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Thread: The Importance and Role of Training in Creating/Sustaining the Best Possible Forces

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default The Importance and Role of Training in Creating/Sustaining the Best Possible Forces

    Many times the subject of training has come up here on the SWJ – we’ve discussed it here in regards to COIN skill sets: such as those associated with operating in a COIN environment; the traits, skills and attributes needed to advise foreign forces; how SOF has benefited from DOTMLPF; retention of soldiers and leaders (to include the attraction to PMCs), and we’ve even shared some lessons about training and how to make units good. SWJ member Ken White has written on many occasions that our biggest deficit resides in the funding of, the planning of, the execution of, and the lack of respect for proper training. We have also had many serious and in depth discussions on organizational (ex. best squad configuration, mech vs.light), equipping (materiel –ex. MRAP, small arms), doctrinal (ex. 3-24, 3-0), leader (ex. Best generals, the Yingling article), etc. – but I don’t feel we’ve spent the same quality time on training. It could be because its not so sexy, hot button, or emotional as many others – but the truth is, you can have the best quality folks with the best gear, and with poor training, somebody else will come along and ruin your day. We’ve succeeded because we do have “better” training then most of our opponents, and that when you sum up our efforts across the DOTMLPF spectrum – we do reasonably well as an aggregate.

    The genesis of this thread came out of the final chapter of Field Marshal Viscount Slim’s book: Defeat into Victory, his account of the Burma Campaign during WWII. In the chapter entitled “After Thoughts” Slim ponders a number of things that I believe are timeless and as relevant today as when they were penned. Within that chapter there is a section marked “Special Forces”, where Slim ponders their utility based on his own experiences. He certainly had an opportunity to consider them, as he saw various special formation in his AOR, and many times had them assigned to him as part of the campaign plan – most notably for many is probably Ord Wingate’s Chindits.

    You have to keep in mind, Slim was a superb trainer - having taken over a Corps in the midst of withdrawal in contact with the Japanese Army back to India, Slim had to face some tough realities – lacking resources, facing tough political pressure, and in the face of a foe that had been attributed bogeyman proportion, Slim grew formations of general purpose forces that eventually became better then their mythical opponents and conducted daily operations of seemingly great complexity under conditions that we’d have to scratch our heads at and wonder how they pulled it off. The terrain and weather in Burma are some of the most inhospitable to large combat operations and the enemy held many advantages at the time – Slim had few resources being among the lesser important areas in comparison to North African and Europe, or even the Pacific theater of operations. Slim had a host of challenges to overcome – he waged Joint and Combined Warfare (working with the Chinese, and the Americans), he had to train and equip indigenous forces from as far away as Africa (a BN, Regiment or Division of this and one of that), he had to overcome politics and egos, he had to overcome insurgent forces that had been brought over to the Japanese side (some Indian and some Burmese), and he had a tenacious enemy who had a great deal of wind behind them – he was not exactly primed for success – certainly not if your in 1942/43 looking forward vs. 2008 looking back! But Slim new he had to start with training – he opened a Jungle School, worked Air Operations (air landings, resupply, parachute, air mechanization, close air support, etc.) - hard given the operational conditions, and he worked staff training – Slim new training was the only thing that would make up for deficiencies in other areas. Slim had a vision and new the path led through some tough training that would prepare the men of what would eventually become the 14th Army for operations that by today’s standards would be those of SOF.

    My own experiences lead me to believe that Slims observations are largely correct (since I was not there I’m limited to what I know through command and staff and applying it to what I read). I was once given a largely blank check about training – for 1 year my team of my 1SG, my PLs, my PSGs, and their NCO leadership had a surplus of resources – time perhaps being the most critical followed closely by land and ammunition to take a 100 man light Infantry company and transform it to a 170 man Stryker equipped rifle company – this is not about the vehicle, but it adds a level of complexity to it that requires additional time (and other resources) to train. We had a great team behind us helping us out – the BN and BDE CDRs and their staffs – but largely the task fell on the soldiers and leaders of the company. The rational behind opening up the flood gates fro resources were that a/1-24th of the 1/25th SBCT would be one of two companies to conduct the IOT&E (Initial Operating Test and Evaluation) of the SBCT concept at Fort Knox in the Summer of 2003 and big Army and many others from DoD would be watching to examine the results – there was (and remains) a war on.

    So from about August of 2002 following the MAV-CE (Medium Armored Vehicle –Comparison & Evaluation) test at FT LEWIS between a platoon of the improved M113A3 and the Stryker (I was one of the BN AS3s at the time and involved with the observations and AAR of the TTP used by the platoons) back in the South Rainier Training Area – then took A/1-24 to begin NET fielding) – we were off and running. For about 1 year we were given a lion’s share of resources to ensure that training deficit would not enter into the results of how the IOT&E played out. I had lots of ammunition, land and a long, long leash (then LTC Emmet Schaill and COL Bob Brown underwrote allot of mistakes and risk on my part - this is also a good place to mention 1SG Joe House, BN CSM Art McCann & BDE CSM Carlton Dietrich - all critical leaders in the endvour). We went about it I think in a smart manner that addressed the task and challenges associated with the scope of the mission. We were all over the place – all of FT Lewis and Yakima, the only folks we played second fiddle to were 3/2 SBCT preparing for their OIF deployment, 2/75th and occasionally the Washington ARNG as it prepped for its OIF deployment – but even then since time was provided, we found ways to train. We had shared vision from the BDE CDR down, and the resulting training of continuous distributed operations from squad through company (with BN and BDE attachments) was exactly what was needed.

    The IOT&E turned out to be a great test – continuous operations across pretty much the entire training areas available (at the time most of it), some mounted, some dismounted, offense, defense, stability, security, etc – for three 14 day iterations with some smaller excursions in between we trained. It was fully resourced and some of the best training I’d ever seen – even when compared to my CTC experiences. We emerged a fantastic company, and I left command of Alpha shortly thereafter to take the BN HHC.

    In the meantime LTC Schaill and COL Brown (COL Schaill now has the EBCT at Bliss and BG Brown is out at PACOM) had been refining their ideas about training to extend it to the rest of the BN and BDE. COL Brown and his staff came up with some great ideas and resources to extend the quality of training to the other BNs and special companies in 1/25th and fostered that kind of thinking in subordinate leaders all the way down to lowest PVT (if you Google COL Robert Brown, Lancer BDE, SBCT, Agility and Adaptive Leadership – you’ll probably find several great articles he penned). The 1/25th went on to have two great MRE/MRXs at the NTC and JRTC, then a deployment to Mosul that went up against a tough enemy – for some good reading take a look at Michael Yon’s blog as he covered it.

    My point in writing about all this is to inform some of our non-uniformed folks in the SWC about the critical role good training (and there is such a bad thing as “not so good training”) and resourcing training play in creating good soldiers, leaders and formations that deploy and win in the adverse and challenging conditions in the places where we fight our wars. It is also to show what is possible in a relatively short time when “better then adequate” resources are combined with good leadership containing a vision about the challenges that will face that force when it goes from training to facing a cunning and creative enemy that wants to survive and win as much as you do.

    I’d also like to ask if we think we could do better? Is the training and resourcing available to our SOF the best we can do, or could we extend that level of training and resourcing to the larger force like I had it extended to me and A/1-24th (and later the whole of 1/25th)? I think the regular forces can achieve a great deal more then given credit for (we certainly see it in Iraq and Afghanistan) on a consistent basis if given the resources and the responsibility/ authority to achieve those results. It’s a case of priorities and underwriting junior leaders so we grow (and sustain) a culture of innovation, adaptiveness and agility that flourishes not only in war, but in our peace time preparations for war – so regardless of where we go or when we go, we can seize and retain the initiative much faster. Some of it is culture, some of it is resources – but the consequences are of vital importance to the health of our armed forces.
    Last edited by Rob Thornton; 01-20-2008 at 07:00 PM.

  2. #2
    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default A few additional thoughts

    Is the thinking that its too resource intensive to provide the quality of training available to SOF to the larger GPF/MPF force pool? Or is it the thinking the GPF/MPF formations can not achieve the same (or close to) standards of the smaller elite force populations? Or is it the idea that only SOF forces require that level of training as they are deployed on a smaller scale, in immature AORs and must be better trained to cope? I'd say with the current challenges ahead to the existing force structure if its the last on we can certainly justify the need.
    Best, Rob

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    In educational theory and higher education literature you can make pretty direct correlations between politics and restrictions on education. Basically any time you say training is to time/cost/physically/etc.. intensive there is some political force at work rather than good educational techniques. Basically what I get from the literature of education is there is no such thing as to intensive. The second thing is that cost is truly relative when dealing with education. Spend more now and save over the lifetime of the entities involved. The fastest way to efficiency is to train harder and faster and more realistically.
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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Default A really good thread Rob!

    I think much of the disconnect between the non-uniformed (not meaning uninformed in the least, though) out there who may postulate about the military, technologies, and strategic underpinnings, is the fact that it often takes a uniformed mind to appreciate the impact of training.

    The realities of the training grind are often lost on those who would propose wholesale shifts in capabilities, mission, T/O&E, etc. Heck, it's even lost on the procurement folks who at times throw equipment at the troops when it has only been tested by Marines in their formal MOS school.

    I concur wholeheartedly that main forces can do so much more (and probably have a baseline of training to do so well) than they currently have the authority for. It's that trust and confidence that's lacking. The opposite attitude rears its ugly head when SOF cannot accomplish some things (I'm currently reading Robert's Ridge) and the more conventional folks start to throw the Rambo moniker around.

    When I was in Australia this summer, I had an interesting discussion with one of my counterpart umpires. He mentioned that among the Australian Army, the main forces are generally considered better prepared for COIN, humanitarian assistance, FID, and all-round small wars, while their SOF formations are better trained to execute conventional ops.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    I concur wholeheartedly that main forces can do so much more (and probably have a baseline of training to do so well) than they currently have the authority for. It's that trust and confidence that's lacking. The opposite attitude rears its ugly head when SOF cannot accomplish some things (I'm currently reading Robert's Ridge) and the more conventional folks start to throw the Rambo moniker around.

    When I was in Australia this summer, I had an interesting discussion with one of my counterpart umpires. He mentioned that among the Australian Army, the main forces are generally considered better prepared for COIN, humanitarian assistance, FID, and all-round small wars, while their SOF formations are better trained to execute conventional ops.
    As jcustis pointed out, there is quite a difference of perspective between what Commonwealth Armies (and to a certain extent, the USMC as well) view as properly belonging to Main Forces and Special Forces, respectively, and what the US Army views in said matter. Most COIN and unconventional warfare that the Commonwealth (and for that matter, the USMC) has ever waged, has been done with Main Forces; Special Forces more often than not simply played a supporting role, and in some cases were not even present.

    The US Army of course, takes a different view, and has two or three times as many Special Forces troopers as it does Rangers. While that certainly makes sense from the US Army's point of view, from a Commonwealth (and I suspect to a large extent, the USMC) point of view, it's just bizarre. Look at Commonwealth SF - even the UK has no more than a single Regular Army SF Battalion - 22 SAS, and only 2 Reserve Battalions and a Reserve Company (The HAC), plus the Royal Marines' Company-sized SBS. The only US SF of the same calibre - 1st SFOD-Delta (or whatever it's calling itself these days) and SEAL Team Six similarly amount to quite small proportions of the entire Army (or Navy's) force.

    And like Commonwealth SF, they do guerrilla warfare very rarely, and only when necessary - if at all. So why all the other Army SF ("Green Berets")? The Commonwealth had its delusions of raising guerrilla armies dispelled over the course of WWII and the 15 years or so following its end; in the end, most of them tend to turn on their teachers. I would suggest that the US experience with the Montagnards/Hmong in Indochina was quite atypical and extraordinary.

    So why have thousands of top-notch, highly-trained and experienced NCOs (I know the latter has changed recently) and officers separated from the rest of the Army and placed into Units that rarely get to perform their main mission, the raising of guerrilla armies - a mission with ultimately dubious consequences - and not in the regular infantry? The Commonwealth learned in the decades after WWII that the old way of giving someone 3 or 4 months of "training" (too much of it spent on nonsense and not real training) didn't cut it when you had to perform LIC and COIN in former colonies and still prepare to fight WWIII in Europe, all the while on very constrained budgets.

    That's where the 6-month Infantry syllabus for Riflemen came from - necessity in the face of shrinking budgets with attendant lower manpower levels and cuts in equipment procurements. While SF became even more specialized, most of the roles previously reserved for Commando Forces were (sucessfully) taken over by Line Battalions (with vastly improved training), and the remaining Commando Forces concentrated on Mountain, Amphibious, and Airborne Operations (as the Royal Marines and the Rangers do). Fewer troops have to be able to do it all (or almost all), with less.

    Rob's right; the SOF-type training that his CO was able to let him pursue in his old Unit was exactly the right thing to do. As the Marines say, a Rifleman can do anything - provided he is afforded and allowed the proper training, and sufficient of it. There certainly is a role for Special Forces - of the SAS/SBS kind, which is in line with what Lord Slim described as being the sort of unit that requires no more than a handful of men for its missions. But realistically speaking, I rather doubt there is a real justification for maintaining seven 1,200 or 1,500-man Groups of first-rate officers and NCOs for a (primary) role that has rarely panned out in practice. Much better to take Slim's advice and put these fine men into the Regular Army and to help assimilate the standards of the Main Forces much closer to that of the US Army Special Forces than those of a draftee mass-army.

    The English-speaking Armies are only going to get smaller for the most part, and on even tighter budgets. There's only so many (or rather, so few) troops to go around, and funds to kit them out. One of the main antidotes to this problem is going down the road that Rob proposes: SOF-type training for all Infantry.
    Last edited by Norfolk; 01-21-2008 at 02:24 AM.

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    Council Member Uboat509's Avatar
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    With all due respect, Norfolk, you clearly don't know what SF does. If "building guerilla armies" was all that we did then we might have ceased to exist a long time ago. We perform a whole series missions, many of which are not for public consumption. We do not simply duplicate what the big Army is already doing. On the contrary, we avoid certain missions because other units are already doing those missions and it would be a pointless duplication of effort and a waste of resources. Much of what we do, we do because no one else is trained or equiped to do it.

    I fail to see how MAJ Thornton's training, awesome as it was, could be considered SOF training. SOF training is training for SOF missions it is not simply regular infantry training with more resources. Contrary to popular belief we do not have unlimited budget and resources either. Could regular forces be brought to a higher standard, given suficient budget and resources? Of course, but can they do do the same missions that SOF does as well as SOF? If they could then the conventional Army would have gotten rid of us long ago.

    SFC W

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