By: Emily Mulcahey
In 2001, an eighteen-year-old kid walked into an Army recruiting office with the intention of signing up for the Reserves. As fate would have it, a recruiter showed him a promotional video for the infantry—explosions, shooting, and jumping out of airplanes. The teenager’s eyes grew wide—he was hooked, and he signed up for four years of active duty infantry instead.
He’s been doing it ever since.
Sgt. 1st Class Brian Piehler is thirty-three years old, married with two children and fourteen years of service as an infantryman under his belt. In that time, he has seen four one-year deployments to combat zones. He is the epitome of the “one percent.” Now, he is working at Cadet Summer Training (CST) in Fort Knox until August, using his plethora of combat experience to train the next generation of leaders.
This is his third year at CST, and his first time not working directly with the cadets. This summer, he is working in the Leader Development Program (LDP), training the cadre different ways to teach the cadets.
“We teach different methods on how to facilitate a conversation as opposed to talking with a power point behind them,” said Piehler, “there’s no power point—just a marker and a whiteboard.”
His biggest focus is training the cadre not to talk at the cadets, but to engage them in a real conversation.
“We want the cadre to lead the conversation, but the cadets to get the answers themselves” he commented.
In his first year, Piehler worked on tactics with the cadets—essentially training them on quick responses and decision making in the field. After four deployments, Piehler was the perfect man for the job.
“It’s not just me teaching these kids—I learn something every year that I’m here,” he said of his experience at Fort Knox, “well, aside from the tactics stuff my first year, I really enjoyed that because I already knew it, so I really felt like I could contribute something.”
When he is not at CST, Piehler works as an ROTC instructor at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Before this year, CST was based primarily on a grading system. If cadets did not receive an “E” (exceeds the standard), all of their hard work was essentially for naught. They were not going to get active duty or their branch of choice following graduation. This year, there is essentially no grading except for a series of standardized tests, and the new Cadet Leader Course (CLC) is focused largely on team development. No one is trying to outshine anyone else, they are all working towards the same goal—being an excellent team leader.
“This year, the training will be a lot better,” commented Piehler, “no one is trying to one-up anyone else. There is no winner or loser. It’s just everyone training together to reach the same goal.”
Previously, Piehler would return to school after a summer at CST and see the faces of crestfallen cadets who did not “exceed the standard” during their time at Fort Knox. This year, he believes those coming back from CST will have all made a positive change.
“They’re going to get out of it what they put into it,” Piehler stated. “It’s more developmental this year, so I think it will be more beneficial.”
The cadets, and the citizens of the United States, are incredibly lucky to have instructors like Piehler—instructors who have actually been there—instructors who have sacrificed everything to keep us safe, and have received no glory for doing so. It’s because of people like Sgt. 1st Class Brian Piehler that the future of our armed forces will always exceed the standard.