Trainees 'Forge' into Soldiers during Basic Combat Training's new exercise (2024)

FORT SILL, Okla. -- A major change in Army Basic Combat Training, or BCT, better prepares trainees for today's operational theater. The "Forge" is a grueling, 96-hour, cumulative training exercise that puts week-seven trainees in a patrol base as they encounter a multitude of combat and logistical scenarios.

It emphasizes battle drills, tactical operations, and numerous foot patrols. Forge replaces the 20-year-old Field Training Exercise 3, which had trainees working at a forward operating base, or behind the wire.

"It's essentially a crucible," said Capt. Jedidiah Schlissel, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery commander. "It increases their mental toughness because they probably never imagined how tough this would be."

Indeed -- the final event of Forge is a rite of passage ceremony where trainees put on their berets for the first time in BCT, symbolizing that they are now Soldiers, said Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Michael Davies, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery.

The 434th Field Artillery Brigade here -- along with Army BCT brigades at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Fort Benning, Georgia -- must implement Forge into their training by Oct. 1, Schlissel said. D Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery was testing the second Forge here, July 9-12, with an emphasis on night training to minimize heat injuries.

The brigade's B Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery had performed a day version of Forge.

"It went well," Schlissel said of the first Forge. "We're actually doing a night Forge with about double the (troop) movement that they conducted."

Day 1 began with a 10-mile road march followed by medical Squad Training Exercise, or STX, events at Training Area 81.

In the STX, a squad of 12-15 trainees on patrol encountered indirect small arms fire. During the attack, the squad suffered casualties that had to be moved to a landing zone for an air medical evacuation, which they called in.

Another training event involved an equipment move to resupply a unit. Trainees carried various pieces of gear. That evening trainees performed a troop movement under direct fire at the night infiltration course.

Day 2 included pugils competition, which simulated fighting hand-to-hand with a rifle. At the reflexive fire range, trainees fired M-16 rifles from various firing positions.

"This provides them with more trigger time, more weapon manipulation to get them more comfortable with their weapon system," Schlissel said. "It's slightly more advanced than shooting at targets in a qualification course."

Another training event was a mass casualty scenario where trainees were faced with an ethical dilemma, i.e., what to do with captured wounded enemies who need to be transported.

Trainees never knew what the next event would be, so they were constantly surprised. "It's mental exhaustion; you're just doing one strenuous thing after another," Schlissel said.

Day 3 consisted of a combatives tournament of grappling to determine squad champions.

Later, a road march provided a warm-up to a combat obstacle course, followed by another road march to the 1-mile track for the Monti Challenge. Here, trainees were tested on warrior tasks, such as performing a weapons check on an M4 rifle, and donning a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or CBRN, and explosive mask.

For the last day, there would be yet another night obstacle course, and then the rite of passage.

Over the four days of events, the trainees probably navigated about 46 miles, Schlissel said.

Trainees lived in the field. Davies noted that the trainees would not be getting as much sleep as they were used to, and probably only slept four hours the first day.

Forge was the third Field Training Exercise, or FTX, that trainees experienced. The first was Hammer, a one-day, one-night FTX during week 3 of BCT, Davies said. Trainees used all the warrior tasks and battle drills they had learned up to that point during the FTX.

In Hammer, for example, trainees learned how to apply camouflage paint on themselves, and how to create a security perimeter.

The Anvil FTX, conducted during week 6, built upon other skills such as squad tactics, medical training events, and CBRN attacks.

All the FTXs are named after blacksmith terms to emphasize that Soldiers are "forged" during them, Schlissel said. The Forge exercise follows the theme, as well as its reference to Valley Forge, one of the Continental Army's encampment sites during the Revolutionary War.

Forge does not increase the duration of the 10-week BCT, but it does increase its intensity, Schlissel said. And because Forge is new, drill sergeants are learning how to implement it, said Davies.

"We know the material, but there is more (troop) movement and we're staying up longer," Davies said.

Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Jon Schroeder, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery, helped develop Forge training here with Senior Drill Sergeant (Sgt. 1st Class) Francisco Soto.

Soto visited Fort Jackson to see how a battalion was implementing the training into its BCT. Fort Jackson has a lot of resources and runs Forge week as a battalion, Schroeder said.

Learning from Fort Jackson, and using 434th Field Artillery Brigade resources, he and Soto came up with a tentative training plan to implement Forge week at the battery level here. Soto presented it to D Battery's executive officer. With the assistance of the operations and logistics shops, it was put in motion, Schroeder said.

To prepare trainees for the physically demanding Forge, drill sergeants increased ruck marches weeks before the exercise, Schlissel said.

"Instead of be transported by buses to the training areas, they were mostly walking," he said. "That's been a major impact on their physical fitness and endurance."

On Day 1 of the medical STX, trainee Pvt. Thomas Archibald, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery, said he was using all the skills he's learned in BCT.

"With the drill sergeants taking us through FTX 2 (Anvil) and putting us through night training, it's prepared us for Forge," said Archibald, of Olive Branch, Miss. "If we had not gone through the medical lanes before multiple times conducting many tests, we would not know how to do this."

Archibald added that things we're going well.

"I've gotten a lot stronger physically and mentally than I thought I could be," he said.

Davies said Forge will make his trainees better.

"I want them to know that they can push themselves past what they thought were their limits," he said. "They will become not only better Soldiers, but better people."

Trainees 'Forge' into Soldiers during Basic Combat Training's new exercise (2024)

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