The 204th JAOBC has arrived at Charlottesville fresh from DCC and eager to begin the second phase of our training. As most of you know, we spent the past six weeks at Fort Benning getting a whirlwind introduction to the Army. From inprocessing through the 30th AG like every other brand new Soldier reporting to Fort Benning, to PRT, to land navigation and marksmanship and culminating in several days in the field, our time at DCC was fun, challenging and an appropriate start to our careers as Judge Advocates.
During the first week of DCC, the 204th went through classes in leadership and officership taught by the DCC cadre. CPT Robert Hammer, from whom we took our class motto Tunc Malleo, (latin for “Hammer Time”) and his team taught those new to the Army and those needing a refresher the basics of troop leading procedures, the operations order, and Army organizations. Interspersed among the classes were plenty of medical screenings and shots to ensure the 204th would be prepared to proceed with DCC and get to the force ready to deploy.
At the end of the first week COL Randy Bagwell came to Fort Benning to brief the class on expectations for the course, what to expect at Charlottesville and to swear in the newest JAG officers in the Army. On Friday night, the Fort Benning SJA office hosted a social at the Benning Club and on Saturday morning the 204th conducted a diagnostic APFT to familiarize the class with the Army’s physical fitness standards.
Week two involved much less sitting in class rooms and much more physical activity. The week began at the Fort Benning CIF where class members were issued an improbable amount of equipment. Later that week the class gained confidence in their protective masks by donning, clearing, and sealing them. Shortly thereafter, while wearing pro masks, each squad went through an obstacle course where they climbed walls, traversed monkey bars, and dragged their heaviest squad member on a litter. (Figure 1) Week two also saw the class complete the team development course where squads worked on their collective problem solving skills through successes and failures to complete various puzzles. (Figure 2)
Week three was focused on land navigation and disproving the old adage that “you can’t spell lost without LT.” Over the course of three days, students progressed from team land navigation, to a short individual course, to a full individual practice test, retraining, then the individual test. To pass the land navigation test, a student must find three of five points designated by an eight digit grid coordinate. 1SG Barkley, the DCC first sergeant, incentivized individual performance by allowing those who found all five of their assigned points on the individual practice test to opt out of the test the following day. Over 70 of the 118 class members found all five points.
The week concluded with pre-marksmanship instruction and M-16 familiarization as well as an introduction to basic rifle marksmanship at the Engagement Skills Trainer. The EST ran students through two rounds of BRM and several scenarios where shooters had to make split second decisions about whether to shoot or not. (Figure 3) Cadre and instructors made clear to DCC students that such decisions are made by Soldiers every day and sometimes those decisions make them our clients. For brand new Judge Advocates to understand how a situation can appear differently on the ground prospectively rather than in hindsight is surely an asset to being able to empathize with and advise our clients.
The fourth week began with the class record APFT. It also had the 204th at the rifle range for two days of grouping and zeroing, and two days of qualification. By the end of the week every single member of the class had qualified with the M16. On a foggy Saturday morning at the end of the week the class ran through the obstacle course. (Figure 4) The day culminated in a competition where each platoon selected eight members to run through the course for time with the winning platoon receiving a day off from PRT. Third Platoon triumphed as usual. (Figure 5)
Week Five sent the 204th to CBRN training, the field for squad tactics, and artillery call for fire familiarization. Every DCC student gained confidence in their equipment by entering the gas chamber and clearing and sealing their mask. At the end of each iteration students removed their pro masks and experienced the effects of CS gas. Instructors also familiarized the DCC students with responses to chemical attacks like injecting oneself with adrenaline. (Figure 6)
The 204th went to the field to familiarize students with squad tactics, tactical communication, (hand signals, radio operation) and night operations. All students slept outside for the first time in recent DCC classes with a quarter of each platoon on watch. Squads cycled through lanes where they reacted to contact and again experienced the challenge of when to shoot and when not to shoot as well as what orders to give in uncertain situations. The field exercise concluded with the final ruck march where every student had to complete six miles in under 108 minutes while carrying a load well over 35 lbs.
The final week of DCC included thoroughly cleaning the weapons we had put to good use over the previous few weeks. Students were instructed on proper wear and appearance of the Army Service Uniform which they wore for the DCC graduation. On Friday, 17 November, the 204th JAOBC graduated from the Direct Commission Course after remarks from the Fort Benning SJA, COL Jacqueline Emmanuel. The class also recognized SSG Travis Pickens as the cadre member of the cycle before departing Fort Benning for our new home in Charlottesville.