LOCKED and LOADED

Teaching Teamwork and Leadership through Tactical Weapons Training:

By Jacque E. Day and C. T. Haywood ’12.

Photographs by Mark Collier.

ON A RAW, spring morning at the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho, Vt., a four-cadet fire team approaches an ammunition supply point. Their team leader is Norwich Cadet Garrett Seiden. To Seiden’s left are Cadets William Haas and Paul Fredenburgh. To his right is Cadet Josh Rivers, joining the Norwich crew from Dartmouth College. They are all juniors, or MS3s. Each carries an M16A2 rifle, though no weapons will be fired—yet.

Junior Garrett Seiden (second from left) leads his fire team into the first of three rounds of maneuvering exercises. Seiden’s NU classmates William Haas and Paul Fredenburgh are to his left. Josh Rivers, of Dartmouth College, is to Seiden’s right. Their rifles are affixed with bright red blank-fire adapters, indicating they are headed into a dry fire.

Junior Garrett Seiden (second from left) leads his fire team into the first of three rounds of maneuvering exercises. Seiden’s NU classmates William Haas and Paul Fredenburgh are to his left. Josh Rivers, of Dartmouth College, is to Seiden’s right. Their rifles are affixed with bright red blank-fire adapters, indicating they are headed into a dry fire.

In the early morning hours of the annual Army ROTC spring field training exercise (FTX), they’re being put through the paces of the first phase of a three-phase maneuvering exercise. If they pass the first two, they will move into the last critical phase: a live-fire maneuver.

For now, the mood is light, relaxed. The MS4s supplying ammunition hand out brightly colored Sour Patch Kids candies. But despite their calm demeanor, the cadets all know their reason for being here is deadly serious. When Seiden’s team heads into the woods, they will encounter simulated hostile contact, and how they maneuver will determine whether their unit will progress to the next phase, and the next. The commissioned Army officer in charge of range operations, CPT Brian Kalaher, gives the team some advice—“Take off the cold-weather stuff.” If they don’t, he remarks, they’ll sweat bullets.

After Seiden’s team deploys, Kalaher watches them move through the terrain. He explains that if a four-person fire team comes under assault, two will provide cover fire while the other two advance on the objective.

In the woods, the team is concealed. But as they emerge into a clearing, they become visible. Ahead, targets pop up, representing hostile forces. “They’re receiving contact,” Kalaher says.

The situation accelerates, and the cadets drop to the ground. Two NCOs coach the cadets, adjusting their positions to ensure greater protection so they can begin to return fire.

Norwich cadets at the April FTX underwent three levels of maneuvering exercises that culminated with a live fire—if they passed rigorous evaluations that measured safety and skill. Pictured: Junior MS3, c/SSG Daniel Colón ’15 during the dry-fire phase of the maneuvering exercise. Colón succeeded at all three levels.

Norwich cadets at the April FTX underwent three levels of maneuvering exercises that culminated with a live fire—if they passed rigorous evaluations that measured safety and skill. Pictured: Junior MS3, c/SSG Daniel Colón ’15 during the dry-fire phase of the maneuvering exercise. Colón succeeded at all three levels.

SGM Lonnie Clary, the NCO in charge of field operations, enforces rigorous standards for advancing through the three phases. “The first time around, you go through full speed, but with no blanks. That’s the dry part. Then we go to a blank fire. That’s why you see the blank-fire adapters—the red objects on the ends of the weapons. Then they have to certify with blanks. Then they can move forward and actually shoot and maneuver with live rounds. If at any time we [think] a cadet shouldn’t be shooting live ammunition, that cadet won’t go through it.”

ROTC Instructor CPT Josh Slattery, USA ’06 says weapon control is a key factor in whether they make it to the finish. “We’re certifying them to make sure they can safely handle muzzle control, that they’re putting the weapon selector from safe to semi,” he says. “We do that prior to giving them any kind of ammunition.”

The officers greet another NCO, MSG Walter Hooper, on the walk back to the government vehicle that will take them to the tactical operation center, where Norwich senior c/CPT Connor Porter ’14 is overseeing the entire operation. The eight-passenger Chevy rises and sinks as it negotiates the deep ruts of a Vermont dirt road at the height of mud season. The 11,000-acre government facility, home of Vermont’s Mountain Warfare School, is a busy place this Friday morning. They pass a land-navigation exercise supervised by MAJ Chris Fouracre, and elsewhere on the grounds, a Situational Training Exercise (STX) is also under way.

Safety and Confidence

Since the mid- to late 1970s, Army ROTC cadets have trained on the M16A2, the primary service rifle of the U.S. armed forces. For students who haven’t grown up around firearms, it is usually their initial exposure to a loaded weapon. Assistant Commandant LTC Bill Passalacqua, VSM ’88 recalls, “The first time I ever fired a rifle was an M16A1 in Army mil lab in our old firing range inside the Student Service Center.” Then, as now, it was always “safety first.” He vividly remembers the instructors drilling into him, “Ensure your safety [switch] is on when not firing, and always clear your weapon first before cleaning and turning in.”

Frank Miniter ’96 is a bestselling author whose next book, The Future of the Gun, will be out in August. He is an outspoken advocate for firearm safety instruction. “Good gun habits must be learned so deeply you won’t even want to point a squirt gun at someone—as doing such a thing just won’t feel right,” Miniter says. He adds, “As good citizens—soldiers or not—we need to learn how to handle firearms and to constantly police ourselves and others. This takes a lot of quality time with guns.”

President Richard W. Schneider says that training in tactical weaponry is a critical component of a cadet’s military education, especially for those on a commissioning track. “Regardless of branch, being well-practiced in the fundamentals of safe weapons handling is paramount for any future officer and contributes to their confidence in their ability to train others,” Schneider says.

ROTC Commander COL Stephen Smith, USA ’84 agrees. “One of the most important skills that cadets come away with from Norwich is self-confidence,” says the professor of military science. “Obviously the technical and tactical skills are critical, but that all builds on their confidence.”

Army 2LT Mallory Clark ’13 says weapons training at Norwich played a key role in building her confidence. Clark is now a platoon leader with the 56th Signal Battalion at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Mallory Clark.)

Army 2LT Mallory Clark ’13 says weapons training at Norwich played a key role in building her confidence. Clark is now a platoon leader with the 56th Signal Battalion at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Mallory Clark.)

Army 2LT Mallory Clark ’13 can attest to that fact. A member of the Signal Corps, Clark says weapons training is a key component in confidence-building. “Weapons training is part of the Army’s mission; training and practice are essential in all areas. This applies to weapons, equipment, briefing, and the wearing of the uniform. As with anything, as a soldier gets more comfortable, practices, and executes, that soldier will gain confidence with the weapons system.” But Clark is quick to add that weapons training alone is not what builds confidence. “Confidence is projected through hard work and diligence, a positive attitude, and experience.”

Those who attended Norwich during the Vietnam era, such as Tony Sussmann ’66, remember being trained on the M1 Garand, the rifle now carried in NUCC parades, company inspections, and drills. In addition to memorizing details such as specifications, serial number, and nomenclature, Sussmann says cadets were expected to be able to field-strip the rifle in 30 seconds. “I had trouble with this and once was required to sleep in my hammock-like mattress with my M1 in parts. It was like sleeping on a bed of dull nails,” he laughs, “Needless to say, I learned fast.”

Instruction in smaller firearms, such as the Glock 22 and 23 .40-caliber handguns, is also standard training. In 2013, c/CPT Connor Porter ’14—who would oversee tactical operations at the spring 2014 FTX—was responsible for teaching a group of freshmen the fundamentals of safe handgun handling. He describes it as a “multi-phase” process that begins with classroom instruction on training pistols—teaching proper grip and stance—followed by hands-on training with actual weapons and magazines, before progressing to the range. “We took them out to the range and repeated the entire sequence over again but in a shorter format,” Porter says. The last phase involves issuing live ammunition and conducting target practice in buddy pairs: an instructor and a shooter. Porter, who commissioned into the Army in May 2014, says that instructing his peers in the proper handling of weapons will serve him well as an officer. “[This experience] has ingrained in me a greater sense of responsibility for any action I take, not just owning, holding, and carrying a firearm.”

Professionalism with regard to all training—not just weapons training—has become the norm in today’s Corps. “In recent years, training has become much more codified,” Passalacqua says. “Training must be to task, conditions, and standards—and assessed. Without assessment, training is just an activity.”

High-Tech Simulation

The week after the spring FTX, at the Vermont National Guard Readiness and Regional Technology Center on the west edge of campus, two dozen first-year cadets receive orders from MSG Walter Hooper: “You are coming back from reconnaissance, withdrawal. While en route, you receive a call from higher. You are to do a hasty attack on a high-value target in the area.” Instead of filing outdoors for mil lab, the cadets enter a room lit only by the glow of computer screens. A large image projects onto the wall. The squad will carry out their mission on a Virtual Battlespace (VBS2), a facet of 21st-century training currently being offered at Norwich.

For the first 20 minutes, Lindsay Miller—a Booz Allen Hamilton consultant who serves as a VBS training integrator for the Vermont Army National Guard—briefs the cadets on procedure. They enter their names, put on headsets and familiarize themselves with how to communicate and position their avatars: Stand. Kneel. Prone. The screens are completely individualized—each one depicting a particular student’s unique point of view. “The VBS2 is not a video game, no matter what it seems like,” Miller emphasizes. “You are handling a loaded weapon.” (She isn’t kidding. Before the end of the exercise, five “casualties” will result from friendly fire.)

At the Vermont National Guard Readiness and Regional Technology Center on the west edge of campus, two dozen first-year cadets attempt a simulated mission on a Virtual Battlespace (VBS2), a facet of 21st-century training currently being offered at Norwich. The VBS2 allows Norwich cadets to engage in a variety of simulated scenarios, a valuable tool in leadership building.

At the Vermont National Guard Readiness and Regional Technology Center on the west edge of campus, two dozen first-year cadets attempt a simulated mission on a Virtual Battlespace (VBS2), a facet of 21st-century training currently being offered at Norwich. The VBS2 allows Norwich cadets to engage in a variety of simulated scenarios, a valuable tool in leadership building.

The simulation begins. MAJ Chris Fouracre, assistant professor of military science in charge of the MS1s, explains their movements. “The [cadet] platoon leader is working through the final details and attempting to push the force out in the right order: first squad, second squad, and so on.” The simulator allows them to place students in a variety of scenarios, a valuable tool in leadership-building skills. “You want a future lieutenant to be adaptable to a situation—any situation—and be able to make rapid decisions,” Fouracre says.

Like the FTX weekend, the simulation exercise is designed to inculcate teamwork and leadership skills. “The simulation technology is used to teach doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures during squad and platoon offensive, defensive, and patrolling operations—in a safe, controlled environment,” COL Smith says. In addition, an after-action review session (every simulation is voice- and video-recorded) allows the instructors to critique individual and group behaviors while reinforcing leadership and organizational skills needed to successfully execute small-unit missions.

This time around, the deployment takes fire and doesn’t make the objective. The lights come up. MSG Hooper emerges from behind the controls. He delivers his feedback in calm, measured tones. “This is what it takes to move and operate as a fighting element. You have moved approximately 500 meters toward the objective,” he says. “Think about this next year when you’re sophomores, MS2s.”

Everything Leads to this Moment

ROTC Commander COL Stephen Smith, USA ’84 says that “trust and confidence” are two of the most important skills cadets learn at Norwich.

ROTC Commander COL Stephen Smith, USA ’84 says that “trust and confidence” are two of the most important skills cadets learn at Norwich.

As he observed the cadet teams on the maneuver-live-fire range during FTX weekend, COL Stephen Smith reflected on the overarching significance of tactical training at Norwich. “This is the culminating event. Everything they’ve learned in the last three years builds to this moment.” Cadet Seiden and his fire team succeeded in all three phases of the live-fire maneuver exercise. Seiden says he came away from Ft. Ethan Allen with greater trust and confidence in his ROTC classmates. “They will excel over people who have never had such training . . . and in other areas as well.”

“Two of the most important skills these cadets will come away from Norwich with are trust and confidence,” Smith echoes. “Trust in their training, equipment, and fellow team members, and confidence in themselves that they can and will lead in tough and demanding situations.”


See the “Powder and Lead” sidebar for reflections on NU artillery training from Trevor Breitenbach ’14.

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