Post-conflict Era to Challenge Military Trainers

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2011 — With just two months remain­ing on his brigade’s deploy­ment to Afghanistan as part of the 30,000-troop surge there, Army Col. Sean Jenk­ins has seen the oper­a­tional ben­e­fit of the nose-to-the-grind­stone train­ing reg­i­men and near­ly back-to-back deploy­ments on his sol­diers.

Operation Red Storm, which cleared the Gwashta Pass
A U.S. sol­dier with 1st Bat­tal­ion, 506th Infantry Reg­i­ment, Task Force Red Cur­ra­hee, 4th Brigade Com­bat Team, 101st Air­borne Divi­sion, Task Force Cur­ra­hee, rests after climb­ing to a moun­tain top near the area where his pla­toon secured key ter­rain in Afghanistan’s Pak­ti­ka province. The soldier’s mor­tar pla­toon pro­vid­ed indi­rect-fire sup­port dur­ing Oper­a­tion Red Storm, which cleared the Gwash­ta Pass, May 23 to May 28, 2011.
U.S. Army pho­to by Sgt. Matthew Gra­ham
Click to enlarge

“They’re remark­able,” Jenk­ins told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice of his 101st Air­borne Divi­sion, 4th Brigade Com­bat Team sol­diers oper­at­ing along Afghanistan’s long bor­der with Pak­istan in remote Pak­ti­ka province.

The colonel mar­veled at his sol­diers’ abil­i­ty to make deci­sions with strate­gic con­se­quences in the blink of an eye and to accom­plish the near-impos­si­ble. Bor­row­ing a quote from Army Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, com­man­der of the U.S. Army Maneu­ver Cen­ter of Excel­lence, Jenk­ins said, “I think if we told them to go to Mars in two weeks, they would fig­ure out a way to get there.”

But as the Unit­ed States removes all of its forces from Iraq by the year’s end and eval­u­ates the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan this sum­mer with an eye toward an even­tu­al draw­down there as well, Jenk­ins finds him­self among those ques­tion­ing how to main­tain this force after the deploy­ments end.

How, after the longest mil­i­tary con­flict in U.S. his­to­ry, will the all-vol­un­teer force down­shift from the full-steam-ahead momen­tum it’s main­tained for a decade and adapt to post-com­bat train­ing?

“They have seen so much, they have expe­ri­enced so much, they have been so busy. How do you main­tain that?” Jenk­ins asked. “I don’t think [the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter] or [Nation­al Train­ing Cen­ter] is going to keep them all excit­ed.”

Jenk­ins acknowl­edged that the Army has devel­oped some bona fide “adren­a­line junkies.”

It’s not that they want to go to war and get shot at, he empha­sized. It’s not that they want to leave their fam­i­lies for 12 months at a time. “Nobody wants that,” he said.

After the cur­rent mil­i­tary oper­a­tions end, Jenk­ins said, America’s com­bat-test­ed troops will want to par­tic­i­pate in chal­leng­ing train­ing that’ll main­tain the capa­bil­i­ties they’ve worked so hard to build over the past decade.

“They thrive on it,” the colonel said.

“A poor anal­o­gy would be that I prac­tice foot­ball all sea­son long, but nev­er get to play in a game,” Jenk­ins added. “You are tru­ly there for the love of the game.”

And for today’s troops, “you are tru­ly there for the love of your coun­try,” the colonel said. “That’s why you are in the mil­i­tary, and that’s why you are in the Army. But you don’t want to just sit. You have to prac­tice your trade.”

That does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean hav­ing to deploy to anoth­er coun­try, Jenk­ins said, but will put some heavy demands on lead­ers to keep sol­diers engaged when they return to a post-con­flict gar­ri­son envi­ron­ment.

“It means that we as lead­ers have to pro­vide them incred­i­bly well-thought-out, chal­leng­ing, reward­ing train­ing, to keep that edge,” Jenk­ins said. “We are a learn­ing orga­ni­za­tion, and we will have to keep fig­ur­ing it out.”

(Edi­tors Note: This the first arti­cle in a series about how the Defense Depart­ment and mil­i­tary ser­vices plan to main­tain com­bat effec­tive­ness and readi­ness as the cur­rent oper­a­tional tem­po begins to decline.)

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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