s terrain is so thick, and almost everything there can kill you,” Oliveros said. “Seventy days of training in places like that helps us to have a high confidence level in leading these troops through the two-week course.”
Boar Sightings, Mosquito Bites
The worst things the soldiers have to worry about on the Oahu jungle training course are occasional wild boar sightings and frequent mosquito bites. Safety is always a top concern in the military, with the intention of making sure everyone returns to their units in one piece, Oliveros said.
“Schofield Barracks and Hawaii are the only locations in the United States with a true jungle environment,” Lyman said. “Jungle training is not new to Oahu. During World War II, more than 300,000 soldiers were trained here for duty throughout the Pacific Theater.”
For decades, jungle training continued under various names and culminated with specialized schools during the 1970s. Focus shifted to Fort Sherman in the years that followed. Panama Canal closures changed everything for future jungle training. One chapter closed in military history as another opened. High-level leaders started inquiring about the relevance of the training when the Middle East became a primary battleground for U.S. troops.
“It’s interesting seeing how all the services take this training. I’m infantry, and this is tough,” said Spc. Michael Felder of the 25th Infantry Division personal security detail.
“We don’t normally stay out here this long and continually stay this wet, but I like that the Air Force, Navy and Marines are out here doing this training with us.”
Jungle training teaches skills soldiers don’t learn in basic training, such as building a fire with sticks and stones, and finding safe drinking water. Cold nights may require heat; dehydration requires sanitized water.
“Obviously, the skills learned by soldiers during JOTC are useful for operations and training throughout the Pacific region,” Lyman said. “The skills are also applicable to jungle environments in South America and Africa as well, and some of the students we have trained have deployed to those regions.”
History Repeats Itself Jungle Warfare Lives Again
The 3-year-old Jungle Operations Training Center on Oahu, Hawaii, is the latest version of specialized training growing out of World War II, experiences of soldiers defending the Panama Canal and even preparations for the Spanish-American War.
A Jungle Warfare Training Center was opened in Panama in 1953 as an expansion of Exercise Brush Bay, an annual exercise conducted by U.S. Army Caribbean Command. The center’s initial task was fully training the 33rd Infantry Regiment in jungle warfare.
This wasn’t a bolt out of the blue, as jungle training had been taking place there since 1916. One unit, the 14th Infantry Regiment, was nicknamed ”The Jungleers” during the two decades it was stationed in the Canal Zone.
Ownership of the training center changed hands several times as its mission was revised. By the mid-1970s, it primarily was training special forces, but it also included infantry and engineer units. The Panama school was inactivated on April 1, 1999, just two months before Fort Sherman—the school’s home—was handed over to Panama.
When the Jungle Warfare Operations Center was re-established in Hawaii in 2013, many people thought of it as returning the specialized Army training to its birthplace. Oahu was a staging base and training ground for U.S. soldiers in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. In World War II, Hawaii became a formal jungle training area when a Ranger Combat Training School was located at Schofield Barracks in 1942. That initial location expanded over the course of the war to as many as 50 bases where survival, hand-to-hand combat and operations in jungle conditions were taught.
Jungle training in Hawaii dropped off when the Panama school was opened, but it is now the center of the Army’s effort.