By Amaani Lyle
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii, May 21, 2015 – On a hilltop nestled deep in the Wahiawa jungle, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeff Bermudez reminded his students, laden with gear and rifles, that despite their imminent task to rappel down a 60-foot drop to flatter ground, they’re lucky.
“A little while ago it was raining, and this ground would’ve been slicker than goose grease,” he told his trainees, who eyed the rope and small tree they’d soon rely on to buffer gravity.
Bermudez, a cadre instructor, teaches hasty rappel in addition to several other courses, including communications and how to counter improvised explosive devices, at the 25th Infantry Division’s Lightning Academy Jungle Operations Training Center, which is almost two years old.
Operating in a Jungle Environment
The rigorous, realistic, yet safety-focused training courses are open to both U.S. service members and Asia-Pacific partners, which cadre members said strengthens trust, increases cultural awareness and fosters teamwork among the different militaries.
Typically, the schoolhouse runs consecutive cycles with courses in session each month and separated by breaks ranging from a week to about 30 days, Bermudez explained.
But the objective for each class remains consistent, he said.
“We want the students to pull out of the course the skills needed to operate in a jungle environment,” Bermudez said. “Everything that we teach here is relevant … from basic skills to how to operate as a team.”
He noted the need to learn not only survival techniques, but methods that may protect others’ lives in remote regions subject to extreme factors such as heat, humidity, dense foliage and sudden weather changes.
Value of Training With Partner Nations
Since his involvement with the school, Bermudez said he has already traveled to Australia, where he completed a 10-week operations course, and Malaysia, to conduct a five-week jungle warfare course which consisted of survival, combat tracking, classroom instruction and an overall field training exercise.
He also recently returned from the Philippines, where he participated in a three-day survival course the host nation’s special operations forces conducted for the 25th Infantry Division and other partner militaries.
“That was informative and thus far the best survival training I’ve been through,” Bermudez said.
Conversely, in the last year, the 25th ID Lightning Academy, also known as Tropic Thunder, hosted Malaysian army cadre for and exchange of ideas and best practices.
“The [Malaysian soldiers] do this on a daily basis, so they have more than enough information to pass on to us,” Bermudez said. “Having them come down is here was very helpful and much appreciated.”
Even relatively simple tasks such as rope tying, water procurement and campfire basics can pay great survival dividends in an operational or humanitarian assistance environment, Bermudez said, noting the latter’s particular relevance in light of Nepal’s April 25 magnitude-7.8 quake and ensuing devastating aftershocks.
Though other training and real-world events create some uncertainty in class sizes, Bermudez said a maximum student capacity of 100 is what best facilitates clear, concise instruction and closer attention to students’ grasp of the material.
Bermudez noted that some students have queried about the long-term payoff of the course.
But his response, he said, is consistent: “Take the skill that we teach you here and apply it throughout your missions.”
Still, Bermudez said he ultimately hopes to soon see the Lightning Academy become not only an accredited school, but evolve into an even greater valuable training venue that creates competent, resilient and adaptable soldiers.