Sunday, May 23, 2010

Army Warrior Leaders Course...

I apologize for the formatting of some of the images in this entry. Perhaps, if you click on the thumbnails, they may appear appropriately rotated at full size; Blogger was giving me fits - thanks.

...Although my desire to return to the active duty Army has been evading me because of the service's enlistment restrictions on prior service candidates, I have recently been drilling with a Reserve Unit, Centcom's J2 Detachment 6.

From May 6 through Friday night, 21May, my unit placed me on orders to attend Warrior Leaders Course (WLC), in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. The course was two weeks in length and focused on small unit leadership. The first week consisted of classroom study, and much of the culminating week was spent in the field.

The following is a recount of my experiences and pictures from the course as I now recall them.

Bottom line, up front: WLC was a much better experience than I anticipated when I began the journey from Tampa to Wisconsin. Being a sort of neophyte to the Reserve/Guard experience, my active duty experience had prepared me to expect the worst from my reserve counterparts.

Of course, this was an unfair assessment as many in the Guard and Reserves are just as battle-hardened as I had become because of my combat tours on active duty.

My bias existed nonetheless. However, my WLC experience quickly dispelled from my mind the disparities that I thought existed between the reserves and the active duty.

The classroom portion of instruction of WLC at Fort McCoy largely takes place in one building, the headquarters of the Non-Comissioned Officers Academy. The building is new, and consists of barracks rooms for students, class rooms for lessons, and the offices for the small group leader cadre members. This first image shows the front of the building, the first place the new student sees upon being dropped off from the bus from the LaCrosse airport for in-processing to WLC.

The following image is of the rear area of the same building. Not pictured is a large drill pad where our small groups met for formations throughout each of the course's 16 days.

My WLC class consisted of a total of approximately 140 students. Out of those 140, about 125 or so eventually graduated. However, as a student, you only interact with about 20 other students, those that are members of your small group. Those 20-personnel small groups are then broken down further into two squads, although both squads regularly interact with each other.

Daily wake up typically occurred around 4:30 a.m. Most of the students were housed in barracks rooms, shared by three personnel each. By some unexplained fortune, I was given a room similar to all the others, but had it all to myself.

The rooms were new, clean, and comfortable. These pictures can attest to that, other than the clean part – which I quickly did my best to change. The following three images are of my WLC barracks room.

After wake up, we typically participated in physical training (PT). The PT at WLC was different from what I was accustomed because of the mission set of the course.

The objective of PT was not so much to physically train students, but to teach students the correct methods of conducting squad level PT sessions to the exact specifications of the Army. We would later be assessed as we individually led the squad in PT.

To those with Army experience, you may better understand what I am relating in this case; the assessment scored our ability to lead PT, maneuver the squad in the extended rectangle formation, and, following PT, reassemble the squad to the right.

Following PT, we daily marched as small groups to breakfast chow.

During each day of WLC, squads are assigned student leaders and assistant leaders. The major duties of the squad leaders were to maintain accountability and march the squad to and from chow. Drill and ceremony, however, was not assessed for grade, but the small group leader cadre members were always around to provide corrections. These corrections were definitely necessary as most of the students, myself included, had not marched in formation since basic training.

Following breakfast, we would return to our rooms, clean up, and prepare for the day's classes. The classes consisted of what is well described as “death by Powerpoint”. From eight in the morning until about ten at night, every day of the first week, we sat in class and participated in class instruction on a variety of military topics, all taught by the small group leader cadre members aided by Powerpoint presentations.

Each student is assigned a laptop computer which is the students' to use throughout the duration of the course. The classes basically recapped subject matter that should already be common knowledge to the students of WLC, as all of us, as sergeants, have some level of experience behind us in the military.

The emphasis in the classes was not necessarily the material being taught so much as it was to teach us, as students and leaders, the ability to reference the Army's many regulations and field manuals. During classes, the instructors would present questions and upon answering, the students would have to indicate which field manual or Army Regulation we found the appropriate answer.

So, for example, I am now prepared, should a soldier under me now question the proper wear of the Army uniform, to tell him correctly to reference AR 670-1, chapter such-and-such, paragraph such-and-such to assist that soldier in obtaining the information pertinent to his or her inquiry.

We marched to lunch chow around noon, and did the same for dinner at 5 p.m., or 1700 for those being more proper to military jargon.

Classes would continue into the night. Following our release from class, each small group had areas of responsibility to clean and maintain within the building. Occasionally, we were also tasked with rotating guard shifts throughout the night. On some nights, we were given “study hall” time to complete the various self-directed projects that were due throughout the course.

I spent much of my study hall time preparing the class that I would have to teach to my small group for assessment. Like leading PT, when teaching a class in the Army, there are certain intricate standards that must be maintained, and when leading the class, we were assessed on our ability to abide by these standards.

I was assigned the topic, “Preventing Shock” in a first aid environment, to teach to my fellow small group members for assessment. Each student would have to lead similar classes of their own.

I actually volunteered to present my class first, and did well.

Eventually, the classes transitioned to material that would prepare us for our field exercise. We were given instruction on map reading, land navigation, battle drills (reacting to improvised explosive devices, reacting to near and far contact, etc), and preparing operations orders, all subject matters that, as a combat arms soldier, I really dug.

On the second Friday of the class, we drew weapons which we would thereafter have on our person to mimic the combat condition now being experienced by our peers now in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat environments. On Saturday, we finally escaped the monotony of the classroom and ventured to the field to conduct land navigation for evaluation.

Here is where things get a bit more interesting.

I love land navigation and it is a proficiency that I am very well qualified. In fact, following the block of classroom instruction on land navigation, I had volunteered to give addition classes on the same subject matter to my small group peers whose skills in the same may have been eroded.

The requirement to successfully pass the land navigation course was to locate three of four points. Throughout the course, there were probably about 40 points that one might encounter, but only four were the ones designated for each tester to locate.

The course was “self-correcting”. This means that each point had its location physically indicated on it. Therefore, should you get lost, to correct yourself, you just needed to find a point – any point -, correlate its location to your map, and from there, lead yourself to your next point.

The assessment began and I was given my four points. I plotted my current location on my map, and gathered my distance and direction to my first point. All points were about 600-800 meters from each other, a far cry from the multiple kilometer marches that 3/20th Special Forces Group had prepared me for during their land navigation evaluations. Needless to say, I entered the course with sufficient confidence.

Preparing to embark to my first point, I referenced my compass and found quickly that it had completely broke. I am sure you are aware but, if not, the composition of a lensetic compass is basically an arrow, seated on a bevel, floating in water. Unfortunately, my arrow had fallen off its bevel and, no matter which direction I faced, indicated to me that I was headed in a direction of 240 degrees.

Of course, during the evaluation, students are restricted from talking. Facing this dilemma, I decided to give it a go absent the use of a compass. I referenced my map, and used terrain association to mentally picture where on the course my first point was located. In other words, I basically said to myself, “well, this point is over a hill and just off this major intersection”, so I headed for the hill, crested it, and led myself to the intersection and located my first point via this method.

I did the same with the second point. However, for the life of me, I could not locate my third point. With my frustration growing, I decided to skip this point, knowing that I required only to locate three of four to successfully pass the land navigation course. I located another point, not my own, and from there led myself to my final and fourth point.

I then reported to my small group leader assessor. He knew how strong I was in land navigation and was greatly disappointed to hear that I only located 75% percent of my points on a relatively easy course. However, I explained my compass difficulties to him, and told him that I relied wholly on terrain association to locate the points that I had found. He looked at my broken compass and, with some sympathy, gave me his own to use, and told me to leave and not come back until I had located the point that had evaded me.

Now, armed with a working compass, I literally ran through the woods to the point I missed and returned about five minutes later, having now found all my points. So, ultimately, I scored a 100% on the course and a legend grew within my small group about the kid that completed the entire course with out the aid of a working compass.

More field work followed in the coming days. For three days, we lived in a Forward Operating Base (FOB) environment. From the FOB, we rotated positions of leadership in leading our squads in various dismounted and mounted (vehicular) missions. When in positions of leadership, we had to plan (create operations orders) and prepare (conduct pre-combat check and inspections) our squad for each individual mission we were assigned.

Of course, as was now becoming par for the course, I was selected to lead the very first mission. The initial day of missions was much more physically demanding than I had expected and, seriously, reminded me of the team events that I had endured during my training with 3/20th Special Forces Group.

Missions included pushing a disabled humvee three kilometers, transitioning full five gallon water containers to an elevated communication relay point, maneuver 50 pound ammunition crates, and hauling an “injured service member” (really, a 150 pound set of sandbags) on a litter/stretcher. Throughout the duration of each of these missions, the squad encountered attacks and IEDs, which as leaders, we were evaluated as to our ability to appropriately maneuver our squad in response.

I really, really dug this portion of this course and thought that I did particularly well, especially in planning and delivering to my squad my operations order. This was subject matter that my year of dismounted real-world combat patrols in Ar-Ramadi, Iraq had adequately prepared me for.

Apparently, I did well enough. I was one of two students whom had already led missions and been assessed that was selected by cadre members to work as team leaders for another student as she led her own mission, which was our final mission of the field exercise.

Following the field exercise, we returned to the garrison area of WLC on Wednesday. We then went into recovery mode and cleaned our equipment for turn in. We did much of the same throughout Thursday and then graduated on Friday.

Experience had told me that Army graduations are usually painfully well-rehearsed affairs, but even this was completed pretty comfortably. The graduation was basically low-key and simple and, by ten a.m., we were successful graduates of the course and released.

I, however, had to spend an extra night at Fort McCoy as my plane was not scheduled to leave LaCrosse until the following afternoon. While I do not drink alcohol, I spent most of the night at Fort McCoy's aptly named recreation facility, “McCoys”. Most notable about the facility was the Philadelphia-eccentric paraphernalia that I located hanging from the ceiling, and pictured below:

On Saturday, I was bussed from Fort McCoy to the LaCrosse airport, which can only be described as possibly the world's most boring airport, having all of two gates. Fortunately, I had a bit longer lay over in Chicago, a much more busy airport, as you can see here:

The results of all my hardwork at WLC???

This certificate:

And this evaluation report:

And, in case you want to know what a sexy WLC soldier looks like, this is me looking like I just escaped the concentration camp, following the field exercise (and, also, an excuse to post a gratuitous near-nude pic of myself, lol):

I hope this is helpful to anyone that may find his or her self on orders to attend WLC. Should you find yourself in such a position, feel free to contact me here or at whiskey_boarder AT hotmail DOT com and I will be happy to entertain your questions and, hopefully, answer any concerns you may have. I hope this was also beneficial to my friends and family in aiding their understanding of my most recent military experience.

Finally, I just want to take a second to give some off-the-cuff remarks regarding the overall WLC experience.

I was fortunate to meet some interesting fellows during the duration of the course. During the classroom portion of the course, students are seated in alphabetical order by last names. I was lucky enough to be seated next to the only other combat arms member of my small group, an infantryman that I soon became a friend of. We were of the same mindset, and quickly led the class, along with a handful of others, in sharing our sarcastic, perhaps somewhat homophobic, and graphic outlook on life.

I was also very fortunate to come under the auspice of whom I considered the best small group leader cadre member at the Non-Commissioned Officers' Academy, Staff Sergeant John Nixon. Although he was the second coming of Boomhauer from King of the Hill in nature, SSG Nixon always had the best intentions for the students under his care and exceeded his responsibilities in ensuring that his students gained all possible from WLC's lessons.

I would also like to congratulate the course leadership, as a whole, on creating a learning environment that was far and away more than what I expected from a reserve component course. Stress level, mostly from moderate sleep deprivation, was just high enough to increase the difficulty of decision making because of the pressure presented on students while in positions of leadership. The physical demands of the field exercises, while tolerable, were also, to my enjoyment, more than expected.

My only criticism is that the course did not require the completion of a PT test, which I feel should be a standard assessment not only of all Army leaders especially, but of all soldiers attending military schools.

Overall, however, my experience was a worthwhile one, and I have left the course, in all honesty, a more prepared small group leader than I entered it.


  1. Because I am a bias follower, my comment will be taken with a grain of salt but having said that I truly believe that you should have gotten superior in all catergories!

  2. is the course 16 days at every base? for example fort benning?

  3. Did they offer a Tshirt to buy for the graduating class?

  4. A T-Shirt? As I recall, they did. Cadre was also hawking coffee mugs right at the beginning of the course, which was a good investment, as a copious amount of caffeine is necessary for WLC success.

  5. I was told that they have removed the land nav portion as of late 2011.