After candidates have completed the instructional phase of Candidate Term, their skills are put to the test in a series of practical exercises and evaluations. The culmination of this sequence is a weekend-long Field Training Exercise (FTX) that is known as Operation STEADFAST LIGHTNING (OSL), which is modeled after the ROBIN SAGE culmination exercise of US Army Special Forces training. A-12 uses the ROBIN SAGE concept as a mechanism to force candidates and members to conduct a complex multi-faceted operation.

Candidates are thoroughly briefed beforehand on a simulated mission profile and are given specific mission objectives to achieve. Then, on the day of the event, they are inserted “behind enemy lines” and are expected to operate on their own initiative until they join forces with a friendly guerrilla group. A-12 cadre augment the candidates’ squad, play the role of the guerrillas and of the enemy, create the simulation within which the candidates operate, and monitor the safety of everyone involved in the event.

STEADFAST LIGHTNING challenges candidates by forcing them to put everything they have learned to use in a tactical and operational environment. Candidates spend a significant period of time preparing for every aspect of the operation and are expected to be able to brief and defend their plans to the cadre. Once the operation has begun, candidates lead missions utilizing land navigation & GPS techniques, patrolling & small-unit tactics, emergency field medical skills, interaction with “foreign” personnel, and problem solving skills.

The overall purpose of the event is to pull the candidates out of the usual ROTC and Candidate Term environment, and put them into an unfamiliar situation in which they (instead of the cadre) are fully responsible for the planning, preparation, and successful completion of a complicated operation.

For many candidates, STEADFAST LIGHTNING represents the first time they have been put in charge of anything, much less a complex event, and most come away from the exercise with both a sense of accomplishment and a better understanding of which skills may need more work. In order to reinforce these lessons, candidates immediately undergo a detailed After Action Review, which focuses on their performance during every aspect of the operation, from planning to completion.

During the review, special emphasis is placed on demonstrating the importance of constant situational and operational awareness, and on showing how detailed and thorough planning can anticipate and prevent mistakes and misjudgments. Since all A-12 members have gone through the STEADFAST LIGHTNING experience themselves, both as candidates and as cadre, they are well-suited to help the candidates learn as much as possible from the exercise.

In the past, STEADFAST LIGHTNING has been run as a 12th Regiment training exercise, with members and candidates from other Pershing Rifles companies participating. The event increases members’ tactical and operational proficiency by presenting an operation which must be meticulously planned, logistically supported, and executed in adherence to a strict schedule, in order to create the training scenario infrastructure within which the candidates will conduct their own operational simulation.

In addition to planning and general operational theory and procedures, members also get specific training and experience in tactical radio communication networks; vehicle convoys; map, compass, & GPS navigation; and wilderness living techniques. A-12 members generally come away from the exercise with an increased awareness of the challenges inherent in planning and conducting complex operations. Additionally, the multi-company nature of the event strengthens the existing bonds of brotherhood within the Pershing Rifles organization.