My co-author Craig had an excellent post at his home blog the other day about how, in spite of all the changes over the last couple hundred years, so little has changed when it comes to good training.
In spite of the billions of dollars we Americans spend on hardware, the real key to the level of achievement is the even greater sums of money we spend on training. Our Army trains at a level that virtually no other force in the world can even comprehend, much less match.
Looking at Craig’s post, you see a concrete example involving artillery crews. If the crews haven’t practiced building and firing form the batteries they’d be expected to fire from in battle, they just aren’t trained to do their job. At the time of the writing, it was common for cannon crews to train on the drill of loading and firing, but it was extremely rare for those crews to do that drill under realistic field conditions. Muller was recommending that those crews should, in fact, practice under the conditions they would almost certainly fight under. Under the “crawl, walk, run” theory, just training in the drill of loading and firing would be the “crawl” phase. Adding more realistic conditions, step by step, would make for more realistic, and more challenging (and more interesting) training.
The same hold true today. An infantry unit gearing up for a deployment to war will start with the very basics. And they’ll do training under less than arduous conditions. The unit is focusing on fundamentals. As the unit masters those fundamentals, they’ll increase the level of difficulty, and the realism of the conditions the training.
If you haven’t faced a problem 100 times in training, you’ll struggle to cope with it in combat. The challenge is, there just isn’t time to train for every condition you will face on the battlefield. You have to prioritize your training to focus on the most likely challenges you will face (hence the term Craig mentions- Battle Focused Training). Commanders provide this focus by what we call the Mission Essential Task List, or METL. That is, what are those jobs the unit must be able to do to accomplish its mission? Once the commander has established the METL, he can resource and guide his training to achieving proficiency on those tasks throughout his unit. And he’ll do that in a “crawl, walk, run” manner.
By increasing the difficulty and realism of training, the commander is letting his subordinate leaders and soldiers exercise their own abilities. Once you get past rote tasks such as “assemble the M16,” there’s a great deal of room for personal technique and initiative. And a side benefit of that is that leaders and soldiers who are used to facing unexpected conditions when training for one of the tasks they know they’ll be called on to perform, also are able to exercise imitative and judgment when faced with tasks they haven’t been trained for.
Lex talks about the value of checklists in the real world, and how just one missed step can bite you in the ass (or punch you in the face, as it were). And that’s true. I wouldn’t dream of going into combat without a thorough Pre-Combat Inspection Checklist (PCL). But the other side of the coin is that you cannot reduce combat to a neat and tidy checklist. The aviation example of the other side of the coin is SwissAir 811. The crew spent so much time being fastidious about following the checklists for smoke in the cockpit, they forgot the very first priority-get on the ground.
I’m sure Esli or Craig or you can provide any number of examples of how training, either in the Army or for your civilian job, has proved valuable in achieving your mission. But I’m also willing to bet you’ve faced a situation where you weren’t trained, but still expected to git ‘er done.