USA — General Discusses Changes to Initial Army Training

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2010 — Army basic train­ing is where the ser­vice takes a young man or woman straight from civil­ian life and, in 10 weeks, trans­forms that per­son into a sol­dier.
For enlist­ed per­son­nel, basic train­ing is a rite of pas­sage.

But the rite is not sta­t­ic. In America’s ninth straight year of war, Army basic train­ing has changed again to adapt to the con­flicts the coun­try is in and the chang­ing nature of Amer­i­can youth, said Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, chief of ini­tial entry train­ing at the Army’s Train­ing and Doc­trine Com­mand.

Hertling, who spoke about the changes at the Defense Writ­ers’ Group here, yes­ter­day, pre­vi­ous­ly com­mand­ed the 1st Armored Divi­sion and Multi­na­tion­al Divi­sion North in Iraq. More than a year ago, Army Gen. Mar­tin Dempsey, com­man­der of Train­ing and Doc­trine Com­mand, tasked Hertling to look at what the Army was doing in train­ing to see if the ser­vice was keep­ing up with oper­a­tions. “He want­ed me to take a look at the ‘dan­ger zones’ for what we’re miss­ing and what we’re doing,” the gen­er­al said.

He also exam­ined what the ser­vice is doing to address the train­ing needs of this gen­er­a­tion.

The scope of the effort is huge. All sol­diers go through some form of ini­tial train­ing, whether it is basic train­ing for enlist­ed per­son­nel or the basic course for war­rant and com­mis­sioned offi­cers. Hertling’s play­book includes advanced indi­vid­ual train­ing. All told, the Army trains 160,000 sol­diers per year.

“That is about the amount that the Air Force, Navy and Marines train com­bined,” Hertling said. “The train­ing base cov­ers 37 dif­fer­ent instal­la­tions, and we run the gamut from train­ing an infantry­man to train­ing a plumber.”

In train­ing, the Army con­cen­trates on three dif­fer­ent areas: skills, val­ues and attrib­ut­es. The skills piece is every­thing a sol­dier needs to do, from “shoot to salute,” the gen­er­al said. Val­ues train­ing, he said, focus­es on every­thing that makes up the Army cul­ture, and the attrib­ut­es area refers to recruits’ phys­i­cal and men­tal capa­bil­i­ties. “What we’ve seen over eight years of war is a lot of peo­ple say­ing, ‘Train this,’ and there has been a con­stant del­uge of things to train,” he said. “But the time is lim­it­ed, and there needs to be a deter­mi­na­tion on what is a com­mon sub­ject that all sol­diers must learn, and what is best taught at the unit.”

Sol­diers deploy­ing to Iraq or Afghanistan need to con­cen­trate on coun­terin­sur­gency, he said, while those going to Europe or the Kore­an penin­su­la need to con­cen­trate on com­bined arms oper­a­tions. “In either case,” he added, “the unit is the best school.”

When he arrived, Hertling said, the basic train­ing pro­gram of instruc­tion list­ed tasks that took up 785.5 hours. But basic train­ing had only 660 hours avail­able. “So we were try­ing to shove 780 hours of instruc­tion into a 660-hour block, and it’s just phys­i­cal­ly impos­si­ble,” he said. “So I went around to the drill sergeants and asked, ‘What aren’t you teach­ing?’

“As I delved into things,” he con­tin­ued, “I found we weren’t teach­ing some of the things we should have been, and drill sergeants were tak­ing the lessons they per­son­al­ly learned from the check­point in Bagram, or the cor­don-and-search in Diyala or the road guard they were doing in Tikrit, and they were say­ing, ‘This is the most impor­tant thing, because this is what I expe­ri­enced.’ It may not be what the kid expe­ri­ences when he gets to his first unit of assign­ment.”

So Hertling and his staff looked at stan­dard­iz­ing what the Army includ­ed in train­ing and refin­ing the pro­gram of instruc­tion. They rammed the revised pro­gram through the train­ing command’s bureau­cra­cy in four and a half months – near record time – and today all basic train­ing posts are using the new pro­gram.

The study showed some chal­lenges. Phys­i­cal train­ing of recruits has been made tougher in this gen­er­a­tion, just as many ele­men­tary and high schools in Amer­i­ca have elim­i­nat­ed phys­i­cal edu­ca­tion. Com­put­er games and oth­er seden­tary activ­i­ties have grown in pop­u­lar­i­ty, as youth par­tic­i­pa­tion in sports has declined. The ques­tion, Hertling said, becomes how the Army trains a recruit who grew up in an envi­ron­ment “where we focus more on play­ing with their thumbs than play­ing with a bat, [and] where our nutri­tion stan­dards are get­ting worse on a dai­ly basis. How do you train them to hump a ruck­sack at 9,000 feet in the Hin­du Kush?”

Phys­i­cal train­ing has changed to take into con­sid­er­a­tion that many of the recruits show up with less-dense bones than those a gen­er­a­tion ago, Hertling said. Val­ues train­ing, he added, also has changed. The idea is more par­tic­i­pa­to­ry and cov­ers hon­or­ing the Army val­ues in com­bat, on post and at home, Hertling said.

Some changes Hertling insti­tut­ed have been con­tro­ver­sial. The gen­er­al elim­i­nat­ed bay­o­net train­ing, and fir­ing the .50-cal­iber machine gun. He said he heard the blow­back from retirees and oth­ers who charged he did not under­stand the spir­it of the bay­o­net.

“The last bay­o­net charge the U.S. Army par­tic­i­pat­ed in was 1951,” he said. “Also, in a coun­terin­sur­gency envi­ron­ment, you car­ry an M-4 car­bine strapped around your chest. You can’t do much with a bay­o­net.

“What’s inter­est­ing though, is if bay­o­net train­ing is that impor­tant and it’s the cen­ter­piece of every­thing we do, why is it the only place it’s taught is at basic train­ing?” he added. “If it’s that impor­tant, you’d think all the oper­a­tional units would have bay­o­net assault cours­es.” Hertling not­ed that in 35 years in the Army, he has nev­er seen a bay­o­net course except in basic train­ing.

The new pro­gram also elim­i­nates con­voy live-fire oper­a­tions. The exer­cise was pushed into basic train­ing after the ear­ly days in Iraq when a sup­ply con­voy was ambushed. But defend­ing a con­voy is invari­ably a team project. Team­mates need to work togeth­er and train togeth­er to be suc­cess­ful. Hertling argues that this train­ing is best done by the units. Army lead­ers under­stand that today’s gen­er­a­tion learns dif­fer­ent­ly, Hertling said, point­ing out that young recruits are more depen­dent on smart phones and work with the Inter­net almost instinc­tive­ly. The Army, he said, is respond­ing with appli­ca­tions for their hand-held devices.

An appli­ca­tion called “Apps for the Army” lists every­thing a sol­dier needs to know. While it can be read, oth­er por­tions are spo­ken, and still oth­ers have video. “It’s the way this gen­er­a­tion learns,” he said. “They are a mul­ti-task­ing gen­er­a­tion.”

Over­all, Hertling said, his mis­sion is to send to units “a sol­dier who is dis­ci­plined, under­stands the skills and val­ues and has the phys­i­cal attrib­ut­es, and we’ve only got 10 weeks to do it.”

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

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