It’s 0500 hours on what promises to be another hot July day as 1SG Klass awakens the Soldiers of Alpha Company, 3-304th Infantry Battalion, in the on-post barracks to start another day of training the Cadets at the most elite military school in the country – the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. The weather is already balmy as the US Army Reserve Soldiers step into bathrooms for their morning hygiene routine and Klass steps outside to survey the landscape of the famous institution on the Hudson River.
The US Military Academy at West Point is located on the picturesque Hudson River at a strategic junction where the Continental Army of the American Revolution once strung a chain across the river to block the British Army attempts to sail through. Today that chain still exists on display along with captured antique cannons from our early history. Visitors, Cadets, and Soldiers alike have access to the campus building which include castle-like fortifications, well-kept parade grounds, slate-roofed housing, and historic statues and portraits of famous West Point alumni. It is a “hell of a place to visit,” says Master Sgt. Yurek, the BN Operations NCO, whose daughter attends the school where he instructs.
The Soldiers of the proud 3-304 hail from as far west as Seattle, as far south as Virginia, as far north as Maine and make the annual pilgrimage to West Point because they love the mission and working with the motivated Cadets at West Point. “They are all motivated and just want to learn” remarks Master Sgt. Conner, who has been doing the West Point mission for the better part of 10 years. “I love coming here.”
West Point runs annual training for incoming freshman to teach basic Soldier skills and get them ready for a rigorous academic year at this prestigious academy and these Soldiers have been entrusted by the Army with the critical mission of running the most dangerous live fire ranges for their freshman field training program nicknamed “Beast.”
The Soldiers are there to instruct and facilitate training. They enable the Cadet leadership (usually rising seniors) to lead their “new cadets” (high school students only a few weeks prior) through about 30 days of grueling training.
1SG Klass makes roll call and accounts for his 66 soldiers as they make ready for another run at the assault weapons range where his men and women instruct these future Army leaders on crew-serve weapons familiarization, fire live AT4s, claymores and M203s.
On the assault weapons range the Cadets bivouac often in the field and eventually rotate over the hand grenade range, run by Charlie Company and 1SG Martin, where they are instructed on basic hand grenade familiarization and run through several practice iterations, an assault course, and throw a live grenade. The “pit NCOs” that facilitate the live hand grade throw are trained to ensure Cadets throw the grenade to standard, and, if necessary, are prepared to throw Cadets of all shapes and sizes out of the pits to safety should a grenade drop accidently during training. “We’ve given the Army our best training resources and, they count on us to do it to standard and do it safe, remarks 1SG Martin. “Our value to the Army is they can trust us to provide high quality instruction, on demand, to standard, and we deliver year-after-year,” he explains.
Near the grenade range comes the capstone training event for Cadet summer training – the buddy team live fire range, run by Bravo Company, 3-304.
“Cadets at this range have to move, shoot, and communicate together on a live fire range, engage targets, coordinate, and negotiate obstacles to demonstrate basic proficiency in individual movement techniques,” says B Co 1SG, 1st Sgt. Wedge.
“It’s a dangerous thing when you put these Cadets, who were high school seniors only a few days before, on a range with M4s, terrain, and obstacles and expect them to apply individual movement technique instruction, maneuver and engage the enemy safely,” he explains. “It’s the ultimate growing up experience. I guess you can’t do this without knowing that you are now in the Army.”
The West Point mission is one many of the quintessential things that the Army Reserve offers as a value proposition to the overall force structure. The USAR has the capability needed to perform this task, year after year, with precision and dedication and the Soldiers of the 3-304th are happy to do it better and better every year.
Lt. Col. Van De Wal, battalion commander of the 3-304th remarks, “It is a humbling privilege and honor both as a USAR Commander and as a unit to be entrusted with such a unique mission. Our mission is the first interaction, and lasting impression, of our Reserve NCO’s (and the USAR) on the future generals of the Army. Our unit is very proud of our contribution to the USAR’s leader development mission.”