News: Arrowhead leaders mentor future officers
Story by Staff Sgt. Justin A. Naylor
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – It’s not always easy in college to decide what you want to be when you “grow up.” For U.S. Military Academy cadets, who are all destined to be military officers, the career choices are little more limited, but not by much.
To help these cadets — along with others from reserve officer training course programs around the country — learn about the various Army military branches, 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat, 7th Infantry Division, will host the Cadet Troop Leadership Training program for more than 80 future officers throughout the summer.
The CTLT program lasts nearly three weeks and offers the cadets a glimpse into the daily lives of military officers; particularly platoon leaders — a typical first assignment for newly commissioned officers. The first cadets arrived in June and hope to be commissioned by this time next year.
“You’re here to figure out what you want to do in your military career,” said Col. Hugh Bair, a USMA graduate and the 3-2 SBCT commander, to the first group of CTLT cadets to arrive at his unit. “You’ll be able to interact with a lot of officers, noncommissioned officers and Soldiers. You’ve got to invest the time while you are here. This is what you’re going to be doing next year.”
The cadets are partnered with a junior officer during their stay at JBLM. Officers from multiple military branches are available based on the cadet’s choice of future military occupation.
During their stay, the cadets work closely with their sponsors and take part in the day-to-day activities, training and leadership of Soldiers.
“I’m here to learn what a platoon leader does,” said Kevin Whitham, a Tulsa, Okla., native and senior at the USMA. “We’re tasked out to various branches, so right now I am working with infantry. You get some leadership advice from mentors, both officers and NCOs, and determine if you actually like what you think your potential military branch is going to be.”
Whitham has a brother who serves in the Marine Corps as an infantryman. He chose to come to JBLM because he wanted to work with Stryker vehicles.
“I heard that Lewis had the best Stryker brigades,” he said.
Since arriving, Whitham has shadowed 1st Lt Stephen Knotts, an infantry platoon leader with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3-2 SBCT.
“I’ve had some really good opportunities to see what the platoon leader actually does and what daily life is like,” Whitham said.
For Knotts, this CTLT is a chance for him to pass on hard-earned experience to the next generation of Army officers.
“We want to give them some of the experience of what we do as an officer,” said Knotts, a Fort Collins, Colo., native. “I want to give him the experience of working with NCOs. I want to make sure he understands how valuable they are.”
Knotts used his Soldiers and noncommissioned officers to help teach Whitham during multiple training sessions on everything from physical training to basic infantry skills.
Unlike Whitham, Knotts never had the opportunity take part in a CTLT program.
“If I was fresh and never had any experience in the military prior to going to the academy or ROTC, I probably would have really sought out an opportunity like this to get that picture if this is something that I really wanted to do,” he said.
Knotts said this is perfect opportunity for the cadets to learn about their potential future military occupations and to seek out advice from officers and noncommissioned officers who work in those career fields.
He is also teaching Whitham that what you learn in college, while important, isn’t going to make you a great leader. That takes daily mentorship and advice from the Soldiers you work with.
“Yes, you have the training, that education, but they have that experience and you need to develop that relationship and rely on them,” Knotts said. “It doesn’t matter how good you are as a Soldier, as an officer, as a leader, you’re only as good as the guy to your left and right, because if they fail, you’re failing. As a leader, you’re in a position of service; you’re there to help them, to develop them.”
The 3-2 SBCT’s CTLT program will continue throughout the summer and help shape and mentor the future of the Army officer corps.