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Cadre reflects after Cadet Field Training experience
US Army | Jul. 7, 2023
WEST POINT, N.Y. — Developing and refining military and leadership skills during Cadet Summer Training is a core aspect of what makes a cadet a complete and well-rounded Army officer upon commissioning. Because of this, the U.S. Military Academy routinely conducts Cadet Field Training every year during CST to mold cadets into efficient future leaders that will one day lead the nation's sons and daughters.
The CFT portion of CST is a four-week experience for trainees where cadets learn various skills — including general military skills and individual preparedness training — and perform small unit tactical operations, among other training events.
Meanwhile, the cadet cadre charged with leading CFT spent six weeks managing and organizing training events.
For many notable USMA graduates, CFT has been the pivotal experience that instills positive leadership traits. As the recent CFT graduation demonstrates, cadets at all levels, from underclassmen to cadet leadership, emerged from the program equipped with valuable tools to enhance their leadership capabilities. Moreover, the Class of 2026 Cadets' completion of CFT and their subsequent promotion to cadet corporal upon graduation marks their transition to being team leaders and will eventually serve as NCOs within the Corps of Cadets.
Before CFT commenced, Class of 2026 Cadet Alyssa Figueroa initially tempered her expectations based on her previous summer experience during Cadet Basic Training. However, this year's cadet leadership for CFT impressed her with their exceptional organizational skills and punctuality.
"I was really impressed. The cadet cadre did a great job. All the transportation was on time compared to my Beast (Cadet Basic Training) experience," Figueroa said. "During Beast, transportation was always late, but during CFT, we would get into our [Light Medium Tactical Vehicles], and it was always early to training sites.
One notable improvement highlighted by Figueroa was the enhanced communication and information dissemination during CFT compared to her previous summer experience.
"Our leadership communicated information to us really well," she added. "The dissemination of information, compared to my past summer experience, was better. We got the information quickly and it was communicated clearly."
The cadet cadre responsible for organizing and leading CFT included Regimental Commander Jacques Schold, Regimental Executive Officer Carlos Gutierrez, Operations and Training Officer Jacob Woodruff and Regimental Command Sgt. Maj. Calvin Lu from the Class of 2024.
They faced the challenge of adjusting their leadership styles to effectively lead during CFT and their previous experiences in leadership roles only partially prepared them for the demands of CFT.
Adjusting to their new roles came with a greater sense of urgency and moments of steadfast contemplation that compelled them to change their perspective when it came to organizing training events and leading their underclassmen.
Gutierrez, who served as a Cadet Basic Training company first sergeant last summer and during the academic year, acknowledged the shift in mindset required as an executive officer.
"I was in the moment thinking roughly 24 hours out, but as executive officer, I really needed to start thinking farther out and developing planning sessions and taking a look at the training calendar to see what we needed to get done two weeks out to be able to facilitate the training going forward," Gutierrez said. "It was a little bit of a mindset change and different perspective looking at that. So it was a little difficult for me starting out, but working with the staff and figuring out what their needs were helped a lot."
Schold shared a similar experience last year during his leadership detail.
"I had previous experience serving within an S3 shop as the brigade operations sergeant major. So, I was pretty used to zoning in on those important details, and like Carlos said, I was executing in the moment, putting out fires as they came," he said. "It was a struggle for me (during CFT) initially as the commander to figure out what guidance I needed to give the staff so that they could efficiently function during the day."
Every morning, the team gathered to meet and update Schold on their tasks for the day, and he would push guidance, informing his cadre of the corrective action needed to execute tasks efficiently.
"I'd go out with (Lu) during the day and I'd interact with the companies, the trainees, other staff members and even (senior leadership) to gather intel on where we are missing the mark and what they need to do to better execute the vision." Schold said. "We'd come back at the end of the night, and I'd compile that information and then provide it to the staff for the next day, so they always had the proper guidance.
"The (staff) don’t get the chance as much to go down to the companies and talk with trainees and see where we are missing the mark. So that was largely my responsibility," he added. "It took me a while to figure out how to efficiently package that. Also, the staff was awesome as well about looking at me and going, 'hey, we need more guidance — we don't have enough to operate on.'"
As the operations and training officer, Woodruff learned quickly how vital proper guidance and accurate information were to the success of every training operation.
He did not have senior leadership looking over his shoulder to determine if he was making the right calls. He saw that gesture as a sign of trust. The onus of disseminating accurate information on a constant basis was his duty to bear and he surmised that if there were no complaints made about scheduled dates and times, he was doing his job effectively.
"I learned very quickly that in my role, I was kind of the single point of failure ... If we put in an incorrect time in a schedule or we gave them inaccurate information, they're completely reliant on that inaccurate information," Woodruff said. " ... At the same time, when I was sending that first email out to all the tactical officers, all the leaders at the regimental level, and all the command teams of the cadet companies, I was pressing send and thinking, 'Oh my gosh, there's no one to check out of this work.
"Let me triple-check and make sure it's right before I press send," he added. "So, that was sobering. When I was sending out the first email, I was realizing how much responsibility I had to produce accurate products."
Lu made sure that Schold and the rest of the cadet officers in the command team could look towards the future while he and his staff took on the day-to-day operations of a non-commissioned officer.
"We're the ones actioning all the training making sure our commanders can do what they need to do and aren't bogged down," Lu said. "So what this really amounted to was me being very involved with the first sergeants, making sure we were doing the tasks up to standard and that everything was being accomplished."
"We had talked about how I could help them accomplish missions. I gave them advice and they embodied it and led their companies within their command team, created unity and they were stellar working through their NCO channels and the platoon sergeants got their squad leaders on board," he added. "Our focus was on motivation, making sure the energy was there, and making sure the standards and discipline were in place."
Upon reflection after graduation, Lu and the rest of the cadre felt that the CFT experience proved they could lead underclassmen, organize training events and coordinate with all levels of leadership. However, CFT also shined a light on their weaknesses. Seeking perfection, overanalyzing certain situations, and lacking confidence and presence were some of the underlying traits the cadre brought up.
Fortunately, each cadre member supported each other in identifying these traits and did not let it affect training operations.
"There were times when the staff had to pull me back and say, 'Hey, you are going way too deep in this. We need you out of this problem now and focused on the four other things that we have going on,'" Schold said. "So, that was definitely a struggle for me — balancing that 'up and out mentality,' knowing that something's actively an issue and I really wanting to go fix that but if I focus on that issue, we're going to lose sight of four others."
Lu said that he should've been firmer with some of the decisions he made, but USMA TAC officers and 1st Brigade Combat Team NCOs from the 82nd Airborne Division would persuade him to choose a different direction in leading cadets.
"What I'd like to improve on is trusting that I have the skill sets to perform in my role," he said. "Because in the beginning, we had officers and NCOs that wanted to influence how we did things. I realized that I had to take a step back and remember we are also leaders, we can think for ourselves, and we have to trust our gut."
To ensure the cadre got the best out of their leadership experience, Lt. Col. Eugene Palka helped set the conditions informing senior leadership that this was a cadet lead detail.
"Palka communicated that down through senior leadership channel and then we learned to become really comfortable with officers or any advisors with members of taskforce," Schold said. " Senior leaders would tell us, 'Here's a possible way to do it,' or when they'd see our plan, they'd say, 'Could you change this stuff?'
"And at that point," Schold continued, "We're probably an hour into execution and we said, 'No, sir. No, ma'am. Sorry. We are executing the plan that we've put together because we have confidence in it. If we mess up, we'll take it on the chin and we'll adjust next time, but right now, for transparency’s sake and consistency, we're sticking to the plan.'"
The ability to acknowledge strengths, identify weaknesses and learn from mistakes was part of what made the CFT experience so engrossing for the cadet cadre.
They often communicated and embraced what Schold called a "customer service philosophy" when assisting everyone from leadership to underclassmen. Figueroa felt the full effect of that service as she reflected on the quality of the experience concerning teamwork, the power of authenticity, and the changes she needs to make to be primed and ready for next year.
"My biggest takeaway was definitely the significance of buying into your team and being your authentic self," Figueroa concluded. " ... You need to be authentic. Sometimes as a cadet, you look up to all these role models, and you start emulating them, but that's not you. You can take away from them, but you can't become them, and CFT showed me the necessity of really being my authentic self because your peers are going to see that, your leadership is going to see that, and when I'm a leader, my subordinates are going to see that."