This post is not just for cadets. Newly commissioned Infantry Second Lieutenant Dylan DiIulio presents a sizable list of tips on fieldcraft, teamwork, and leadership that apply to any training event. New Soldiers should read this. Sergeants taking over a fire team should read it. Hikers and backpackers can draw some insight from his advice. Take a look and share it widely, especially with those heading to Advanced Camp this summer.
I attended the 9th Regiment Cadet Leader’s Course (Advanced Camp) from 12JUL16 – 11AUG16 at Ft. Knox, KY. Throughout my camp experience, I served as squad leader twice, platoon leader in the field, team leader every three or four days, and RTO on multiple occasions. I learned a ton and made some really great friends along the way. Below is a list of things I did to prepare for camp, TTPs that I believe led to my success, and general knowledge that helped me as a cadet.
-Bring a wrist compass. A wrist compass allows you to check direction without pulling out your compass while simultaneously trying to juggle your weapon.
–Permanent map markers deserve a spot in your kit. I kept one set in my terrain model kit, one set in my notebook, and usually kept one in my pocket. These worked great for drawing concept sketches, writing in my battle book, etc. You can write on almost anything and the permanent ones require alcohol to wipe off so they won’t smudge when wet. I used the correction pens too, but I prefer to use hand sanitizer to erase them. I always kept some hand sanitizer in the calf pocket of my ACUs.
-Bring an extra pair of insoles for your boots. This is a much lighter option than carrying a second pair of boots. Wet insoles are the main thing that make boots feel wet. If you change your insoles after your boots get wet, it will feel as if they are dry. It is also easier to dry insoles versus trying to dry a whole boot.
-Make a battle book: Produce some sort of organized notebook with skeletons, matrices, Rite in the Rain paper, and any other planning tools you may need. If you can’t remember how to do something (i.e. how to set up a patrol base), include written steps in your battle book. I used a flight binder with laminated sheets and loose leaf Rite in the Rain paper. I also like three-ring binders, which double as a hard writing surface. To help protect your book from dirt and grime, I recommend having some sort of cover on it. Waterproofing is an absolute must. Use a clear plastic shelf liner as a do-it-yourself laminate. It is sticky on both sides so you can print out your documents and then just stick the laminate on each side. The Rite in the Rain loose-leaf paper is a great addition to your book and is usually cheaper than the individual notebooks. Your end product should be able to fit in a cargo pocket and still be useable if completely wet.
Battle Book. The top battle book is made from a small three ring binder and a notebook cover. The bottom battle book is made from a flight binder. The sheets in each book are laminated and can be written on with map markers. I also include inserts for maps and transparent sheets for use as overlays.
-Bring a map board to Advanced Camp. I used plexiglass and 100mph tape to construct mine. This was awesome for planning, storing maps, and having a writing surface. I was the only one in my platoon to bring something like this and many of my peers used it when they were in leadership positions. Being able to draw a concept sketch and brief off of a map board was much more convenient than making a sand table (I recommend sand tables if you have the time though). Another tip is to use one of your larger laminated cut outs from your terrain model kit for drawing. Occasionally, I took my “ORP” cut out and drew my concept sketch on the back of that since it was bigger than the other pieces in my kit. I could hand this drawing off to my RTO who would use it to develop the sand table.
Map Boards. The top one is 8.5x11inch plexiglass. The bottom one is a custom one made of Lexan sized 6.5×7.5inches. The left most pane in each board is actually two panes sandwiched together and taped together only on two sides. I use this to store maps in between the two panes and then close it with a binder clip. You can see tape around the edges of the entire board. This is so when it is closed it creates a watertight seal.
-Bring a detailed terrain model kit. I included cut out laminated pieces, plastic army guys, a small truck, some yarn, and 550 cord inner strands for grid lines. You can hook strands to nails or eye screws to make grid line set up really fast. Don’t overdo it on the cut-out pieces. A lot of pieces can be improvised with MRE cardboard and a black sharpie. You will most likely end up making custom pieces from MRE cardboard or loose paper anyway. I carried a black sharpie in my kit to help with making custom pieces. I recommend a 10-mil lamination.
Terrain Model Kit. Many of the pieces shown are blank so cadet’s names or specific units can be written in with map markers. A customized sand table adds significant value to the rehearsal. The point identifier pieces are meant to be placed vertically in the sand. Inner 550 cord strands hooked to eye screws are shown to the right which I use to make grid lines. Ensure you have a convenient way to carry all of these pieces. The last thing you need is to open up a plastic bag and have a giant birds nest of yarn, string, and cut out pieces. I always put my kit away with all of the pieces facing the same way.
-Put glow-in-the-dark tape on most of the equipment used at night or afraid to lose. For me this included my map board, battle book, pens, and anything else that I didn’t have tied down. Don’t put so much on that you become a target. Tape just enough to find your equipment at night.
-Practice rucking in the socks and boots you will bring. Part of showing up in shape is having your feet conditioned to conduct field exercises. Folding my socks over the top of my boot roughly 1’’ prevented them from slipping down and potentially creating a crease. Sock creases eventually form hot spots and blisters. (Read The Secret to a Blister-Free Foot March for more info.)
-Label everything. Bring a large sharpie to help your buddies label stuff, too. This includes uniforms. I scribed my name into metallic equipment such as my compass, multitool, carabiners, etc.
-Stock up on 550 cord and 100mph tape. You can never have enough. Use these for tie downs, securing loose straps, and to make quick fixes. Speaking of securing loose straps…don’t show up without all of your straps under control. Nothing looks worse than somebody walking around with every piece of webbing on them dragging on the ground. It will make you look unprepared. Simply roll up the straps on your FLC, ruck, etc. and tape them so they aren’t dangling. Another tip: wrap some 100mph tape around all of your pens/mechanical pencils. It is an easy way to carry some tape in the field without carrying the whole roll.
-Bring foot powder to treat heat rash. I developed heat rash all over my body in the field. Once I learned that foot powder takes care of this, I coated myself in foot powder twice a day (once in the morning, once at night). This took the rash away in about two days and I didn’t have problems the rest of my time at camp. I recommend purchasing the blue colored Gold Bond powder and bringing it with you. Bring more than you think.
-Change your socks and undershirt to maintain hygiene. This helps with preventing heat rash, too. Be smart about this. If you know it is going to rain or it currently is raining, there is no sense in changing. I usually change my socks and undershirt at night before I sleep.
-Save the hot beverage bags from MREs. These are some of the toughest plastic bags out there. I keep my CAC in one and put it in my chest pocket. I never had to worry about it getting wet.
-Put your ID tags in your back pocket. I either put them through a belt loop or through the back-pocket button hole. They will break off if you keep them around your neck.
-Salt your food and don’t skip meals. You will sweat a lot. This is especially true if you are from a temperate climate region and you are not used to the heat. Some of your peers WILL become heat casualties. The best way I learned to combat this is to salt your food and don’t skip meals. MREs come with salt packets so use them. You will also be provided with CeraSport drink mix. Some cadets refuse to drink CeraSport because of the taste, but it is worth it. The idea behind salting your food is that your body needs nutrients in order to absorb water. Sweat carries these essential nutrients out of your body. Therefore, you have to replace them frequently since you will be sweating more in Ft. Knox than what you are probably used to.
-Tie everything down. Use bowlines to tie down everything: your canteens, compass, Gerber, headlamp, etc. Attach directly to your FLC. If you are worried about losing your weapon, dummy cord that to yourself, too.
-Bring an aluminum oval carabiner. Actually, I recommend bringing a few. These are nice to hook your weapons sling through which makes carrying your weapon easier while still being able to transition into shooting positions. They are also great for attaching stuff to your ruck or assault pack.
-Modify your map protractors by using an X-ACTO knife to cut out the inner plastic inside the plotting scales. This will enhance your accuracy in plotting. I also cut three sides off of the protractor so just the degree scale shows (keep one side as a straight edge). I always made sure I had a non-modified protractor just in case. I also recommend tying a string through the index in the center of the protractor. This makes plotting azimuths fast for quick calculations.
Modified Protractor. The plotting scales are shaved down so it is more accurate when plotting a point. Only the top mil scale remains for use as a straight edge. The other three sides were shaved down so only the degree scales show. A piece of inner 550 cord is threaded through the index and contains an overhand knot on each end to prevent it from sliding out.
-Get used to not setting up a hooch even in the rain. Deal with it. You will dry. It is just water. I do recommend making at least one hooch for radios or any other sensitive items. I recommend doing this by taking four bungee cords, looping them through the grommets on your poncho, and securing the bungee cords to four separate anchors (trees). Then tie a small piece of 550 cord to the poncho hood and tie it to an overhanging branch. This is a very easy and fast set up. Overall reason for this is that you have to be able to pick up and go at a moment’s notice. Too many times cadets will start setting up a massive hooch and then you have to initiate a withdrawal plan. It is tough to withdraw when all of your equipment is scattered around the patrol base.
-Bring your own weapons cleaning kit. I recommend a dental pick, wire toothbrush, some rags, CLP, and a bore snake. It would be wise to get two of everything (at least dental pick and toothbrush) so you can share with your buddies.
-Recommend to your cadre to take only assault packs to the field. You don’t need a lot. Just poncho, bivy bag, poncho liner, extra socks and tan tee-shirt, mission planning tools, 100 mph tape, 550 cord, wet weather bag, and hygiene stuff. That’s it. I kept my CAC in a chest pocket, and always made sure I had a notebook, wrist compass, compass, pencil, protractor, and battle book on me. MOLLE web your two sustainment pouches to your assault pack. Use one for a radio and the other for MREs. The goal for the field is to fight the enemy. To do that all you need is your rifle, ammunition, and water. Anything else is a bonus.
-Volunteer for patrols, being RTO, or random details. For one, it gets you out of security. Two, it gives you a chance to learn and gain experience, which is the whole purpose of camp. RTO is a sweet gig since you get to help plan, are always “in the know”, and can help out your buddies if they are lost.
-Know basic operational terms and graphics. If you can’t memorize them, print them out and put them in your battle book. Use them for making overlays. I also recommend using operational graphics in a sand table. Continuity helps when you are trying to convey your plans, and the Army uses operational terms and graphics to set that standard.
-Use overlays. Bring some transparent sheets and use them for basic overlays such as key terrain, movement, maneuver, etc. These allow all of the key leaders to be on the same page and have a personal copy of the route, mission, enemy positions, etc.
The Garrison Environment at Advanced Camp
-Clean your barracks every day. Doing this daily makes for little work by the end.
-Bring a camp stool or something to sit on during classes. Sitting on the ground with no back-rest can be torturous.
–Learn cadences, but don’t just stick to the easy ones. The goal is to be unique. Learn cadence that nobody else will call. This will make everybody happy, especially after they heard the same cadence for 20 days straight.
-Practice your platoon’s tactical SOPs while in garrison. For example, whenever you are moving a long distance, practice tactical road marching or movement formations. Instead of putting your equipment in formation, practice setting up a patrol base. The more you can sync everybody while in garrison, the easier (and more fun) your life will be in the field.
-Bring one or two scrub brushes to clean TA-50. Makes your life a whole lot easier when cleaning equipment. I also like to bring a boot brush, too.
-Bring Dawn dish soap and use it as your body wash for showering. It is made to cut grease and grime, so it will be better than any other actual body soap. You will thank me once you come back from the field covered in poison ivy.
-Bring an extra roll of toilet paper. Supply WILL run out.
-Hand sanitizer works great for getting stains out of equipment. Put some on the stain and scrub.
-Knowing basic platoon and squad drill goes without saying. You will be able to stand out here if you know what you are doing. Do not neglect counter columns, file from the left column left, etc. Again, the goal here is to learn the things that other cadets neglect so that you can be a team player and help your buddies.
-Knowing PRT drills is another element that goes without saying. You will do PRT at camp. Being able to effectively lead your platoon in these drills is another way to stand out in a positive way. You will also prove to your peers that you are competent in basic tasks.
General Leadership Lessons
-If you go to camp with the expectation to be the best in your platoon, it will easily show, and your peers will most likely see you as a threat. My personal goals were to go to camp and rate in the top 10% of peer evaluations. I think this served me well because my focus was on building relationships and being a good team player, not on becoming the highest rated cadet in my platoon. (For your reference, the squad does peer evaluations, so 10% is unrealistic. Going to camp, I had no idea what the process was, so I wouldn’t make this goal again). Those cadets who are always asking about scores on events and who are trying to compare themselves against others were not liked.
-Be the bad guy while being the nice guy. If you are in leadership, hold your subordinates accountable. For example, cadets are going to want to sleep and not pull security. They will want to sleep on the patrol base lines. Stop this. Shorten security rotations, emphasize its importance, and make sure your cadets are taken care of so these things don’t happen. This is just one example. You have to find a balance in enforcing the standards without being a hardo. Your squad will remember you at your worst. That being said, don’t let one or two people bring you down. Some people will always be the complainers and aren’t worth your time. Another more personal example: when I became PL in the field I was briefed my mission around 1900. We were to load transportation at 0300. I had a few backbriefs and meetings to attend so I couldn’t brief my mission to my platoon until 2245 that night. My platoon hated me for making them stay up until 2245 to hear an OPORD brief. However, when they arrived to the brief they saw a great sand table and I delivered the best briefing of my life. Everybody went from being salty to being pumped up and ready to execute. I had to sacrifice some sleep for the benefit of everybody knowing exactly how to execute our mission, but it worked because I was able to deliver. We ended up accomplishing our mission and it set the leadership up for success the next day.
-Be a subject matter expert on battle drills and TTPs like patrol base set up, hand and arm signals, and similar tasks like that. You want to be the person everybody goes to for answers. Not only know the drills/techniques but be able to explain them efficiently. Ask the cadre their opinions and advice during free time. Develop your knowledge base at camp by not thinking your way is the best way. It will come in handy someday if you learn another way of doing something. Know the difference between a TTP and Army doctrine. Army doctrine is found in manuals. TTPs are just methods of doing something.
-Share your equipment. Everything you own should be treated as if it is everybody’s equipment. You should intentionally bring extra, inexpensive items for the purpose of sharing. This is how you help out your buddies and be a team player. There is an initial investment of equipment going into camp, but it is for a good cause. The more you take it seriously the better experience you will have.
-Get accountability of all sensitive items whenever you take control (i.e. become the PL, PSG, SL, or TL). The last thing you need is to be charged for losing a radio or something major.
-Don’t get too hung up on OPORDs. Focus instead on conducting the TLPs. We all know the 8 TLPs, but it is much more than that. Focus on what goes into each step. Refer to Chapter 10 FM 6-0. It goes into great detail on the specifics of each step.
Here is a simple breakdown:
- Receive the Mission – Give a confirmation brief to HIGHER to ensure you understand what they just briefed you. Then create task organization and do a simple time analysis to create your timeline. Utilize METT-TC to perform an initial assessment of the situation.
- Issue a Warning Order – Utilize your HIGHER order and your initial assessment to give your subordinates a WARNORD. Include the task organization, mission, basic tasks to subordinate units, the timeline, and anything else pertinent at the time such as challenge and passwords. Include as much detail as possible with respect to time. You should be able to get the WARNORD out very quickly in order to give your subordinates maximum planning time.
- Make a Tentative Plan – Create your tentative plan. Use the acronym METT-TC to do an in-depth analysis. Draw a simple sketch and backbrief HIGHER your plan. Then hand your sketch off to your RTO to make the sand table. Before this step, your RTO can be plotting your location, finding distance and direction, creating overlays, etc.
The rest is easy. Steps 4-8 can be conducted in any order and step 8 occurs throughout the process. That means the only three that normally happen in order are Steps 1, 2, and 3. Note that your subordinates may start necessary movement while you are making a tentative plan since you just briefed them a WARNORD.
OPORDs should be focused on conveying the plan. The format is there to standardize the way we do things. If it is not needed for the mission, don’t waste time by briefing it. Time will always be the limiting factor to determine how much planning goes into your mission. For example, you may have to forgo an in-depth sand table and just use a concept sketch on a map board if you don’t have the time to make a sand table.
-A big takeaway for me from Advanced Camp was applying the five principles of patrolling. Before camp, I would have said they were just another five things to commit to memory. The five principles of patrolling can be applied to any situation: garrison or field environment. If you fail one, you fail them all. Do not underestimate the power of the fifth principle: common sense. This principle goes hand in hand with “not fighting the plan”. If something isn’t working, adjust it and make it better. Use common sense in mission planning. You will be provided with scenarios with which you will have no experience. You may not have the doctrinal answer, but if you apply the five principles of patrolling you will be a success.
-Master the basics. I believe I was able to stand out solely for this reason. I showed up on time, in the right uniform, asked questions, and took notes. I made sure my camelback was always full, I was wearing a watch, and always had one or two extra pens or simple gear like that to share with my buddies. During classes, I wrote down everything that was presented. I asked questions to cadre and then wrote down the answers so they knew I was paying attention. I know all of that sounds intuitive but here is a story: It was one of our first days at camp and our cadre developed a round robin style tactics presentation where each platoon would go to a station and learn a specific skill (LDA crossing, TLPs, overlays, etc). By the second station everybody was sleeping or playing in the grass while watching the presentation. I was the only cadet taking notes. The cadre noticed this and at the end of the presentation, the instructor went over and told my evaluator that I was the only cadet engaged. That comment made it onto my final evaluation and made me stand out early on. That whole situation was common sense to me. Before you go to camp, try to remember all of the little stuff you learned as a cadet. It will pay dividends when you are the only person abiding by those simple rules.
-When I wasn’t in a leadership position, I let whoever was in charge do their job and focused on being a good team player. When it was my turn to lead, I took the bull by the horns, made informed decisions, delegated to my subordinates, and showed everybody that I am a leader. It sounds cliché, but too many times you will see the “good idea factory” show up. That is, you or somebody else who is in charge comes up with a plan, and the “good idea factory” (aka cadets who have “good ideas”) shows up and start rattling off some great idea they dreamed up. You are the leader and it is ultimately your decision. If your plan works, nobody will care how it gets done (to a certain extent). Don’t fall into the trap of debating about something with your subordinates when it is time to execute. Peer leadership is tough in this sense because everybody wants to be a leader.
-You will meet some really strange people at camp. In this I mean so strange to the point where you wonder how they are able to function in society. If you think you are even remotely close to being one of these people, just hide all of your strangeness for the duration of camp.
-Take the initiative. Advanced Camp isn’t basic training. Most of the time you are not monitored and you will definitely have down time. If you are in a leadership position, do something. Use this time for hip pocket training, equipment maintenance, SOP creation, etc. There is always something to be done. If you are not in a leadership position, find something to do if your leader doesn’t find something for you. On my Day 0, we were all just sitting around in our barracks being anti-social cause everybody was nervous. I took some initiative and made notecards with our names on them and then taped them to our bunks. This made checking/finding people during fireguard really easy and I was able to learn everybody’s names a lot quicker. My squad thought it was a great idea, too.
Final Thoughts on Advanced Camp
Advanced Camp is like anything else…whatever you make of it. Taking camp seriously is paramount to success. The first step is to prepare yourself through self-study and training beforehand. The second step is executing what you are trained. During execution, your focus should be on testing yourself, building relationships, and becoming a better cadet to one day lead Soldiers. If you go to Advanced Camp with the desire to learn, be challenged, and become a team player, there will be no reason you can’t succeed. Unfortunately, not all cadets go to Advanced Camp with that outlook and end up making everyone else suffer. Be the cadet who everyone enjoys being around, takes charge when it is your turn, and has fun with it.