Cadets learn urban warfare in Fort Knox; Another Shares His USAFA Experience

 

Article by 25123 OCdt (IV) Jamie Brittain

Spring break always means going somewhere hot and exciting for an annual adventure. Some went to Cancun, others to Cuba or the Dominican, but 14 of us decided, for whatever reason, to spend it in Fort Knox, Kentucky. There are some great tourist attractions in Fort Knox, but we were drawn there for the prospect of learning urban warfare with the American training facilities. The weather changed so drastically that from one day to another we could be wearing every piece of clothing we owned, to having our sleeves rolled up to cool off and being hit with rain, hail, and snow in less than 24 hours. It may not have been Cancun, but we learned a lot, got some sun, and had a bit of fun along the way.

We were invited to join 33 Brigade, which is comprised entirely of reservists, to make the 15 hour bus ride to use the American facilities for some top notch training opportunities. Having slept through most of Michigan and all of Ohio, we finally arrived in Fort Knox on Saturday, the 25th of February early in the morning. After debating just how difficult it would be to break into the actual Fort, we arrived at the base around 9. We were one of the first groups to arrive and had to wait for everyone else before anything really happened. We quickly found the Tim Horton’s on base and took a look at some of the other facilities the base had to offer before dinner and got some briefings on exactly what was going to be happening for the week. There was a day of inter unit competition, a couple days of stands, and few days out in the hills of the Kentucky wilderness – and I mean some serious hills.

The competition consisted of four separate obstacle courses and we could field a team of 8 people. We were very excited as obstacle courses are kind of what we do, especially with 2 Sandhurst members with us. Our team consisted of 25355 OCdt (IV) J.R. Parent, 25335 OCdt (IV) L. Luciak, 25284 OCdt (IV) E. Blakie, 25726 OCdt (III) M. Peetsma, 25285 OCdt (IV) C. Bouwman, 25450 OCdt (III) S. Keoghan, 25573 OCdt (III) D. Neppel, and myself. We were a little disappointed there was no real running involved, as we figured that’s where we would have left everyone else behind. Despite that, we were constantly told that we were expected to win and therefore felt pressured to do our very best. We started off strong with the fastest time in the Brigade on the first set of obstacles which was a short series of obstacles with jerry cans. The second was a series of rope bridges crossed platforms that we had to cross twice. Spanning about 25 meters (a little longer than the length of a tractor trailer), it was one of the most painful and difficult obstacles that most of us had ever done. Only falling twice, we had one of the best performances in the Brigade, but some weird rules had it so that falling and taking penalties was actually faster than doing the obstacle properly and resulted in us placing around 3rd for that set. The 3rd and 4th set of obstacles was very similar to the course at CFB Kingston, with a few interesting ones we had never seen before. We did very well and placed in the top 3 for both. They would hold onto the results and only inform us at the very end of the week who the winner was. Last year RMC won, but since we were not part of 33 Brigade, they gave it to someone else. With that in mind, we were a little suspicious when they would not let us see the results and then announced the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment was in a tie for 1st with the Princess of Wales Own Regiment. Nevertheless, an excellent performance from those teams and RMC alike. I am very proud of our team, their dedication, and strength.

The next two days were a series of stands set up for us to practice the many facets of urban warfare. There was lots of practice in room clearing, breaching, and communication which are all extremely important in this type of environment. Afterwards, there was an alley set up with explosives, an airgun imitating the sound of a .50 calibre, and pop up targets which we cleared with paintball guns to test what we had learned. There were also stands to practice key leader engagements and practicing security for psyops teams in a small “Afghan” village. There was a lot to learn and little time to do it, but we stepped up and quickly took in as much as we could. OCdts Luciak and Blakie did an excellent job responding to a couple of insurgents who fired on us. They quickly performed their battle drills, recognized a potential IED threat, and took down the enemy with impressive skill. Although the “Franco” section was not with us for most of the week, we only heard good things from the rest of their platoon and staff.

Due to some shuffling within the companies, we were moved to a different platoon for the field portion. This was our third move and we were becoming a little frustrated with the bouncing around, feeling like the trouble maker orphan child that nobody wants. Our new officer, Captain Lis, seemed rather upset about losing one of his own sections and having them replaced with a bunch of officer cadets and the tension was rather high between us moving forward. Despite this, we quickly learned to trust each other as they proved to be an excellent group and we showed that we were not just a bunch of rookies as many had initially thought. Many of the troops in our new platoon had several tours and a lot of experience and knowledge to pass on to us. We tried to soak up as much and as fast as we could, learning a lot about officer-NCM relationships. Capt Lis and Sgt Reynolds of the Cameron Highlanders gave us much of their time, taking us aside several times to impart their knowledge onto us, show us things they had learned, and to helped to teach us as much as they could. We could not have asked for a better group and we were very thankful to be a part of their platoon for the field exercise. In turn, we were commended for our excellent performance and OCdt Parent was specifically mentioned for one of the best patrol reports they had received.

In the field portion, we learned a lot about security for psyops operations and being sensors for information ourselves. As a section of RMC cadets, we were constantly providing excellent information for the operations and performing beyond expectation. The final operation for the exercise was an assault on a mosque and surrounding buildings in a walled compound. The information we had was a bit dodgy at the start of the operation, but we quickly developed the picture as it unfolded. The “Anglo” section, as part of B Company was in reserve while A Company with the “Franco” section were first to storm the objective. Near the end of securing the objective, code named Goldfinger, my section, led by OCdt Parent, got a chance to prove ourselves as there was a building that had yet to be secured. We took that building with the utmost focus and concentration. Executing our drills with what felt like heart pounding intensity. Although we later found out that not only had that building already been cleared, but was out of bounds, we still got a chance to do something and put our training to use. B company did not get a chance to do a whole lot, but there were still lessons to be learned and experience to be had. OCdt Neppel deserves special recognition for his actions as part of the assaulting force. As part of one of the first platoons in, he was the signaller for the platoon commander. As one of the assault teams moved across an open court yard, he spotted enemy barrels sticking out of a second story window and laid down fire to protect his team. He placed himself in front of the platoon commander to protect him and pulled up a fire team to help lay down fire. By the time he crossed the court yard himself, most of his platoon had already died and he was one of about 5 still alive. While alone with the platoon commander and waiting for reinforcements, he was attempting to provide security when the platoon commander tripped an IED. OCdt Neppel quickly pulled the casualty back into cover, took down two insurgents, and secured the tower alone. Taking a firing position in the tower window, he covered the movement of the next teams moving across the open court yard and kept the assault moving. After the objective was all secure and “end ex” was called, OCdt Neppel’s platoon commander wrote up a commendation and he was recognized in front of the Brigade for his stellar performance.

The exercise was over, but our learning wasn’t. Several members of our platoon still took the time to answer any questions and explain many things to us. Although several of us had come in to the trip with questionable expectations, nobody can deny that we learned a lot. As the better part of the entire company was Cameron Highlanders, we owe a lot of our education to them and are thankful for everything they gave us. Many on the trip will go on to do their Phase 3, Phase 4, or go on to regiment after graduation in May. As much as we have learned, we have so much farther to go. This experience, however short and limited, has given us a taste of urban operations and what is to come once we are clear of RMC and on to our careers as Officers in the Canadian Forces.

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NCdt Martin’s Exchange to USAFA

This article is the second part of NCdt Martin’s experience at the United States Air Force Academy. To read the first part click here.

By 25888 NCdt (III) Joey Martin

The comfort of flight suits, the beautiful mountains of Colorado, and the exception of a fishing pond replacing my mattress in the week leading up to the Navy-Air Force game, the second half of my exchange at the US Air Force Academy proved to be exhilarating.

OCdt Dubeau and I received many opportunities to participate in the same programs as our American counterparts. Two such opportunities were athletics courses: boxing and unarmed combat. After receiving an introduction to boxing I was afforded the opportunity to participate in the bi-weekly Friday Night Fights where cadets sign up to be paired with boxers of relatively equal weight and experience for three two minute rounds. Following boxing, unarmed combat was taught based on real life situations from Afghanistan and Iraq. It also involved a practical experience with the final exam being six ten second rounds fought immediately following two minutes of high intensity exercise to simulate “combat fatigue”. The opportunity to test oneself in actual fights was invaluable in developing the confidence of the students.

The other program I participated in extensively was the Department of Astronautics’ FalconSAT-5 satellite. The program, which has become available as a summer OJT for Space Science students, trains ground station operators to maintain the satellite and the experiments on board it through planned missions when the satellite passes over the Academy. I began training as a Satellite Systems Engineer insuring our crew stayed in contact with the satellite. Later in the semester, I filled the role of Commander. Nearing winter break, the decision was made to shut the satellite down for the holiday due to scarce sunlight. Being the scheduled commander I was given the privilege of beginning the satellite’s hibernation.

NCdt Martin (standing first from the right)

In tandem with packed weeks of Electrical Engineering, various events got me out of the Academy almost every weekend. Two such events were away games for the football team at the Naval Academy and Notre Dame where I managed to join the fan contingents being transported to the games by C-130. Another weekend was spent with my roommate embarking on a poorly planned ascent of Pikes Peak whose view inspired “America the Beautiful”. Yet another was spent at NORAD’s annual Canadian mess dinner with LGen Lawson and Cdr Rich in attendance. Perhaps the highlight of the semester was spending four days in Washington, DC and subsequently renting a car with OCdt Dubeau and two Japanese exchange students for an east coast road trip during the weeklong Thanksgiving break. Upon our return, three weeks of school flew by and a seemingly minute semester ended with a farewell ceremony where each international cadet was presented with a USAFA graduate sword.

To describe such an incredible experience in one article is an impossible task. The opportunities that we were afforded throughout our five months seemed at some times to be science fiction. OCdt Dubeau and I would like to thank everyone who made this incredible exchange possible and would definitely encourage future cadets to take advantage of all that a semester at USAFA has to offer. Live in fame or go down in flame (Hey!), nothing can stop the US Air Force.