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Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

Officer candidates learn leadership at squad level

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An FTX is a field training exercise. An FLX is a field leadership exercise. There’s a key difference, said Capt. Greg Gober, assistant operations officer for 3rd Battalion (Officer Candidate School), 11th Infantry Regiment.

“The students aren’t being graded on tactics,” he said. “They’re being evaluated (on) their leadership abilities … mental agility, their ability to communicate well with others, getting results. In an actual operating environment, once they become lieutenants and platoon leaders, they’re going to be the ones who make the decision. (We’re) trying to present situations where there is no perfect answer. They just have to try and make a judgment call.”

Officer candidates in B Company are in Week 10 of the 12-week course. They’ve just wrapped up a two-week FLX that focused on squad formations.

“They’re out here to practice … being able to identify situations and adapt their plan and to be successful with their objectives,” 1st Sgt. James Boone, first sergeant for B Co., said Wednesday as Soldiers maneuvered through a series of six scenario-driven lanes.

“Our scenarios change,” he said. “They start out — it’s very basic. As we progress through the training, we throw different variables at them. Sometimes it will be civilians going through the ambush line instead of an armed enemy. For example, yesterday we had two civilians on the battlefield. They were farmers. These two people came walking down the road. They were carrying shovels instead of AK-47s, and we just wanted to see what the squad leader would do. Instead of engaging them, would he break from the ambush line and stop the civilians walking down the road and question them?”

Other scenarios included a downed aircraft and medical evacuations.

Officer Candidate Jeremy Yarbrough said when the mission changes — such as being assaulted when setting up an ambush, as happened during one scenario — it can “throw you off.”

Yarbrough, who attended basic training at Fort Benning, said the course was the first exposure he’d had to this type of leadership training.

“When you’re doing planning, the entire mission is yours,” he said. “It’s just the difference between theory and practice. We talk about this stuff in our classes for the first half of the cycle. This is our chance to apply it.”

After each mission, the students conduct a review. The process included constructive criticism from their peers, Boone said.

“We try to discuss what decisions did you make and what was the thought process behind that?” Gober said. “We’re trying to make sure they’re not just arbitrarily making the decision; they’re actually stopping to consider the impact of their decision and how it’s going to affect the success of the squad. This squad training is really a building block … something that’s going to be common to most of their training here in the Army, especially here at Fort Benning.”

Officer Candidate Wes Brockbank, who served as a squad leader in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marines, said the squad formation training was a “refresher” for him.

“I was impressed with how realistic they kept the lanes,” he said. “When you go downrange and the bullets start flying, it’s the training that kicks in more than anything. You have to train the way you’re going to fight, and that’s what you do here. It’s been a challenging, outstanding experience.”

More than 100 students in B Company are slated to graduate to the next phase and become senior officer candidates Friday.

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