FORT KNOX, Ky. — As I watched cadets hastily exit the gas chamber, pained expressions on their faces, snot running down their nose, I could not help but smile. It was good to see training return. Throughout the last year and a half, COVID-19 has caused unprecedented obstacles, particularly to military training. Between the travel shutdowns and gathering limits, most of the Army Reserve, including the 3rd Battalion, 414th Regiment, Cadet Summer Training (CST) were forced to conduct virtual battle assemblies in 2020 and into 2021. With cadets no longer able to gather en masse, COVID forced the Army to re-envision how it conducted CST. Enter Operation Agile Leader. This allowed for cadets to receive localized training near their campuses during the height of the COVID outbreak. However, with cases receding and the vaccine readily available for military personnel, 2021 saw cadets once again able to congregate at Fort Knox for training.
Taking command in November 2020 during the midst of the pandemic, I didn’t know what to expect. I was given the opportunity by my battalion commander to go to Fort Knox and see firsthand what my unit does best—to provide skilled and motivated instructors for CST. This year our unit’s mission was to train cadets on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) and Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3). In the three weeks I was there, A Company trained over 2,800 cadets, a small fraction of the overall total. During this time, A Company performed exceptionally with many troops receiving much deserved accolades: Spc. Jason Mitzel received the 1st Brigade Commander’s coin for his superior instruction on TC3; Sgt. Daniel Morefield received a coin for his instruction on CBRN, which was instrumental to ensure the CBRN lane was officially certified to train ROTC cadets; Staff Sgt. Christopher Jackson received the commanding general’s coin for his outstanding performance on the CBRN lane; and Spc. Penelope Rios received the CG’s coin for her contribution to a successful 3-414th Task Force Wolf rotation.
|A Co instructing cadets on the casualty care in the TC3 lane.||A Co instructors in the TC3 lane teaching cadets.||A Co instructors in the TC3 lane teaching cadets.|
Before CST, A Company Soldiers really only had two full battle assemblies as a company before our first rotations left. The company’s first manning rosters were drafted in late January, with expected adjustments to the rosters happening between then and when the company’s first CST rotation would leave on June 1st. This meant for us as a company, we had to work harder to communicate and perfect our craft as instructors. All this effort and planning for this culminating event—Cadet Summer Training—was made more fulfilling seeing my Soldiers not only accomplish their mission, but accomplish it so superbly.
|Cadets coming out of the gas chamber in the CBRN lane.||Sgt. Morefield instructing cadets in the CBRN lane.||Staff Sgt. Jackson instructing cadets in the CBRN lane.|
What this successful CST rotation tells me is that Soldiers, once again, are ready and resilient—and will perform admirably when given the opportunity. When I really put thought into what our Soldiers and the Army had to accomplish—I am left awed. The last pandemic happened a century ago. It forced us to become more creative as to how we train and prepare for our missions, just as COVID has today. Without face-to-face interaction, it is easy to feel distanced and isolated or to lose that connection to your fellow brother or sister in uniform. But A Company came together to accomplish our mission, and did so under unique and trying circumstances. This has given me confidence. I don’t know what future obstacles the Army or A Company will encounter, but no matter what they are, I know we will be ready.