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Draft-era ‘shark attacks’ on Army infantry recruits are over

An initiation developed during the Army’s draft years to help drill sergeants establish “psychological dominance” over infantry trainees has been replaced by a new event intended to emphasize teamwork and trust, according to the Army Infantry School’s senior enlisted soldier.

The decades-old "shark attack” was marked by drill sergeants yelling in trainees' faces as they stepped off the buses at Fort Benning, Georgia, ordering them to perform exercises using loaded duffel bags and instilling a sense of submission in trainees on their first day of training.

“The cornerstones of the event were to establish dominance and authority using intimidation and fear," Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Fortenberry said in a video presenting the school’s new “First 100 Yards” event at the 2020 Maneuver Warfighter Conference, which occurred virtually Sept. 9-10.

“Drill sergeants were charged with assessing the trainees ability to handle stress, singling out the perceived undesirables by enveloping them in a manner that emulated a shark attack,” Fortenberry said.

“This activity, however, does not instill the spirit of the infantry. It betrays the innate trust between teammates and worse, betrays the crucial bond of trust with our leaders,” Fortenberry added.

The old intimidation event was seen as necessary, given the large number of draftees who served in the Army during the Vietnam War. The new event, though, is intended for an all-volunteer force.

The new “First 100 Yards” event will replace shark attacks as trainees' first experience at the 22-week infantry training program.

The five-phase event was developed on-site by senior non-commissioned officers at the Infantry School, officials there said in a news release.

The phases require trainees to memorize information about their unit histories and chains of command; conduct a simplified resupply mission; perform events from the new Army Combat Fitness Test, including leg tucks, standing power throws and push-ups; and observe an infantry squad and weapons demonstration.

It ends with trainees moving to their new platoon bays to begin 14 days of isolated training as part of the recently implemented COVID-19 protocols.

The First 100 Yards event is only the first day of trainees' next 22 weeks of infantry training, which was increased from 14 weeks in 2018 to give trainees more time to develop infantry skill sets, like navigation and weapons handling.

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