Fight Like you Train

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.

6 thoughts on “Fight Like you Train”

  1. “But I’m also willing to bet you’ve faced a situation where you weren’t trained, but still expected to git ‘er done.”

    Whatever your profession, you will face such problems. In combat you are likely to face them a lot. What you try to do is train for the primary tasks and used intelligence and experience to make the intellectual jumps you need to make to solve the problems you face. The enemy will get to vote and trying things their way will likely cause problems you have not faced before.

    Flexibility is the name of the came and the force that can adapt the quickest, while making the fewest mistakes will be the force that wins.

    1. I would add one more variable in there amongst rapid adaptation, making fewest mistakes, etc, which is some element of longevity. Defined as some loose conglomeration of national (public/political) will, industrial capacity, a large military capability at the outset of conflict, etc, this element must be present in order to “win” in the long run. I would agree that without the other elements you mention, victory will be much harder, but they are not a be-all/end-all by themselves. Perhaps that is an element outside the scope of “train as you fight” however.

  2. “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.”

    I think there are two components or as Esli calls them elements at play there. “Train as you fight” in my view puts the emphasis on standardizing techniques that are both practical and realistic. Those prove invaluable at crunch time, as one might act instinctively thus saving brain cycles for other more important computations. Under a combat scenario, “practical and realistic” translates to some degree of familiarity. And familiarity is a bulwark against confusion and disorientation.

    Sure “Train as you Fight” will help your mind remain agile when confronting a “… but I wasn’t trained for this” situation. But in my experience there are some people who naturally have the ability to cope with the unfamiliar, and those who just cannot fathom the unfamiliar.

  3. I watched an interview with a former Spetznaz trooper on You Tube some time ago. He made a very good point when he said that people don’t rise to the occasion in combat, but fall to the floor. Your training is the floor. (paraphrased, not quoted)

    He is correct from the aspect of the type of combat he trained for, short and as violent as you can make it so as to shock and overwhelm. But, given time, the intelligent among us are able to orient themselves and fight back. Orientation is what the SOF troops can not allow time for.

    I would agree that at the onset of combat, green troops will probably quail a bit. Anyone that says they are fearless when large amounts of heavy ordnance are sending steel splinters every which-a-way are either liars or fools. Under such conditions, your training is your floor. The aftermath, however, of the onset is when courage cuts in and men steel themselves for what they must do. Brad’s idea of think inside the box by making sure the box is as big as you can make it, is the right idea. The more you know, and the more you are encouraged to think and act, the better you will perform.

    If you disagree that’s fine. Just strike up a discussion with the French Army CA 1940. The Wehrmacht was the kind of Army I’m talking about.

    Flexibility was not encouraged under Stalin. The price of failure was too high to show any initiative. In spite of the strategic inflexibility Hitler imposed on the Russian Front, The Wehrmacht was still able to impose twice the casualties on Ivan they themselves took. In this case the less flexible won, but they were able to do so because Stalin, Zhukov and Koniev were willing to pile bodies on their operational problems. It helped that they had the bodies to do it because their type of warfare required it.

    1. QM: your last paragraph above very aptly sums up what I loosely described as longevity in my previous comment. Despite a lack of adaptability or flexibility the Soviets were able to exert national will, and throw a whole lot of resources in the form of bodies (and T34s of course) at the tactical problem and prevail.

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