By Ens. Erik T Booker, CECOS Public Affairs
CECOS Basic Class 259, Squad 1, prepares an After-Action Report following a Landing Craft Air Cushion training exercise held at Naval Base Ventura County Port Hueneme, Calif., Aug. 1. Photo by Ens. Erik T. Booker
Early in the morning on Aug. 1, students of the Civil Engineer Corps Officers School (CECOS) Basic Class 259 were aligned in formation, with gear in tow, Port Hueneme, Calif. The atmosphere was mixed with trepidation and excitement. The class was to embark on a trip to Point Mugu, Calif., where they would be challenged both physically and mentally on a mission to save Gold Coast, a fictitious country in the heart of California. The simulated environment lessons and skills taught in the classroom would be put to the test.
Forty-two active duty Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officers and 10 reserve officers took arms to challenge the fictitious enemy forces invading from the north. The objective of the Field Training Exercise (FTX) was to apply the core concepts of being a CEC officer, specifically as part of an air detachment of a mobile construction battalion; the mission, to provide engineering reconnaissance for the invented 71st Joint Task Force (JTF 71). Officers were subdivided into four squads and coached by a seasoned CEC officer, a senior Seabee enlisted Sailor and a Marine gunnery sergeant.
Upon landing at Point Mugu, each squad pitched Central Operating Command (COC) tents and established all essential elements. Radio communications, COC boards, terrain maps, and security and reconnaissance patrols were expeditiously erected. The class was briefed and trained by experienced Marines, and then sent off on their first patrols. The patrols provided unique challenges combining squad tactics, operational procedures, radio communications and engineering ingenuity.
As Squad Four’s Assistant Patrol Leader Ens. Igor Vladimirov remembers, “It was chaotic! When one of our shipmates ‘broke a leg’ on our first recon patrol, everyone was so confused that we had to redo the patrol.”
For the most part, every squad’s first few patrols experienced confusion and disarray. The FTX required that participants develop solutions while under the weight of full body armor, stress from the elements, and the pressure of locals and enemies acted out by CECOS staff
As Fourth Squad’s Ens. Mike Willis describes, “Our mission was controlled chaos. It was about finding calm within the storm.”
From the perspective of the COC, supporting and providing information to other squads on patrol was the primary mission and proved to be just as challenging as going on patrol. Students were put on watch stations with incoming message traffic of varying degrees of importance. It was up to each individual to interpret and divulge key information up the chain of command.
“It was a good way to experience what our Sailors go through and how important communication is,” said Ens. Cyndele McVeigh, Fourth Squad.
Furthermore, each squad was required to develop After Action Reports (AARs) of their findings. Solutions to bridging gaps, determining landing zones for helicopters and hovercrafts, and finding alternative routes were among the many operations performed by the class.
“It was a great learning experience,” says Ens. Lars Swanson, Squad One. “I expected to be heavily critiqued. I thought I did better than expected given the limited information I received.”
After intense reviews of each squad’s AAR, Lt. Cmdr. Peter Benson, course director, said, “Welcome to being an officer in the United States Navy.”
As a whole, the class echoed themes of leadership, respect and life-long learning.
“Leading your peers is very hard,” recalls Ens. Eric Snodgrass, Third Squad. “But [it is] very rewarding when we come together.”
Each team experienced a fair amount of stress and learned about pushing their limits, while drawing inspiration from others and motivation from within.
“We wanted you to see the magnitude of what you will have to learn to be successful out in the field,” said CECOS Adjutant Lt. Mathew Ward.