Saturday, December 22, 2007

Dumbing Down the Force - Rotational Training

Once discredited, the rotational training cycle has returned as a part of preparing troops for war. It was discredited after Vietnam as it was found that concurrent training at multiple levels under what was called Systems Engineer Performance Oriented Training, later dubbed BTMS (Battalion Training Management System) was far more effective and efficient. At the core of the systems engineering part was the break down of what needed to be done on the battlefield into Tasks with attendant Conditions and Standards. This was aggregated into a hierarchy of tasks, called Mission Essential Task Lists (METL) for the entire chain of command.

The analysis of the performance orientation aspect of training quickly came to the conclusion that concurrent training of all levels was more efficient and effective. Under BTMS, the Army’s level of competence rose faster than in any period since the Revolution. Until Vietnam, the collective competence of an Army could go to practically ineffective in less than five years. Task Force Smith of Korean War ignominy, where troops from Occupied Japan were clobbered by North Korean troops raised and trained after WW2.

This did not happen after Vietnam. The Army reassessed itself and rebuilt itself. The Reserve Components did likewise and in my opinion (based on experience with the 75th in large unit exercises) they were better trained at all levels than the troops that I had served with in Germany and in Vietnam.

Key to this revival was concurrent training which turned the training of individuals over to the NCO, and of the unit to the leadership. This, coupled with NCOES professional training for the NCO empowered the whole chain of command which had been serious weakening in the Fifties and Pre-War Sixties by officers doing the work of sergeants, and sergeants being over paid privates.

BTMS had two fatal flaws. It cut out the Colonels and the staffniks at levels above battalion. And in the words of the ruff and ready, no combat ready unit ever passed an paperwork inspection, nor a paper ready unit ever pass combat. DTMS was difficult to paper over as it was too complex and irrelevant for combat ready units to mess with.

Power abhors a vacuum and into the breach charged the Staffniks with Mandatory Training Requirements, and consolidated training under staff control. Staff control of unit activities is gratifying to the frustrated staffnik who wants the fun of command without the responsibilities. Any successes go to staff and the blame to command. This isn’t peculiar to the Army or to the military in particular as many a corporate employee can attest.

Once the Pentagon realized, as had many of the Two Star Crowd in the Field, that RC units were more than “up to snuff” but better than AC units, the panic button was pushed. After years of raising the performance bar for RC units, hoping they would trip and stumble, until the bar was raised above the standards for AC units, the Pentagon had to act decisively. They scrapped the mobilization plans based on METT-T (Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops Available and Time) to one based solely on the Time and Troops Available, ignoring Mission, Enemy and Terrain.

Included in this “Transformation”, is the Return of the Training Cycle. It makes a sort of crude simplicity and clarity of definition with successive levels of command being trained in succession as if one level was dependent on lower levels for competence at each level. While this may make sense for an individual destined for a command slot, it is counter productive for a collection of individuals who have to operate with other collections of individuals. A rifle squad operates in conjunction with an artillery gun crew through the fire direction system which involves several staffs in between.

The Training Cycle that I was experienced in prior to Vietnam was on an annual basis, not the five year basis under Transformation. In Germany the culmination of the Training Cycle was when the ground froze and we could conduct large scale maneuvers, up to division on division. The Cycle restarted after the thaw and individual training resumed. Given the destructive effect of the Duty Roster on training, the only real training we got was when the harvest was in and we could maneuver through “Comrade’s” farm yards. Individual and Squad training was ineffective.

Early in my career, whilst I was a young sergeant in the 63rd Division USAR at Camp Roberts, my Company Commander, one Otto Atkinson, took our company to the field the Sunday we arrived and returned the following Friday night. In the field we dug in, wired, and “mined” the area and conducted training 24/6. Later, in the 3rd Armored Division (Spearhead) in Germany, one battalion commander (Don Starry) showed the Division Commander the amount of time lost in garrison and convinced him that the Division should move to the field while at Hohenfels. Our training time tripled and administrative time virtually disappeared.

Later, as Battalion Commander of the 304th MI Bn (USAR) I took my battalion to Ft Hood to participate in Operation Starburst which was the 49th Armored Division (TXARNG) which was fully deployed, guns and all. It was a target rich environment for our direction finding, traffic analysis, counter intelligence and command capabilities.
It was a vicious fight to get my battalion free of staffnik control as, but under the rules of the road at the time, I had the responsibility for the training, not them.

The most valuable lesson learned was the complexity of interface with other units for support and to support. This was extremely difficult to simulate in training particularly since few knew of those relationships not having exercised them in reality, virtual or actual.

In short, concurrent training of a chain of command in environments replicating those of combat deployment 24/7 year round is the optimum training environment. Simulation, even sustained simulation using a continuous scenario, is proving to be an effective tool to cut the costs of full up 24/7.

Imagine an RC unit reporting in for their battle drill weekend, and walk into a war in progress in a mix of simulation and field work as if checking in from a previous day. The actual size of the unit involved could be as small as a squad or as large as a full division.

Based on the observations of over forty years, I find that the training cycle approach is the most efficient system to dumb down a force. And with five year cycle, unit commanders who have to go to war with their unit may have never commanded it.

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