Every year, thousands of Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadets are sent to Advance Camp in Kentucky to train and verify their skills as soldiers and leaders. Cadets are placed under strenuous conditions while leading Squad and Platoon level tactics, conducting rifle qualifications, administering first aid, and so on. However, with the global pandemic posing a significant danger to soldiers and their family members, Cadet Command decided to mitigate the risk of moving thousands of cadets across the country. Thus, Operation Agile Leader (OAL) was implemented to prioritize safety and family first.
Operation Agile Leader required cadets to undergo several phases of verification throughout the summer and fall at a brigade level as opposed to a national stage. For Southern California, Army ROTC Programs at California State University Fullerton, San Diego State University and Claremont Mckenna College participated in OAL. ROTC programs falling under these host schools also participated in this verification. For instance, UC Irvine’s ROTC program participated in OAL under the Titan Battalion at CSU Fullerton.
The first OAL event consisted of a written land navigation exam, a Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3) simulation, artillery “call for fire” training, and a 12-mile timed ruck march hosted at Los Alamitos Joint Training Base. During the land navigation course, Cadets were given a map and one hour to complete 30 questions on terrain features, navigation, plotting points, re-sectioning, and other key details. The TC3 training teaches Care Under Fire, Tactical Field Care, and Tactical Evacuation Care. Cadets were taught to react in simulated “downed” events where soldiers were required to apply a tourniquet, nasopharyngeal airway device, chest seal, Israeli bandage, and other emergency first aid as realistically as possible to prevent a potential casualty loss. In the artillery “call for fire” training, cadets practiced requesting radio artillery shots, adjusting radio artillery shots, and mapping fires. Finally, the timed ruck march required cadets to complete a 12-mile foot march in full uniform with a 35-pound rucksack on their backs.
The second phase of OAL verification covered the new Army Basic Rifle Marksmanship Qualification Standard which was performed at Fort Irwin, CA. Cadets were taught the fundamentals of shooting, including positioning, breathing, trigger discipline, and sight picture. Cadets were also instructed how to properly utilize an M4 rifle across various fighting positions, such as the prone unsupported, prone supported, kneeling supported, and standing supported positions. Cadets then had the opportunity to test these skills in a pop-up range course. To earn a passing score, cadets were required to hit a majority of targets that popped up at ranges from 50-300 meters.
In the third phase, cadets were put into platoons and rotated in and out of leadership during a series of five-day Field Training Exercises (FTX) to engage in several Situational Training Exercise (STX) lanes. STX lanes consisted of live combat scenarios where platoons were directly engaged in events such as platoon attack, ambush, assault, and recon as realistically as possible.
For this training, an objective was given and an enemy was established for each mission. Within each platoon, cadets took charge and established Standard Operating Procedures to develop and practice combat cohesion amongst new comrades. Operating M4s were issued and utilized during the combat scenarios when practical engagements were conducted. To create a more realistic experience, cadets also encountered obstacles such as mock land mines, demolitions, and ambushes against their unit. Facing fatigue and pressure from an ever-changing scenario, cadets were tested on their planning, maneuvering, and ability to out-gun their enemy counterparts as tactically and precisely as possible.
The final phase of OAL required cadets to complete a land navigation course—once during the day and once at night. Cadets were given only a compass, a map, and a series of points to locate and navigate to their objectives before finding their way home. Nothing else was provided and only limited red light was allowed. During this training, cadets encountered rough terrain as they traversed through austere mountain elevations. To successfully complete this phase of verification, cadets had to achieve their assigned objective and arrive at their base within a two- or three-hour time limit.
Upon completion of all phases of OAL, each cadet was certified for the required national training standard of a US Army Officer and returned home as a better-trained soldier and leader.