Army Lt. Col. Andy Craven, right, receives a meritorious service medal from Maj. Gen. Andrew Juknelis, commanding general of the 108th, for his service and leadership as battalion commander of the 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 104th Training Division, 108th Training Command, as Craven comes out of command June 24, 2021, at the U.S. Military Academy. The battalion provides direct support to the USMA. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Christian Venhuizen)
WEST POINT, N.Y. — Lt. Col. McKinley Wood toured the U.S. Military Academy, his alma mater, with his chain of command.
His reception day (R-Day to the cadets) was 20 years ago, before he stepped on the battlefield as an armor lieutenant. Before his significant awards and citations, and before he knew that the 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, provided a broad range of support for the cadets and the school.
This R-day during the summer of 2021 was different. The fresh class of cadets were now being aided by McKinley’s Soldiers in the halls that first introduced them to the Army way of life. Another section of his battalion was also busy with the summer training of more seasoned cadets.
This was his new mission.
“To assume the command of the reserve battalion that is responsible for training West Point cadets is more than what I thought the Army could give me,” he said. “It is a true honor and to do a mission that I actually experienced as a cadet, in charge of it, is more than words can describe for me.”
The mission is one that is designed to help combatants face the complexity that a 21st Century battlefield presents.
“The expectation is to go where they may not have gone before for training for West Point cadets,” said Wood. “I sat through a briefing today in which the training and the expectations for the cadets that are coming in now are far exceeding what I had to go through and that will translate to what we have to offer and what we have to offer West Point. My expectation is to think about the things that are good to do, but we could never do because of resources or training or whatever and let’s try to do that. We don’t know what we are capable of if we don’t try it.”
|Army Brig. Gen. Rodney Fischer, left, commander of the Army Resreve’s 104th Training Division, and Col. William Bundy, commander of 2nd Brigade, 104th Training Division, tour areas of the U.S. Military Academy that their Soldiers are supporting, June. 26, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Christian Venhuizen)||Army Lt. Cols. Andy Craven, left, and McKinley Wood jointly cut the cake celebrating the change of command from Craven to Wood for the 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 104th Training Division, JUne 24, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Christian Venhuizen)|
Then there are classic challenges and relationship building that are fundamental skills for officers.
“The cadets who are out there who don’t get enough interaction with NCOs and Soldiers—we need to show them what right looks like and we need to show them how to develop a rapport with the non-commissioned officer corps and teach them the critical skills, combat skills, individual skills that we train,” said Col. William Bundy, commander of the 104th Training Division’s 2nd Brigade that oversees the 3-304th.
The company trains cadets on skills like crew served weapons and hand grenades, but they also serve as the cadet’s first real exposure to noncommissioned officers and junior enlisted Soldiers.
“When I entered the training world, it was a different type of Soldier, a different type of excellence but that excellence is what the foundation of the Army is built on,” Wood said. “People that are confident in their jobs and this is probably the top of the training, honestly. You are teaching West Point cadets how to lead Soldiers and other officers into battle that is the bottom line.”
When Wood finished his active duty requirement as an armor officer, he joined the Army National Guard, later transitioning to the Army Reserve. He gained exposure to training units in a brigade under the 98th Training Division before accepting the command.
|Army Sgt. Benjamin Wagner, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, assists a new cadet with uniforms and supplies during Reception Day at the U.S. Military Academy, in West Point, N.Y., June 26, 2021. The Army Reserve battalion provides direct support to the USMA as instructors and administration roles. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Christian Venhuizen)||Army Sgt. Steve Garay, A Company, 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, assists a new cadet at the tag station during Reception Day at the U.S. Military Academy, in West Point, N.Y., June 26, 2021. The Army Reserve battalion provides direct support to the USMA as instructors and administration roles. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Christian Venhuizen)|
“I keep that tanker mentality, I keep that combat officer mentality in my brain because everyone of us, no matter what you do, no matter what your (military occupational specialty) or (area of concentration) is, that is what the military expects of the Army on the worst of days—is to close with and destroy our enemy with fire power and maneuver, shock action or capture them,” he said.
Bundy is a USMA graduate as well and sees the battalion commander position at the 3-304th as an interesting opportunity for Wood. “I think it will be fun for Lt. Col. Wood because it is kind of like being back home a little bit. He gets to see it from the other side of the table because sometimes when you are a cadet you don’t appreciate West Point as much; and when you come back, you kind of are more nostalgic and you understand sometimes why things were as hard as they were.”
Wood admitted to some of those feelings described by his brigade commander. “As a cadet I hated them because they pushed me—and new to the Army, out of high school, whatever—you don’t want to be pushed by someone you don’t know. Now as a commander, pushing the Soldiers, pushing the new person to the Army is how you make them better, and over time, I’ve come to realize that if you want to make someone better you push them.”
|An Army Reserve chain of command under the 108th Training Command consisting of graduates from the U.S. Military Academy include, from left, Maj. Gen. Andrew Juknelis (commanding general of the 108th), Brig. Gen. Rodney Fischer (commanding general of the 104th Training Division), Col. William Bundy (commander of 2nd Brigade, 104th Training Division) and Lt. Col. McKinley Wood (commander of the 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 104th Training Division), as they stand together in front of the Gen. George Patton statue on the USMA campus in West Point, N.Y., June 26, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Christian Venhuizen)||Army Lt. Col. Andy Craven receives a framed recognition for his service and leadership as battalion commander of the 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 104th Training Division, as he comes out of command June 24, 2021, at the U.S. Military Academy. The battalion provides direct support to the USMA. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Christian Venhuizen)|
There is one noncommissioned officer who was there during Wood’s days as a cadet. Neither remembered each other specifically, but the battalion commander shared what the cadets do carry with them from their experiences with the NCO instructors. “We would remember your patch. We would remember what you did and it stuck with a lot of us.”
To be clear, selecting a USMA graduate to head the battalion is not a requirement for the job, explained Brig. Gen. Rodney Fischer, the commanding general for the 104th Training Division. Fischer, like Bundy and Wood, is a USMA graduate, but the commissioning source is coincidental in each of their positions. The battalion commanders are selected by boards that neither the general nor Bundy sit on.
|Army Lt. Col. McKinley Wood, looks over the campus of his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy, which also is the school his battalion, 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 104th Training Division (Leader Training) directly supports. Wood assumed command of the battalion June 24, 2021, and witnessed the work of his Soldiers on the campus, June 26, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Christian Venhuizen)||Army Lt. Col. McKinley Wood receives the 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, colors from 2nd Brigade, 104th Training Division, commander Col. William Bundy, left, during the change of command ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy, June 24, 2021. Wood assumed command from Lt. Col. Andy Craven, front, for the Army Reserve battalion that provides direct support to the USMA. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Christian Venhuizen)|
“The process is much more smooth than you might expect when you lose a senior leader in an organization and bring in another,” said Bundy. “Whether it is (officer candidate school), (Reserve Officer Training Corps) or West Point, officers should be interchangeable and they are, largely.”
Lt. Col. Andy Craven, the outgoing 3-304th commander, is not a USMA graduate, but is credited with the expansion of the battalion’s mission at the USMA, receiving a meritorious service medal for his efforts over two years.
“Andy Craven is a fantastic human being and I knew from the moment I met him that he was going to be a great commander, a great battalion commander, and over the year he became a great friend as well. I really enjoy serving with him and watching how he interacts with his Soldiers. He really cares deeply about his soldiers and about the mission and it is reflected in how successful the unit is,” Bundy said. “He just really understands the system because he dove in it to understand it.”
|Army Col. WIlliam Bundy, commander of 2nd Brigade, 104th Training Division, and Lt. Col. McKinley Wood, commander of 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, tour the U.S. Military Academy campus June 26, 2021, talking about the battalion’s mission to support the academy and reminiscing about both of their days as cadets. Wood assumed command June 24, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Christian Venhuizen)|
“It’s been a good run up to now and I’ve been fortunate enough to get, not only great positions, but great leadership,” Craven said. “As you know, those two are the most important things to your happiness in the Army and that’s what I’ve been fortunate enough to get.”
And developing those great leaders is what Wood hopes to do.
“The academy taught me how to learn. …the purpose of those things were to teach you how to learn and to teach you how to teach yourself how to learn…the bottom line is I learned how to learn. That is what the academy did.”