Missouri National Guard officer candidates train for urban battlefield
By: Matthew J. Wilson/Missouri National Guard Public Affairs
Missouri National Guard Officer Candidate Perry Hoffman inspects a door for booby traps while his Officer Candidate School Class 48 teammates pull security behind him during room clearing exercises at Fort Leonard Wood.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (May 19, 2010) — Battlefield tactics are an important part of the training of all Missouri National Guard officers, who must know how to move troops in the field.
Five soldiers in the Missouri National Guard’s 2nd Battalion of the 140th Regiment Missouri Regional Training Institute Officer Candidate Class 48 recently went through the crawl and walk instruction phase on proper troop movements in an urban setting during their monthly drill weekend. The training is part of phase two in the 18-month, three-phase officer candidate school program. It is the first full weekend since they became senior officer candidates and their first in the field exercise portion of the course.
“What we’re focusing on now is the Warrior Task Battle Drills and there’s a bunch of them,” said Capt. Chris Hoffman, senior platoon trainer for the regiment. “There are warrior tasks that are more for the individual that they’ve been working on. Now we’re concentrating on squad level battle drills.”
The instruction included conducting an ambush, reacting to an ambush, entering and clearing a building, performing voice and hand signal communication, reacting to direct and indirect fire, selecting temporary fighting positions, reacting to an improvised explosive device, conducting a raid and looking for the enemy, Hoffman said.
“These tasks are a base of knowledge for any soldier, not just officers, which they need to know to be successful as infantryman,” Hoffman said. “No matter what your branch is, the base knowledge that the Army focuses on for leadership training is based in the infantry model. They have to have that base knowledge to lead the soldiers underneath them. If they don’t understand and they are trying to teach it, then you run into some issues on how they are perceived as leaders.”
As part of their training, the officer candidates then incorporate the leadership component with those battle drills, skills and tasks.
“To be a successful leader, you have to know your subject matter down to the lowest level — you may not have to master it, but you have to know it enough to be able to plan training and to be able to execute missions,” Hoffman said.
The officer candidates gained valuable experience as they were issued an operations order by an instructor and then had to relay that information to their troops — the other candidates. Then the lead candidate would plot a mission based on the information in the original operations order.
“What that does is develop their ability to plan, manage and execute missions,” Hoffman added.
Officer Candidate Perry Hoffman, who is not related to Chris Hoffman, said he learned a lot through the training.
“As an officer, our job is to plan,” said Hoffman, who lives in Rolla. “Our job is to take that mission you receive from higher up and then plan out for our troops how we’re going to conduct that mission.”
Perry Hoffman, who is a member of the 1138th Engineer Company of Farmington, said the importance of the training is for the officer candidates to learn to command.
“The battle drills and warrior tasks are things that we all know — that we’ve trained on since basic training and advanced individual training,” he said. “The difference is that we are putting a mission together based on our battle drills. Learning how to lead is really what we’re getting out of this. The rest of it is all refresher.”
The instruction, Perry Hoffman said, is gearing the officer candidates up for phase three, where they will be more on their own.
“We’ll be platoon leaders and they’ll give us a company operations order,” he said. “We’ll take the information out of that operations order and we’ll have 10 minutes to construct our own operations order and issue it.
“The most challenging thing for me is the time crunch. Ten minutes to plan out your mission and issue your order is not a lot of time. But in the real world, that could be all the time you have.”
Officers need to be flexible in their planning, quick thinkers and problem solvers, Perry Hoffman said.
“Really, that’s what the whole officer candidate program is,” he said. “It’s the ability to think on your feet and under stress.”
Officer Candidate Andrew Lough, who lives in St. James, said he appreciated the time to practice being a leader.
“As a platoon leader someday, being able to take our grand mission and then be able to make lots of elements and subordinates come together to make the mission work is a very difficult thing to do,” said Lough, of the 249th Engineer Company of Carthage. “That’s what I feel like I’m getting out of this training — the ability to manage many different elements and culminating them into completing the mission.”
Lough said he enjoyed the hands-on training.
“It gets you outside the regular classroom and thinking about scenarios that can possible play out in the real world,” Lough said.
With everything an officer needs to know to be able to lead troops, Lough said it has been a lot to retain it all.
“There is a lot of information to take in and being able to pull all that together and make it work for you has been pretty challenging,” he said.
Officer Candidate Michael Benz, who lives in Blue Springs, called the training fun.
“This is what we signed on to do,” said Benz, of Company A of the 35th Special Troops Battalion based in Kansas City. “It’s a culmination of lot of events and learning. As lieutenants and platoon leaders, this is what we’ll be doing. I can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Next drill, Chris Hoffman said, the officer candidates will go through the run portion of the training where the instructors will sit back and let them learn from their mistakes, barring any safety issues. It will again be an educational opportunity for the candidates as they will learn to adjust to the mission on the fly.
“They have to know that if something does go wrong with the mission that they have to come up with a fall back plan,” Chris Hoffman said. “When we introduce opposing forces to them next month, it will be a whole new scenario that they don’t have to mess with right now. Now it’s just go in and clear the building. Next month it might be that they are getting fired upon before they enter the building or there is somebody in the building.”