Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Cadet Kristina Nauck, Bravo Co., 3rd Regiment, of Houston and Texas A & M, saw something no one else in her platoon did.
“I see something shiny,” she said, pointing in the direction of a guardrail.
To get a better view, a few Cadets clustered together, leaving the single-file lines they had formed on either side of the dirt road. Almost a minute passed, the Cadets unsure of what they could not clearly see.
Then it exploded.
The Cadets had been looking for improvised explosive devices while on a simulated instructor-led mission to recover a humvee on July 1 at the Leader Development and Assessment Course at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The IED Nauck spotted was fake, like all the others concealed on the trail. After the explosion, Cadre, who had detonators hidden in their vests, reminded Cadets that someone is always watching them.
At the moment of the explosion, Cadet Micheal Zano, a student at Texas Southern University and from Houston, fell to the ground on his back, his M16 tucked into his shoulder.
“Even with it being a fake IED, it’s important you take it as a real IED,” said Zano, who is prior service.
After completing the instructor-led portion, the Cadre pointed out wires hanging from beneath the humvee’s driver’s side door. The only reason it had not detonated was because the Cadre had forgotten to reset it. The Cadets’ failure to spot the device prompted the instructor to reiterate the importance of being alert and not relying on the squad leader to see everything.
The Cadets then took 10 minutes to organize themselves for the longer portion of the training they would conduct alone.
Trash, plastic bottles, loose dirt, stacked rocks and trip wire were all potential explosive culprits. If anyone in the platoon suspected an IED, they were to call out their code word, “lantern.”
In a ramshackle building, Spc. Michael Estus, portraying a suicide bomber, surprised Cadets, which resulted in two of them playing wounded Soldiers. Estus said it was important to present reality to the Cadets so they can avoid mistakes like walking trails someone has already covered.
“It’s human nature to follow the path of least resistance, and our enemy uses that against us,” said Estus. “I’d like [the Cadets] to learn from that.”
Cadet Miranda Pleggenkuhle, from Fredericksburg, Iowa, and a student at University of Northern Iowa, is prior service and said the LDAC IED training was as close to being in Afghanistan as any training she has seen.
“It’s not just you stepping on [an IED] and blowing your leg off,” she said. “Those things have hundreds of meters of radius, so the whole squad doesn’t come home.”
Zano also emphasized the training’s importance. Attentiveness during IED training is crucial, Zano said, because what the Cadets learn could save lives.
“I know the mission comes first, but we can’t complete the mission without boots on the ground,” he said.
Story by Monica Spees.