Suwannee Democrat

Features

October 18, 2012

From cadet to soldier

A young man’s journey

Live Oak — “We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” 
That was the ending tag from a US Army television commercial from the 1980s. It was designed for the recruiting purpose to entice young men and women who perhaps were looking for something different or maybe more than typically entering the work force or going the college route after high school. Although their catch phrase may have changed, the rigorous, squeeze-every-moment-out-of-life philosophy is still going on.

Ken Woods is a former student of Suwannee High School. Although not one of those teens not knowing what direction he was going to take after graduating, Ken’s chosen path has led him on a journey beyond his wildest dreams that’s given him an education and experience that has surpassed his 23 years.

Woods, while a student at SHS, entered the ROTC program and through discipline and hard work, became the commanding officer. Upon graduation in 2007, he entered the United States Military Academy at Westpoint.

While a cadet, Woods, through intensive medical training, became an Army 68W (68 Whiskey) Army Combat Medic. By the fourth year or often called “firstie”, Woods became a first class cadet.

In 2011, Woods chose to go in the Infantry, so it it was off to I.B.O.L.C., or Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course at Ft. Benning, Columbus, Ga.

This training teaches young fresh-out-of-academy soldiers to become platoon leaders. An average size platoon consists of 40-50 soldiers. The I.B.O.L.C. training lasted 16 weeks and upon completion, Woods entered Ranger School. The school lasted 61 days broken up into three phases, each phase about three weeks long.

The first phase is the initial phase or “Camp Darby” named in memory after Brigadier General William O. Darby who was killed by enemy artillery on April 30, 1945 on the shore of Lake Garda, Italy.

Significant is the Darby name because during WWII, Darby, while in Ireland, became interested in the British Commandos and decided to form his Ranger units that later evolved into the US Army Rangers. It was because of Darby that Ranger School was established.

“Missions at Darby consist of squad level tasks involving ambushes and reconnaissance, each lasting one day,” said Woods. “The day would start by receiving the mission from higher-ups, and then developing an OPORD (Operations Order) for your squad, and then briefing this to them. After you planned and briefed every aspect of the mission to the smallest and most intricate detail, you rehearse what your squad will do for actions on the objective, and then you embark on the mission.”

The smallest of details would include knowing exactly how many paces you will walk to a destination, when and where you will stop, when you'll drink and how much.
The second phase is called “mountains” at Camp Merrill in Dahlonega, Ga. and Woods describes this as being by far the most physically challenging of the three phases.

“The one thing ingrained into me was the knowledge of what I'm physically and mentally capable of. Sometimes we would climb three mountains in one day with 100 plus pounds of equipment,” said Woods. 
Mountains included receiving instruction on mountaineering tasks, mobility training and learning how to engage in continuous combat patrol operations in that type of environment. This phase also involves a lot of climbing and rapelling.

Field exercises in the mountains phase lasted five days. Missions typically lasted a day each and consisted of platoon level tasks involving ambushes and raids.

“It is absolutely the phase where you learn what being a Ranger really is,” Woods said. “It’s the ability to lead soldiers when you and they are at their absolute worst, tired, hungry, cold and in the most miserable of conditions, and still accomplish the mission.”

Then after mountains, Woods was off to phase three, known to cadets as “Florida.”

This puts the cadets right outside Eglin Air Force Base located in Okaloosa county, Fla.

“It’s also known as the jungle and swamp phase because there’s a lot of swamps,” Woods said. “We were coming in from helicopters and jumping from planes.”

While there, he and other soldiers continued their platoon tactics and missions that again involved ambushes and raids, but field exercises in Florida lasted 10 days with missions typically being one day each.

Woods has also received training in airborne and air assault. He was stationed at Saint Cyr for six months in Brittany, France where he became fluent in Portuguese and French.

Woods trained with the 13th Regiment of the French Foreign Legion learning desert warfare at Djibouti, Africa near Ethiopia and Somalia. He was there about 40 days. He then went to Cadet Leader Training at Camp Casey, South Korea which is about 40 miles north of Seoul and 12 miles from the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ.

It may not come as a surprise to learn that Woods’ father was in the Army and was a veteran of the Gulf War. When asked if his father helped guide the direction he took in life, Woods explained how his father, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division and paratrooper in the Gulf War, was and still is a huge influence to him.

“He instilled in me the dedication and discipline I needed to stay focused in school at a young age, and this carried on to how I live my life now,” said Woods. “When I was a child and would get in trouble, my father would punish me by making me read, type, or some sort of physical activity such as running, push-ups, or sit-ups. His form of punishment was always constructive and meaningful.”

Woods added that his father had been deployed to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield and, while in Iraq for Desert Storm, was wounded in combat and honorably discharged.

What’s next for Woods’ already extensive military training and career?

He and only one other out of his platoon were selected to be stationed as 2nd brigade, 25th Infantry Division Schofield Barracks, Oahu, Hawaii.

After a short time in Hawaii, Woods is off to Japan to train with the Japanese Army.

When asked about advice to others, Woods said, ”Not meaning to sound cliche’, but my advice is to set a goal and attain it. If you want something as bad as you want to breathe, then you reach your goal. You need to want it that bad, ”
Woods went on. “You have to be willing to work harder and longer than all of your peers, while remaining morally and ethically sound. The minute you slack up, there is someone who is willing to go the distance that will take the place you were trying to achieve.”

He concluded, “Stay focused and let nothing distract you or detain you from reaching what you want to become.”

Currently, Woods is a Second Lieutenant and will be promoted to First Lieutenant this November.

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