West Point Cadets Practice Going into Battle

A team from the U.S. Military Academy's Corps of Cadets make the 6 mile trek across the Appalachain Mountain range during the 2016 Sandhurst competition held at West Point, N.Y., April 8, 2016. (U.S. Army photo/Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton)
A team from the U.S. Military Academy's Corps of Cadets make the 6 mile trek across the Appalachain Mountain range during the 2016 Sandhurst competition held at West Point, N.Y., April 8, 2016. (U.S. Army photo/Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton)

WEST POINT -- The training exercise began simply, with the appearance of a drone.

A robotic sentry sent by enemy forces.

Someone shot it down with a cyber rifle.

Soon after that, the real fighting began. Rifles. Machine guns. Explosions.

West Point cadets facing another day of leader development training.

In Tuesday's summer training exercise, cadets were graded on how well they performed in leadership positions in 10 different situations that assess their reactions to stress and tactical problems.

In this particular scenario, an enemy force conducts a raid on a village occupied by U.S. forces. Cadets played roles on both sides, with guidance and mentoring provided by U.S. Military Academy staff and faculty, and members of the 10th Mountain Division from upstate Fort Drum.

Capt. Jay Sharritt, a West Point math instructor who on this day was helping members of the media interpret the action, said the 10th Mountain Division is just back from a deployment to Afghanistan, so its members' insight is especially helpful in instructing these future Army officers.

A system of lasers kept track of every shot, and every hit. Cadets wore sensors that would indicate with a whine that someone had been hit.

While that group of cadets dealt with the raid scenario, other groups in other sections of Camp Buckner -- a remote section of West Point used for many training exercises -- faced other scenarios, such as a reconnaissance mission dealing with a downed aircraft and an ambush.

Sharritt said that the exercises help the cadets learn to cope with adversity and keep their focus on their role, their battle.

"It's not just an isolated event," Sharritt said.

After the battle was done, the cadets and their mentors gathered to discuss what had gone right, what had gone wrong, and where there might be room for improvement.

"It's a lot of information to absorb in 45 minutes," said Cadet Natasha Wilson-Lattimore of Michigan, a platoon leader in the exercise who's going into her third year at West Point.

Among the lessons they learned: Radio should never be your primary communication tool in battle, given that real battle sounds are two or three times louder than what was heard at Tuesday's exercise.

After a short break, the two sides set out to conduct the same battle all over again.

"I'm hoping my guys do even better this time," Wilson-Lattimore said.

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