A little inside baseball

So, I’m stealing this from a forum I belong to:

52 Lima who’s stationed in fort Gordon GA, ” all grunts are stupid dumbasses that couldn’t score over a 35 on the ASVAB, and are good for nothing but cannon fodder, that don’t make up the backbone of the army, we’re better off without them. “


A little translation. As far as I can tell, 52L isn’t even a current MOS, so I think someone is just yanking some chains.

The ASVAB, Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery, is a battery of tests designed to show, well, aptitude in several areas, in order to judge the likelihood that an enlistee will be successful in training in whatever specialty they enlist for. There are about half a dozen different scores such as General Technical and whatnot. And then there’s the score that counts when you enlist. The “overall” score is from 1 to 99, roughly indicating the percentile one falls into in terms of IQ across the population. It’s a cross between native intelligence and education. The minimum score for enlistment in the Army is 32.

There’s long been a perception that the combat arms, Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Combat Engineer, etc, are jam packed with enlistees who scored in the lower tranches of the ASVAB. A common insult of a not so bright fellow soldier is to call him a CAT IV, for the lowest tranche of the ASVAB.

But here’s the thing. Yes, combat arms, and the Infantry, take their fair share of folks who are not towering intellects. But oddly, there are a ton of people who are incredibly bright, scoring far, far above average, in the 90 percentile and above, who chose the Infantry.

Think about it. A lot of very bright young men go through high school and just aren’t challenged. They live comfortable suburban lives, hear the tales of their elders, play sports maybe, and cruise through high school with little or no effort.  But the summons of the trumpet is strong. They know they’re smart, but do they know if they are men? What more traditional test of manhood is there than war?

Anecdotal evidence (and yes, I know the plural of anecdote is not “data”), when I was a recruiter, applicants with scores from 32-50 that enlisted tended to end up either in Field Artillery, Motor Transport, or other related support fields. Applicants with scores from 50-80 tended to end up in technical fields. With only one exception* can I recall an applicant with a score over 80 not joining the combat arms. He enlisted  as a Blackhawk mechanic, became a crew chief, and enjoyed the heck out of it.

As my Bradley crossed the berm into Iraq at the opening of Desert Storm, the topic of conversation amongst the grunts in back was… Shakespeare.

*Women excepted, of course. The field of choice for very high scoring women was either Military Police, or the medical field technical specialties.

Warrior Leader Course and NCO Professional Development

Some folks seem to be natural leaders. Others, not so much. While being born with the qualities of a natural leader is nice, the Army believes very strongly that leaders can be grown, and in fact, with the size of the Army, must be. While the Army has long had professional development for officers, beginning with the US Military Academy, and placed great trust in its institutional school system to train soldiers in warfare,  professional development and schools for Non Commissioned Officers is a relatively new development.

From the days of Washington up until the eve of World War II, a sergeant’s stripes belonged, almost literally, to the company commander. The CO would choose his own First Sergeant from among his soldiers. Very minor infractions could find even the most senior NCOs reduced to Private, with little or no due process. On the other hand, those stripes could often be returned with as much process. When  a new CO came in, he’d very often choose to install his own choice as First Sergeant.  Professional development for such NCOs consisted completely of on-the-job training.

But with the vast expansion of the Army in World War II, the Army struggled mightily to find within its ranks those soldiers that could serve as sergeants, that key bridge between the officer ranks and the mass of private soldiers.  While centralized Department of the Army (DA) controlled promotions were not instituted, some divisions in the field began to provide ad hoc schools to junior NCOs, usually focused on administrative and tactical matters, but with a little leadership thrown in. As time went on, more and more, leadership became a larger part of these courses.

By the time of the Vietnam war, promotions to the junior NCO grades were semi-centralized, and those of the senior NCO grades were DA controlled. And more and more often, divisions ran their own schools to prepare junior NCOs as leaders, both tactically and as leaders. In fact, so critical was the shortage of Sergeants, eventually, the Army set up “shake and bake” NCO courses, where the best and brightest of a Basic Training cycle would be sent immediately to further schooling, and upon completion, be promoted to Sergeant and sent overseas to combat. While this was a far less satisfactory way of finding NCO material than an orderly progression through the ranks, the idea of formal schooling prior to serving as an NCO was found to be sound.

Indeed, providing ever greater levels of professional development training to NCOs throughout their careers was soon implemented. Over the years, some of the names of courses have changed, but the basic structure of NCO schools has remained constant for about 30 years now.

Once known as Primary NCO Course (“PNOC”- pronounced ‘pee-knock’), then in my day Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC), and now the Warrior Leader Course (WLC), the first rung on the ladder of schools actually takes place before a soldier becomes an NCO. As a prerequisite to promotion to Sergeant, all soldiers must attend the course. WLC is branch immaterial, meaning that the course is the same, no matter what military occupational specialty you hold.  My squad at PLDC had a grunt, a tanker, an admin clerk, and a guy who ground eyeglasses. Most large installations run their own NCO Academy offering this course. While you’re often attending class on the same base that you normally live on, it’s a “resident” course, and you stay in the barracks set aside for the NCO academy. Having to live in austere barracks and undergo room inspections and in ranks personnel inspections has some shades of a return to basic training. The goal isn’t just to make the students miserable, but rather to reinforce the ideal of high standards. Further, students are rotated through leadership roles in their class groups, such as squad leader or platoon sergeant. In these roles, they’re expected to actually conduct such inspections, learning from the other side just what leaders are looking for. Indeed, while there is a great deal of classroom instruction, the goal is that all instruction is followed by a practical exercise where students learn by doing.

The goal of the WLC is to give the prospective Sergeant a grounding in the principles of leadership and interpersonal skills sufficient to prepare them to serve as a first line leader, such as a fire team leader in an infantry squad, or a work center supervisor in an office.  The presumption is that these soldiers already have gained, or soon will,  the the technical proficiency of their future grade.

Sergeants facing promotion to Staff Sergeant again have to attend a resident course prior to promotion. This Basic Non Commissioned Officers Course (BNCOC- ‘Be-Nock’) is, unlike WLC, branch specific. That is, each course shares a common core of leadership topics, but large parts of the course are also technical and specific to the student’s MOS.  Some large installations run their own BNCOC courses for certain MOS’s, such as Infantry and Armor/Cavalry. Other, less dense MOS’s such as dental technician, have to attend a  centralized course at their branch’s center. For instance, all MOS’s in the Quartermaster branch, such as cooks and unit supply specialists attend BNCOC at the NCO Academy at the Quartermaster Center and School at Ft. Lee, VA. By this time, the Sergeants have practical experience in direct supervision and leadership. To be sure, great emphasis is placed on reinforcing this training, but in addition, more advanced technical and tactical skills are taught. Training management begins to be taught here. Sergeants are responsible for training their soldiers. At the lowest levels, it’s as simple as teaching how to disassemble and reassemble the M16 or M4, or how the team should perform room clearing. But BNCOC begins to teach NCO’s how to manage and prepare quality training. How does a leader decide what tasks need to be taught? What resources are needed to conduct meaningful training for a given task? Where can the leader find those resources and how can he schedule or budget them? How can a leader ensure that the training he’s conducting supports and synchronizes with the unit training his commander has planned? Good (and well trained!) NCOs always have a plan for training, both scheduled events in the future, and hip-pocket plans for when opportunities pop up. BNCOC lays the foundation for NCOs to build these plans.

And it’s not just planning to train. NCOs are expected to teach. For instance, large parts of the course are peer-taught. You’re graded on courses your fellow students have taught you, and more importantly, you’re graded on how well you taught your fellow soldiers. For instance, during my BNCOC course, I had to develop a lesson plan for, and teach a course on calling for fire support. A poor class would have the Sergeant standing there reading the instructions right out of the manual. A better class might involve VuGraphs* displaying the steps. An even better class might include that as well as Graphic Training Aids (GTA) such as the pre-printed cards with the steps, maps, protractors, and notional targets, with the students showing their proficiency by presenting them with a scenario and having them actually generate calls for fire. Having grasped the fundamentals of calling for fire, further training, such as leaving a classroom and actually working with a unit’s mortars or supporting field artillery will be a more  productive use of scarce time and ammunition. Other students might give classes on topics such as writing operations orders, or medical evacuation of casualties.

BNCOC also gives Sergeants practical experience in planning operations at the squad and platoon level. Having been taught how to write an operations order, each student will be given a mission to plan and lead, using his classmates as his platoon. The student is graded on both planning and execution, as well as leadership skills displayed. Further, to accustom Sergeants to providing feedback and criticism, each evolution is peer evaluated on the same grounds. Nobody likes to ding their classmates, but sooner or later, you’ll be called upon to rank your peers in order. Who is the best? Who is the worst? Why? If you can’t nuke a classmate for being a screw-up, how are you going to chastise the soldiers you work with day in and day out?

The next level of schooling is the Advanced Non Commissioned Officers  Course (ANCOC- ‘Ay-Nock’). All ANCOC courses are held at the branch center and school.  ANCOC builds both practical leadership skills, administrative skills**, as well as tactical and technical skills for the Non Commissioned Officer. It’s primary function is to prepare a Staff Sergeant for promotion to Sergeant First Class and duty as a platoon sergeant, responsible for 20-40 soldiers and junior NCOs.

The final two rungs of the NCO Educational System are both run by the Sergeants Major Academy at Ft. Bliss, TX.  Both are resident courses, and both are branch immaterial.

The First Sergeants Course is a short course delving into the specific duties of a First Sergeant, that is, the senior NCO of a company or battery sized unit, roughly 100 men.

The capstone of the NCOES is the Sergeants Major Academy itself. A graduate level course in leadership and leadership development,*** the Academy trains Sergeants Major for duty as the senior NCO of a battalion sized unit. Sergeants Major are no longer directly supervising junior soldiers. Instead, they are the principal advisor to the unit commander on matters pertaining to enlisted personnel. As a practical matter, they are charged with maintaining high standards throughout the unit, and training and mentoring the NCOs of that unit. They operate through the “chain of support” rather than being directly in the chain of command. The Sergeants Major Academy helps train future Sergeants Majors how to navigate the complex relationship a Sergeant Major has with his commander, the battalions company commanders, First Sergeants, and junior NCOs.

Each level of the Non Commissioned Officers Education System prepares a soldier for the next level of responsibility, and ideally lays the foundation for the level beyond that. The heart and soul of our Army is the Non Commissioned Officer corps. Without a stable of technically and tactically competent sergeants, the Army would lose the “tribal knowledge” of over 237 years of experience, two centuries of tradition and heritage. The trainer of soldiers, the keeper of standards, the leader of the close fight, the Sergeant has always been the backbone of the Army.  It only took the Army 200 years to figure out that spending the time and money to give those Sergeants the tools to lead and train their soldiers was a wise investment.

I’ve managed to lose the original news article I’d seen, but this post was inspired by a bit of news about the Warrior Leader Course. Yes, the Army does recognize that schools and education for its Sergeants are critical. But the school system doesn’t operate in a vacuum.  I was stunned to learn that for the past  few years, the WLC has been only 17 days long. In my day (1990) PLDC was a full 30 days. So why would the Army cut such an important course so severely?


Time is the one resource that can never be replaced. **** Units of the Army today are under an incredible operational tempo. Under the Army Force Generation Plan (ARFORGEN), brigades rotate from deployment to recovery to deployment at paces never before seen in our Army’s history. The short dwell time between deployments is devoted almost exclusively to reconstituting the units, and cycling through the unit level training to prepare them for their next deployment. But that dwell time is the only time soldiers are available for schools. But the paradox is that while the soldier needs the school experience to be a qualified leader, he also needs to be with his unit through the training cycle, both to receive the unit training, and to lead his soldiers through that training. And there are some training events that commanders are just not willing to let soldiers miss. Friend of the blog Esli will be leading his battalion at the National Training Center next month. This training is so valuable that few if any of his prospective soldiers will be at school, rather than with the troops.  NTC isn’t designed to train a soldier. It’s designed to stress an entire unit as whole.  So in order to at least provide a bare minimum level of schooling, the Army has trimmed WLC to the bone. But in the event, the Army has learned, it was a cut too far. It has recently extended the course to a 22 day length.

And a brief personal anecdote. I attended BNCOC at Ft. Carson, CO. The schoolhouse was a whopping half mile from my regular barracks (though I was living off post at the time).  I kind of dreaded having to go to a resident course, with the room inspections, hospital corners on beds and all the chickenshit the Army was famous for.  I was looking forward to the course, just not the hassles.

As it turned out, the Army had a major program underway to rehabilitate many of the barracks buildings worldwide. And lo and behold, somehow, the barracks of the NCO Academy at Ft. Carson were high on the list. Over half the barracks were unavailable, as they were under rehab. The school only had enough room for those troops that were from other posts, such as Ft. Bliss or Ft. Irwin. The staff at the school were quite apologetic when they told us that we’d have to sleep at home in our own, warm, comfy (non-hospital cornered) beds.

Your Humble Scribe, 1st Armored Division NCO Academy,

Primary Leadership Development Course,



If you’d like to know more of the history of the NCO in the United States Army, I’d recommend Guardians of the Republic.

*like powerpoint in the pre-computer era

**there’s a LOT of paperwork involved as a platoon sergeant. He’s still a fighting soldier, but he’s also the guy in charge of a platoon’s paperwork, relieving as much of that burden from the Lieutenant platoon leader as possible. It only gets worse for First Sergeants and Sergeants Major.

***No longer directly supervising soldiers, Sergeants Major instead are tasked with developing the leadership skills of the NCOs of their units. While the Command Sergeant Major is responsible for upholding the standards of all soldiers in their unit, the smart CSM does so through his First Sergeants and other NCOs. As a practical matter, as a junior NCO, any meeting I had with the CSM was almost certainly going to be a one-way dialog about some failing of mine or one of my soldiers (which was obviously a result of some failure of mine).

****Yes, sadly, dead soldiers can be replaced. Above a certain level, war become the management of  resources.  And the fact is, men are a resource.

The Evolution of Doctrine

Earlier this week, before family obligations tore me away, I read the Army’s newest capstone doctrine publication, ADP 3.0, Unified Land Operations.  ULO clearly builds upon previous doctrine, and shows the influence of the last 10 years of war on the Army’s consensus view on how it will fight wars.

First, a note on OpSec. ALL the information I discuss is in the public domain. I don’t have any access to classified information, and if I did, I sure as heck wouldn’t share it with you. Further, I tend to shy away from more detailed information regarding Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) that, while in the public domain, may best be left less visible. Discussing the broad strokes of the Army’s warfighting doctrine, however, is a pretty safe topic.

When the Army in 1982 published AirLand Battle  (FM 100-5, Operations) as its capstone doctrine, it was two things. It was a fairly specific “how to” manual for brigade, division, corps, and higher officers detailing the methods the Army would use to defeat the Warsaw Pact in World War III in Western Europe. It was also, like the contemporaneous Maritime Strategy, a political document, which articulated both to a domestic political audience and the the USSR the commitment of the Army to the defense of Western Europe. The fact that the 1982 version of ALB placed heavy emphasis on nuclear fires was a clear signal to the Soviets that the US would not let Europe go without a fight. After the Carter era hollow force, the Army was making a loud statement that we were back and meant business. 

Based on feedback from the field, and later, after operations such as Operation Just Cause in Panama, and Desert Shield/Desert Storm in the Gulf, later versions of FM 100-5 reflected that the Army would likely be faced with a great number of what were then known as Operations Other Than War or OOTW. Serving as peacekeepers in the Balkans, operations in Somalia, disaster relief, training partner nations, and a whole host of other jobs were at hand. Previously, commanders pretty much had to make up their responses to these missions on the fly. With the updates, the Army finally began to give guidance and an intellectual framework to commanders faced with these missions.  Like the title of this post says, doctrine was evolving.

The Rumsfeld Revolution in Military Affairs also came to have an impact on doctrine. The underlying concept was that networked forces could operate over larger areas, with total information dominance, and using smaller forces. To some degree, that’s pretty plausible in a conventional force-on-force scenario. We haven’t much discussed John Boyd’s OODA loop hypothesis, but it certainly fits in with that world view.

But reality tends to intrude upon military theory. ADP 3.0 is a reflection of the reality of the last 10 years, and it is also something of a new approach to writing doctrine.

Where earlier doctrine publications were quite detailed, giving specific guidance on such things as synchronization of fires and maneuver, and tended to be quite lengthy publications, ADP 3.0 is, in fact, a 28 page pamphlet. It is little more than a statement of the Army’s mission, a description of how the Army is likely to fit into a larger command structure during operations, and a brief overview of the operational terms to provide a common intellectual framework.

Current doctrine describes four main mission sets for the Army:

  1. Attack
  2. Defense
  3. Stability Operations
  4. Defense Support of Civilian Authorities

ADP 3.0 recognizes that the Army will rarely be faced with a simple force-on-force scenario like that of Desert Storm. Deployed forces will face an entire spectrum of threats, from regular, uniformed, and well equipped mechanized forces, to guerrilla forces, to insurgents and transnational/non-state terrorist organizations, and communities and even entire countries with no civil authority. Forces will likely have to conduct attack, defense, and stability operations simultaneously across an entire theater of operations. Thus, the Army tells its commanders they will have to conduct both Combined Arms Maneuver (think traditional military action) and Wide Area Security (providing security to the population) at the same time.  A prime example of this would be the second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq. While the Army was conducting a full scale attack on Fallujah, it was also conduction defensive operations to prevent Al Qaeda attacks elsewhere, and providing security to the population elsewhere.

Unified Land Operations also recognizes that the Army won’t be going it alone. After the invasion of Grenada in 1983, there was a great deal of emphasis on “joint” operations- reducing the friction between the services when they operated together. Now, in addition to joint operations, an Army commander in the field will also have to work closely with the military and civilian authorities of our partner nations, as well as with civilian agencies of our own government such as the State Department, Treasury, and Department of Agriculture. Army commanders, used to deciding upon a course of action and giving orders, now have to build consensus with these partners, and strive to achieve a unity of purpose and ensure that all actions taken are harmonized to achieve an agreed upon goal. ADP 3.0 describes this environment, but recognizes that leaders will have to find their own solution to these problems, as each instance is unique.

Behind ADP 3.0, there are reference pamphlets which act somewhat like indexes to guide commanders and staff to the appropriate doctrinal publications that provide specifics of implementing these tasks and missions. Since the Army is highly unlikely to operate in a vacuum, these publications are often Joint Publications by DoD covering all services.

Currently, the Army has  a field manual for just about every organization, mission, and operational environment, and even a simple rifle company needs to have dozens of Field Manuals on hand. That doesn’t even get into the Technical Manuals that support equipment.

Under the Doctrine 2015 initiative, many of these FMs will be superseded. ADP 3.0 is the first of about 15 doctrinal pamphlets that will be circulated among the force. Each will also have a reference pamphlet that supports it. Behind that, the Army wants to go to a “wiki” system to provide the doctrinal TTPs that the end users can quickly reference, and more importantly, can quickly be updated to reflect the most recent lessons learned on the ground.

A scene from Coronado

You may recall I recently spent a little vacation time in Coronado, CA. Home of the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, it is also home of the Basic Underwater Demolition School, or BUDS. BUDS is the first step in becoming a Navy SEAL. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time looking for the guys going through BUDS, but I did happened to get one good shot of them heading out in their inflatable boats.


It was a warm day, but let me tell you, the Pacific never gets all that warm there.  You can also see parts of their obstacle course in the foreground.

Ejericito de Colombia celebrates 200 years

Columbia is a nation at war. They’ve fought a brutal civil war against FARC and other rebel groups for 30 years. And while we gringos may have a tendency to look down on our little brown brothers, that’s a serious mistake. Operating on a shoestring budget and with a pool of recruits that lack the level of education of ours, they’ve managed to field a very professional army.

And much like our Army, they use television ads for recruiting purposes:


Cheerfully stolen from John Boq at The Castle. Go ahead and click the link. You need to see the other video.

Ask the Moron, version 2.0

We were having an interesting discussion over at The Castle about jargon, and how the language of the services can serve to separate people. Many folks like to follow milblogs, but have a hard time keeping up with the conversation because they don’t understand all the acronyms or the vocabulary.

One of the goals of this blog has always been to translate Milspeak into plain English. Is there a term or expression you don’t understand? Now’s your chance to ask. And I’ll remind readers of an old Army saying. The only dumb question is the one that didn’t get asked.