Oct. 6, 2014
A group of young Americans, armed with assault rifles and decked out in combat gear approached a man and woman dressed in typical Middle Eastern garb and holding farming implements.
In the distance another man stood, half concealed, inside a shipping container- turned-shelter cradling an AK-47.
The scene was not some remote village in Waziristan or Ramadi, but right in the middle of The United States Air Force Academy’s Jacks Valley Training Area.
Both the soldiers and the mock local nationals were members of the UCCS ROTC, and the scenario was part of the Falls Leadership Training Exercise.
The recent weekend training event was centered around a changing Army strategy for teaching upcoming officers.
“Before, we have been very oriented on combat tactics and basic infantry tasks,” said third year Cadet Timothy Soderlund. “This year, scenarios focused on intercultural communication in order to break down cultural barriers, build rapport, and practice properly representing the United States Army abroad.”
“Now the training is really focused on developing officers and teaching us what we will be doing next year for the Army,” said senior Cadet Kelsey Whistler, referring to her service after she commissions as an officer.
“I think that it is because [ROTC] is getting away from the check the box mentality and focusing on true leadership,” she continued.
This shift in training focus was embodied in the Key Leader Engagement training, where squads of cadets met with mock villagers, played by the senior cadets who had planned the training exercise.
The villagers took different approaches to provoke an overreaction or a lapse in security from the soldiers.
The Saturday KLE iterations were eye opening for the cadets, and many groups realized they had not taken advantage of the open block of planning time afforded them the previous night.
“It showed you whether you were prepared or not,” said second year Cadet Kyle Bifano.
Abrasive critiques from fellow upper class cadets mixed with feelings of embarrassment at being easily deterred caused many cadets to double their efforts for the following morning’s round of training.
“The lessons learned during the KLEs Saturday set up the opportunity for success in our full exercise Sunday,” Soderlund said.
The weekend also included other events designed to challenge cadets’ physical stamina and foster teamwork.
In teams of four, first and second year cadets maneuvered through a paintball assault course. Unlike the rudimentary course on UCCS grounds, this course required the troops in training to navigate numerous obstacles.
In addition to crawling through drainage pipes and over sand bags, the teams had to react to opposition cadets concealed throughout the course. The teams had to communicate as they advanced to take down their targets while under paintball fire.
First through third year cadets also had to run in pairs through another course comprised of more than 15 challenging obstacles. Among these were several that required navigating logs, climbing ropes and avoiding icy water.
The cadets were paired up according to physical ability so they could help each other when necessary.
“You definitely end up working together,” Bifano said. “It pushes people’s patience.”
UCCS cadets seemed to enjoy the course, and many cheered on their comrades from the sidelines once they had finished. Some cadets opted to run the co urse more than once to beat the best times.
“It’s good, because your fellow cadets won’t let you quit,” said first year Cadet Gabby Oleas. “It’s exhausting, but at the end it’s like, damn I did that!”