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What Soldiers In The Infantry Go Through To Earn Their Title
If you’re going to be an infantryman in the Army, then you’re headed to Fort Benning, Georgia.
In the Army, soldiers receive basic combat training at four locations: Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina; Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma; Fort Leonard Wood in St. Robert, Missouri; and Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia.
However, Fort Benning is the only place where soldiers are transformed into infantrymen. The soldiers at Benning go through a rigorous skills-based course that lasts 14 weeks and is referred to as one-station unit training, or OSUT. The training begins before dawn and ends in the late evening, six days a week with Sundays reserved for religious services.
The training cycle is broken into five phases. The first three focus on instilling discipline and building the basic skills that soldiers will rely on during the last two phases, explains Staff Sgt. Kristopher Jackson, Fort Benning’s drill sergeant of the year.
The drill sergeants at Fort Benning are all infantrymen and have stood in the same place as the privates they’re tasked with training. Jackson has deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq, and is a combat veteran who has attended numerous advanced training schools.
During the first three phases the soldiers train on a range of weapons systems, from the M4 carbine, to heavy weapons and grenades. They conduct physical readiness training daily and learn the fundamentals of fireteam tactics.
Task & Purpose spoke with Jackson about the final training exercises and rites of passage soldiers must complete before earning the title of infantryman.
Soldiers crawl through a mud filled pit with barbed wire overhead as part of an obstacle course on Fort Benning's Sand Hill Tuesday, Oct. 17.U.S. Army photo by Nathan Snook
“The four and five phase is where they start learning what it means to be an infantryman,” Jackson explains. “They know what’s going on. Those nine weeks have molded them as soldiers. They have the standards of discipline, so it really makes four and five all about refining them. They’re physically fit’ there’s not as much fatigue, and they push a lot harder.”
In phase four, the soldiers begin to train for urban operations. During this time, they are taught how to clear a room, as well as operate in a densely populated area and as a squad.
“Now, they’ve developed from buddy team into a fireteam, so now we can start implementing squad tactical training,” says Jackson, referring to the two-man and four-man teams the soldiers worked in previously.
The training in urban combat and room-clearing the soldiers receive is critical.
“What we’re doing is, with this training, if they deploy to an urban environment and they move in and may have to use hand-to-hand combat, we’re teaching them to get in there and secure the room,” says Jackson.
On the tenth week of training, the soldiers operate in four-man teams and stack up outside of a building. Inside, a drill sergeant wearing padded armor, gloves, and a helmet is waiting for them. The soldiers must communicate in silence, using hand and arm signals and then enter the room and take down their drill sergeants in close combat.
Photo Caption: Army Staff Sgt. Kristopher Jackson, a drill sergeant at Fort Benning, Georgia, wears padding and protective equipment during urban operations training, while a four-man stack of soldiers prepares to enter the room.Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Kristopher Jackson
“What we do is we put the suits on and when they come in we cause confusion and either lock down the first person, grab hold of him, to see how the rest of them react,” says Jackson. “The biggest thing they need to do is they need to take out that threat. They need to move through the room and get in as quickly as possible and lock it down.”
In phase four of their training, soldiers also learn to build, or rather, dig and fortify defensive fighting positions, the proper way to react to enemy contact, how to disengage or break contact, how to attack and move as a mounted, meaning in a vehicle, or a dismounted squad.
The last hurdle is the field training exercise.
The final exercise occurs at the end of phase five and is known as the field training exercise, or FTX, during which the soldiers incorporate all they’ve learned in the previous 14 weeks, from small-unit tactics, mounted and dismounted engagements, to basic and advanced rifle marksmanship.
“What usually happens is the commanders of each company will develop a plan on what they want trained while we’re out at each training area,” says Jackson. “They’ll pack their rucks with a specific packing list and they’ll move out, and we’ll go to a different training area where we’ll conduct different exercises over everything they’ve learned.”
Over the course of their training, the privates conduct physical readiness training, hand-to-hand combat training, and march endlessly. They begin at two miles with 35-pound packs, not counting ammunition, body armor, and weapons systems, and end at 15 miles, with more than 60 pounds of gear in their pack.
After the FTX, they make their way to Honor Hill.
“They roadmarch into Honor Hill, at this time, most of the privates know what is coming,” says Jackson, referring to the final rite of passage for the future infantrymen. “It’s a ceremony that only infantrymen do. It’s done at night, when they’re in the final stretch there’s people there to cheer them on, kind of welcoming them into the brotherhood.”
The soldiers make their way through plumes of smoke and pass a gate bearing the phrase: “From this gate, emerge the finest soldiers the world has ever known. Follow me.”
When they reach Honor Hill, they receive their canteen cups, which are then filled with “grog” — a mix of Gatorade, water, and dry ice, but the privates think it’s booze. It’s not.
Afterward, there’s a ceremony where the drill sergeants award the soldiers the coveted badge of an infantryman showing a pair of crossed rifles. The following week, they receive the blue cords that only infantrymen wear on their dress uniforms during a graduation ceremony.
“It’s different than any other place,” says Jackson. “There’s a lot of history behind it, a lot of pride. It’s something I know most drill sergeants take serious when they’re training these privates.”
‘I made promises to the people that I lost’— How the Iraq war forged a Navy SEAL’s path to Harvard Medical School and NASA
Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.
However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:
New Vietnam War movie 'The Last Full Measure' takes some well-deserved shots at the military’s award process
Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.
On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.
In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.
Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.
The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.
After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.
There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.
At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects. Not surprising then that Pentagon bureaucrats and Washington political operators are regarded with skepticism throughout the movie.
When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.
Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)
As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.
In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.
"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.
"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."
The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.
There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of military dramas, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good film.
The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.
With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
The Defense Department just took a major step towards making the dream of a flying drone carrier a reality.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's air-launched and recoverable X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle finally conducted a maiden flight in November 2019, Gremlin contractor Dynetics announced on Friday.