Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Ghost of Failures Past - ARFORGEN

One of the programs cited by the CNGR report as an example to be emulated is the Army’s program for generating troops units which program is called ARFORGEN. This program is a throw back to training theology that failed to provide adequately trained forces for combat in Korea and Vietnam, and was dropped as Army doctrine after Vietnam.

The training cycle approach assumes that there is a hierarchy of skill sets that build on each other in a logical fashion with individual skills upwards. I experienced this model when I was stationed with the 3rd Armored Division (Spearhead) posted on the Hessian Corridor opposite the Fulda Gap. My sectors as a platoon leader on the FEBA (what we used to call the “front line”) was about two kilometers long overlooking Bad Hersfeld and one just north of Fulda itself. Hardly a speed bump for the swarms of Soviet tanks.

Our training cycle started in the Spring with NBC and marksmanship, upgrading to squad training and platoon training before we went to our “summer camp” at Hohenfels or Grafenwohr. By the time we were training companies, our skills at squad and individual levels were already deteriorating. When the ground froze, the time for battalion, brigade and division level training had arrived and we spent increasing amounts of time being deployed in a more realistic set of Conditions (as in Action, Condition, Standard) that provided the proper mix for the effective training at lower levels.

Our perception of maneuver for a training model for squad, platoon, and company done at those levels was the same scheme: lay down a base of fire and maneuver on the flanks. We didn’t know it then that Soviet defensive doctrine was designed to create fire pockets on the flanks of their squads, platoon, and companies. ARVN was trained with this model only to be shot to pieces after our retreat from Vietnam when they had to go up against a peer force of NVA in places like the Iron Triangle and Michelin. Our favored maneuver plan worked only with isolated pockets.

All training in successive levels for the attack were based on hill tops fit for whatever unit level was being trained. There were squad sized hills, platoon sized hills, etc. The problem was that squad training was rarely done in the context of a platoon formation, but alone.

The favored plan of maneuver at battalion to division level was the “mobile” defense with a presumed penetration in the center of the sector to be followed by a smashing counter attack by the reserve which accounted for at least half of the deployed units combat power. I never saw this plan ever successfully used.

The environment for platoon training improved as the size of the exercise increased as the tactical environment became more eclectic with lots of rapid movements determined on the fly. Unlike Ft Benning’s concept of troop leading steps, I rarely saw my company commander more than once or twice a day except in a laager in between movements. We typically would put fifty miles a day on our odometers switching from one part of the battle to the other.

My platoon rarely sat still for more than four hours. All training was focused on battle drills from which only a verbal frago was needed to modify a standard maneuver. It was only in the context of a platoon maneuver that the squad’s tactical environment started to evolve. The only meaningful training that still sticks in my mind, was that done in the context of the division level exercises. I used this experience in the Third Herd to train my MI Battalion in it’s role as a division tactical intelligence battalion some twenty years later.

After Vietnam, the Army dropped the training cycle approach, and adopted what became known as BTMS (Battalion Training Management System) which gave the battalion commander the primary authority to determine the training requirements of his/her command. Unfortunately this cut out the control freaks on higher level staffs, and ARFORGEN has returned mini-micromanagement back from it’s Pentomic grave.

As an instructor at USAICS (the intelligence school) at Ft Hootchy Kootchy on the Mexican Border, the concept of “systems engineered performance oriented training” was stolen from SAC and applied in the Service Schools, later morphing into BTMS. In this approach, all jobs for soldiers and unit were broken out spread sheet wise, and lumped into skills, knowledge, and attitudes, further parsed into whether these were appropriate to school or unit training.

The fusion of these approaches also gave primacy of training to the leader at the level being trained. It put squad leaders in charge of training their troops and required all leaders to have “hip pocket” lists of tasks to train for when the optempo allowed it. Every time my battalion paused in the conduct of training operations (fully deployed in the field) the lower unit commanders and leaders were expected and did train those skills on the spot.

As a trainer in the 75th Division in the early eighties, this program was working in all of the components Army wide. I watched as Guard units reach heights of excellence above that which I experienced in either Germany or Vietnam with Regular Army units. This approach is responsible for creating the best trained Army this nation has ever fielded.

ARFORGEN, by returning to the failed policies of the past threatens the sustainment of the “band of excellence” necessary for forces to retain to meet the historically persistent need to drop what you are doing and go to war “as you are”.

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