Victory Forge: Overcoming Obstacles
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORT JACKSON, S.C., Jan. 12, 1999 "You have a length of rope and you have to get your team and all your gear up that 15-foot wall. Oh, and you can't touch anything below four-and-a-half feet. That's contaminated. Time is of the essence. Do you have any questions?"
The lead soldier asked no questions. She eyed the 15-foot concrete wall, the front of a World War II-style bunker. Basic trainees here use it as a training prop during Victory Forge.
"I could tell her more if she'd just ask," said the drill sergeant after the soldier went back to her platoon. "It's still the first day. They'll learn by the end of Victory Forge."
Victory Forge is a 72-hour exercise that climaxes Army basic training at this post. The Army created Victory Forge using the Marine Corps' 54-hour-long Crucible as a model. While the Crucible and Victory Forge rely on team-building exercises, the big differences are that Army men and women train together and their exercise is totally tactical -- conducted as if in a combat zone. Marine men and women train separately, and the Crucible is a training environment.
The operations order to Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry, is a dry read. "Company will conduct Victory Forge Operations in vic[inity] of [Defensive Position] Dog House. This will consist of the company breaking down into three mega squads per platoon. Each mega squad will be sent to recover a downed pilot and encounter a series of tactical obstacles and teamwork building challenges, to include a squad-on-squad ambush."
Reading about the operation is one thing, confronting the reality of a 15-foot cement wall is another. The young soldiers have to scale the wall, get all their gear up it and continue their mission.
The leader went back to the treeline where the squad had taken up position. She briefed her squadmates and got their input. Then, they approached the wall. Some soldiers established security while others picked up the rope to see what they could do.
"How about this tree right here?" asked one recruit. "I can get up that tree and carry the rope after me."
The troops agreed to try it. The tree was about six inches in diameter at the bottom, but got smaller quickly. Still, the soldier was able to get up the tree, but found he was too far from the top of the wall. "Push me over to it," he said. Three soldiers started leaning the tree toward the bunker. Finally, he reached it and clambered over.
"I'm going to attach the rope to a tree up here," he said, and did so. As he readied to throw the rope down, the leader reminded everyone to catch the rope.
"It can't touch the contaminated area," she warned.
Once the rope was down, the soldiers debated how to get everyone up. "Let's tie the gear to the rope and we can haul it up together," suggested one.
"No, let's try to climb wearing our gear," said another.
They all looked to the leader. "Let's try it with gear first," she said.
They hoisted a tall soldier wearing his backpack and carrying his weapon up over the contaminated area. He grabbed the rope and, after much pushing and pulling, managed to get over the top. "That's not going to work for everyone," he said.
"How about knots in the rope?" a soldier asked. The two on the top tied knots. Unfortunately, they were slipknots, and the next soldier up learned how they got that name.
"C'mon, people! We're running out of time!" the leader said.
The soldiers ultimately modified their plan and started getting people and gear to the top. At one point, they decided to throw their M-16s to the top.
"I don't think you better do that," warned their drill sergeant, who until that point had stayed on the sidelines. Instead, they tied their gear to the rope and hauled it up.
One of the soldiers touched the contaminated area and was declared a casualty. "You've got to take him with you," the drill sergeant said. "And he can't move now." The soldiers rigged a sling and hauled the casualty to the top.
Finally, all soldiers and gear made the top -- but not in the time allotted.
The drill sergeant gathered the squad. "Okay, leader. What did we learn?" he asked.
"Drill sergeant, I guess we learned to discuss the plan more fully," she said. "We just sort of came up and tried the first thing that came to our minds. We also learned that we have to move quicker."
"Right. Did you modify your plan?"
A chorus of yeses. "We had to, drill sergeant," another soldier said. "In fact, we had to modify just about everything. We especially had to modify it when we had a casualty."
"OK. Get the equipment back in place and let's get ready to move," said the drill sergeant. "You still have a lot left to do."
It was, after all, just the beginning of Victory Forge.