The smell of burnt gunpowder and echo of steel hammers exploding into brass shell casings stagnated across an empty field June 30 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. as 3rd Regiment Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Cadets knelt behind protective cover during the 2013 Leader Development and Assessment Course.
Just behind the squad of Cadets an M-69 practice hand grenade exploded releasing a dense green smoke and a thunderous boom that sent all of the Cadets reeling as they tried re-gain focus on the targets in front of them.
One of the Cadets picked up a radio and yelled into the receiver at his platoon leader that there were battlefield casualties resulting from the fragmented explosion and asked for additional ammunition so that his team could survive the ambush.
While most of this experience was part of a simulated training environment, but the bullets blasting out of the M-16 rifles over the isolated field at JBLM that day were real as the Cadets were taking part in the newest addition to the LDAC training regimen, the squad live-fire exercise.
“It just builds that confidence in the weapons system that they can hit targets and understand the complexity of the battlefield,” said Lt. Col. Greg Stephens, the officer in charge of the live-fire committee. “Most campuses don’t have ranges on the campus so they don’t get a lot of time on the weapons system.” The squad live-fire exercise is designed to give Cadets experience working in squads under a more intense situation than they are used to.
During the training Cadets take part in three different lanes, a dry run where they rehearse what they will go through, a run where they shoot blanks and the final run of live ammunition. The first two phases are designed to get them comfortable with their weapon before firing live rounds.
As the power of her weapon kicked back into her shoulder socket as she focused on firing accurately at the targets, 3rd Reg. Cadet Susan Mohrbacher of the University of Kansas sensed the nervous feeling running through her body as she shot with live ammunition. “I think the anticipation was probably the scariest, just making sure I was doing everything correctly so I wouldn’t mess anything up,” said Mohrbacher. “I haven’t shot a lot in my lifetime.”
With the live-fire portion new to the LDAC training regimen this year, squad leader Baker and his fellow team members put what they have learned so far at LDAC to the test.
“It was a good exercise to combine all that we’ve been learning with marksmanship and small-unit maneuvering and especially to work together as a team,” said Baker. “To do something like a live-fire where there is risk involved shows trust in each other as a squad.”
Not all Cadets want to branch infantry where they will be working with their weapon a great deal. As a future Army nurse, the squad live fire training exercise will help Mohrbacher with her future patients.“I’m a nursing major so I had never planned on it, but I am really glad we got to do the live-fire exercise because it will probably be one of the only times I will get to do something like that,” said Mohrbacher. “It has really given me an insight to what the people I will be treating are going through.”
Having the Cadets rehearse twice before going live as part of exercise is crucial in its success and a key component of the Army’s standard operating procedures that require multiple rehearsals.
“The big picture is just understanding the Army training methodology of how we crawl, walk, run,” said Stephens. “You start from the basic level and work your way up, which is what we do throughout the Army.”
“I always made sure my weapon was on safe if I wasn’t engaged on a target so I was moving a little slower than I would have if it wasn’t live ammunition,” said 3rd Reg. Cadet Benjamin Baker of Wheaton College. “Other than that, I realize how much harder it is to shoot a target when your heart rate is up and you are moving at combat speed.”
Story by Sara Nahrwold