New changes to Basic Combat Training

Not surprisingly, the experiences of returning soldiers has had an impact on the training new soldiers receive when they first report to the Army and undergo Basic Combat Training. Also not surprisingly, the Army is a large beauracracy, and any change takes time. Sometimes, too much time.

Here’s an interesting article on some of the changes in Basic Combat Training, now that experienced leaders from Iraq and Afghanistan are rotating back to run the training installations:

We were very much trained in the old way, and given our previous long familiarity with firearms, found it grating and somewhat insulting.  We understand the peacetime Army’s concerns about safety, but the effect was so oppressive as to undermine any real competence with weapons.
Our Basic Rifle Marksmanship training was actually slightly different from most people’s of the era. The Army was on the cusp of adopting the M-16A2 to replace the M-16A1 and considered revamping the marksmanship course at that time. Most troops, when firing for qualification, would fire 20 rounds from the prone supported position, resting the rifle on a sandbag, at targets ranging from 50 meters to 300 meters. They would then fire 20 rounds from a foxhole supported position, at the same targets. The targets would pop-up for a period of time, falling either when hit, or when their exposure time expired.
Pop up target
Pop up target
Our own training was somewhat different. We actuall fired on a “Known Distance” range for familiarization, firing at 200, 300, 500, and 700 yards. This was far in excess of ranges normally required by the M-16 series rifles, but did serve to inspire quite a bit of confidence in our abilities.
Pits of a "Known Distance" rifle range.
Pits of a “Known Distance” rifle range.
After that, we fired as well on the regular qualification range, with pop-up targets at the usual 50m-300m distances. But we fired a somewhat different course of fire.  We fired 10 rounds from the kneeling position, 10 rounds from the prone unsupported position, 10 from the prone supported position, and 10 from the foxhole supported position. We didn’t consider it the best course of fire possible, but it was certainly more realistic than the regular course of fire. In combat, especially in the offense, there are few opportunities to find a good supported position to fire from. And while firing from the prone is condusive to good marksmanship, and lowers your profile, making you a smaller target, very often, lying in the prone will prevent you from seeing anything. Think of a field of knee high grass. What will you see while you are on your belly?
Sadly, this was the only time  we fired this course of fire. The Army didn’t adopt it, and we spent the rest of our Army career qualifying every six months with 20 rounds on our belly, and 20 rounds from the foxhole.
Mind you, this was the Basic Rifle Marksmanship course. As implied, there is an Advanced Rifle Marksmanship course of fire as well. People outside the infantry have to be content with BRM. But infantrymen, in the later part of their training, move on to ARM. My memory is a little fuzzy on the details of the various courses of fire in ARM. There was an opportunity to fire on full-auto, which was fun. We also fired “instinctive” courses, engaging pop-up targets while walking at short ranges, say 25m to 75m. Still, given that this firing was done on a nice open field, it wasn’t terribly realistic.
The article doesn’t mention it, but one aspect of the new firearms training is that not only will recruits be issued their weapons earlier, they will carry them loaded at all times.  Not with live ammo, to be sure, but they will have a magazine in the weapon, with a few rounds of blank ammo. This is an excellent way of reminding troops to always pay attention and consider the weapon loaded at all times. It will breed familiarity for the weapon without breeding complacency or contempt. And removing the infantile requirement for rodding the weapon on and off the range shows a bit of respect to the native intelligence of our soldiers.
What say you? What changes should be made to weapons training in Basic Combat training, and to the Army as a whole? What other training evolutions in Basic should we adopt or delete?

Gays in the Military

Recently, with the election of President Obama, the subject of gays in the military has garnered attention again. Currently, by law, the military follows the policy of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell, Don’t pursue.”  That is, the military no longer asks potential recruits if they are gay, and if the servicemember doesn’t announce that he or she is gay, the military won’t pursue allegation that they are in fact gay. The application of this policy is of course, often flawed. There’s no such thing as a perfect policy.

I’m curious what my readers think of allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Should we scrap DADT and go with a policy allowing openly gay soldiers to serve? Should we keep DADT? What are some of the practical problems with either option?

We supported the pre-DADT policy on prohibiting gays to serve. And we came to realize that DADT was not the end of the Republic.

Our concern with gays in the military has never been about gays per se. It has been about the ability of military units to form cohesive teams with high esprit de corps.  This is absolutely critical to success in combat.  It may or may not be fair to exclude gays from the service, but the military isn’t about fairness, first and foremost. It is about winning.

In our own experience, we believe that openly serving gays would have had a very disruptive effect on units and hurt the ability of teams to perform at their peak. The military serves under conditions that few other occupations impose. The close quarters of both garrison and field duty, let alone combat, mean that you are cheek by jowl with your co-workers not only during duty hours, but off duty time as well, to an extent that most people can scarcely comprehend.

Our service began almost a quarter century ago, and ended over a decade ago. It is quite possible attitudes towards gays in the public sphere have changed a good deal in the interveneing years. I see a lot of older folks decrying any attempt to allow gays to serve. I also see quite a few mid to senior NCOs and mid-grade officers with the same stance.  But  I’m seeing an increasing number of junior servicemembers who think the current policy is outdated and should be scrapped. I’m also starting to see some numbers of mid- to senior-level officers who think gays should serve openly.

We have an open mind on the topic right now. Our concern is not social justice, but what is the best way to fill the ranks with motivated servicemembers who can fight and win.

Now comes Argent, a longtime friend of our humble blog. He has a definite viewpoint. He is openly advocating for  gays to serve openly in our military, and has started a blog to promote that. It is intended to be a venue for serious discussion of the topic, so please stop by and see what he has to say.

Argent, also known as Aaron, is an interesting character. He’s Australian, openly gay, and has never served in any military. But he is a robust supporter of the military, both his and ours. And he is self taught enough to have a good grasp of most military concepts, even if he doesn’t know the inner workings and the exact feel of the culture. But most interestingly, he also wants to not only  advocate for gays in the military, he wants to give the gay community a better understanding of the military. He sees his task as building a bridge between what are essentially two separate cultures. As we have seen our task here as helping the public better understand what their Army is all about, we can certainly support the latter endeavor wholeheartedly, even as we are undecided about the former task.

So, where do you stand? Take the poll, and leave your comments. I’m interested in hearing from servicemembers of all branches and grades, of course, but I’m also deeply interested in hearing from the civilian community (it’s your Army, after all) and from the gay community. It’s an emotion laden topic for many, so I’ll ask that you please keep a civil tongue.

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Happy Birthday!

Not me. The United States Army. Established by an act of the Continental Congress on 14 June 1775, the Army was initially composed of six companies of infantry, and was to act as the umbrella under which the various militias would serve to fight the British Army during the Revolutionary War.

Since that time, the Army’s strength has waxed and waned several times. Historically, the people of the United States had an aversion to a strong standing Army. It wasn’t until after WWII, at the beginning of the Cold War, that the Army maintained a large peacetime force. Since then, the Army has been at war several times, while arguably, the Republic has not.

Today, the Army is one of the most trusted institutions in American life. Soldiers enjoy a public approval greater than almost any other period in the history of the Army.

Each year, the Secretary of the Army selects a theme to emphasize during the year. This year is the Year of the NCO. The NCO corps, Corporals through Sergeant Majors, is the backbone of the Army. They are the middle management. They get things done. They are the folks who train soldiers. They provide purpose, direction and motivation to their teams. If you want to learn about leadership, learn about NCOs. As you’ll see below, you can’t recruit NCOs from another industry. You have to grow your own.

We are extremely proud of our service as a Noncommissioned Officer. While much of what was fun in the Army consisted of shooting things and blowing stuff up, what was rewarding was leading, training, and mentoring younger soldiers. Even some aspects of recruiting duty were similarly rewarding. I met a lot of young folks that just weren’t going to join the Army. But I still had a blast talking with them about their plans for the future. Some were obviously on the right path. To them, I said, more power to you. Others hadn’t figured out their path in life. I hope I was able to give a little substanative guidance to some of them.

Today’s NCO is entrusted with a level of responsibility that I could only dream of. They still have to execute their core competencies of leading and training soldiers. But they are also in many ways the face of America in lands far from home. When the average Iraqi or Afghani sees an American, it is a damn good chance that he’s seeing a Sergeant in the US Army. His perceptions of America and her people are formed by how that meeting goes. There’s a concept put out by a former Commandant of the Marine Corps called “The Strategic Corporal”- the actions of a junior NCO can have immense impact on how our foreign policy is shaped and executed. The NCOs of today’s Army have embraced that and realize they have a heavy burden.

NCOs also have a burden to make sure that none of their soldiers are killed or wounded because they weren’t well trained. Training never stops. No, not even in war. Before missions, briefings and rehearsals. After missions, and After Action Review to see what worked and what didn’t.

We personally aren’t big fans of leadership by slogan. We weren’t a big fan of fads. We tried to stick with what had worked over 200 years of experience. From time to time, the Army comes up with things like various creeds and mottos. We don’t spend a lot of time memorizing them. But there are seven core values that the Army has promoted. It’s kinda cheezy, sure, but the fact is, we support and endorse these values. They put into words what NCOs put into action.

  1. Loyalty – Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit, and fellow Soldiers.
  2. Duty – Fulfill your obligations.
  3. Respect – Treat others as they should be treated.
  4. Selfless Service – Put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.
  5. Honor – Live the Army Values.
  6. Integrity – Do what’s right, both legally and morally.
  7. Personal Courage – Face fear, danger, or adversity, both physical and moral.

If you look, the first letter of each value forms the an acronym, LDRSHIP. Leadership. It’s what NCOs are all about.

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And let’s not forget that today is also Flag Day. Long may she wave.


An Outside View…

The Army is a large organization. And like any large organization, leadership and management are important parts of successfully achieving the organizational goals.

Troops start leadership training from Day 1, mostly by learning how to be a good follower, but soon learn leadership and management both by on-the-job training, and through the Army’s formal schools system. There isn’t a pay grade in the Army where you stop learning leadership and management.

The Navy of course, is much the same. They take a justifiable pride in their ability to train and teach leadership. Unlike a business, they can’t really go out and hire mid-level managers. They have to grow their own.Currently, there’s a fad in the Navy to adopt business practices as the best way to manage the Navy’s assets and people. This is not universally appreciated by the sailors and officers in the fleet. Some are downright skeptical.

But the Army and the Navy are also somewhat insular organizations, with limited interaction with the rest of the community. So it is nice sometimes it is nice to see what others think of what the Navy is doing. As a part of an effort to better explain what the Navy is and does, they recently invited several influential bloggers, most of whom are not affiliated with the services, to partake in brief “embark” aboard the USS Nimitz and see what life was like aboard a nuclear aircraft carrier underway and conducting operations.

Bill Reichert is an entrepenuer and blogger. Here’s a taste of his take on how private business can learn from the Navy (and I would argue, most of this applies equally to learning from the Army).

4. Recruiting and Training: There is a common misperception that the military attracts the lower performers in our society who have no other choices. The Navy is very fortunate to have more people who want to join than there are available slots. But more important, the men and women who make it through training are astoundingly competent people. The lesson here is that it’s not about fancy degrees and prior polish; it’s about a commitment to excellence in each individual, and the willingness to work to exhaustion to make sure you live up to your commitment.

Go over to the excellent USNI Blog and see his other nine points.

We own the night…

We’ve mentioned the Nightstalkers before, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR). They’re the Army’s dedicated unit to provide aviation support to special operations. They are the most highly trained helicopter unit in the world.


Shooting at a Recruiting Station

KATV, in Little Rock, brings us news of a horrific crime. Two soldiers, back from overseas deployments to either Iraq or Afghanistan *, were gunned down outside the Army Navy Career Center in West Little Rock, AR. The suspected shooter is in custody. One victim is dead, one is in serious condition.

Per the article, neither victim was a recruiter, but rather part of the HRAP, or Hometown Recruiter Assistance Program. HRAP takes a young soldier, and sends him to his hometown. He works with the local recruiters to tell his or her experiences to potential recruits, typically the soldiers friends and classmates. After all, who you gonna listen to, the recruiter, or your buddy who thinks the Army is the neatest thing since sliced bread?

During my time as a recruiter, I worked in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America (at that time, anyway). I never had any problems, but some of my co-workers did. More than one had a gun pulled on them. The only guy in my office who’d ever been shot, got shot at home.

I also worked with several HRAP’ers over the years. Some were great. Some were just looking to spend a little time at home. But I can tell you this, none of them expected to be gunned down in their hometown.

Given the immediate supposition on the political left that the murderer of Dr. Tiller, abortion doctor, is representative of everyone on the right, will they also make the supposition that the murderer of these young soldiers is an antiwar activist, and representative of their cause?

I’m told Arkansas has the death penalty. Here’s hoping they use it.

*Yahoo is reporting neither soldier had yet been deployed, which is more in line with the HRAP as I recall it. Most of the time, soldiers are sent to HRAP immediately after Initial Entry Training, while they still have close ties to the community.

Via: Ace


The Little Rock Police confirm that the shooter was  a Muslim convert. Islam is a disease.