Leaders at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va., told reporters June 1 the new nature of the threat, the pace of operations and most importantly, the certainty of war, is having a direct impact on military training.
Gone are the days when the Army could give its soldiers the fundamentals at the schoolhouse, assuming that they'd get their final training after reaching their units, explained Brig. Gen. David Fastabend from Training and Doctrine Command's Futures Center.
Today, with some 300,000 soldiers deployed around the world, including 138,000 in Iraq and 11,000 in Afghanistan, every soldier must be fully prepared to face combat, he said.
And the modern-day battlefield with no clear-cut distinctions between the front lines and the rear, secured areas is making the basics of soldiering more important than they've been for decades, Fastabend explained. In a nutshell, he said, every soldier must be a rifleman first and a specialist second.
These new challenges are putting new demands on the Army's training programs.
From a soldier's initial entry into the military at basic training, soldiers are getting more rigorous training with more emphasis on soldiering skills, said Maj. Gen. Raymond Barrett, deputy chief of staff for operations in training at the command. In addition, Barrett said they're being psychologically prepared for the mission ahead.
At more senior levels, Barrett said training focuses on teaching leaders to think on their feet and adapt to changes on the battlefield. In addition to confronting an unpredictable adversary, today's leaders must be able to operate fully in a wartime environment that incorporates members of other military services, other government agencies and other nations' militaries, he explained.
To keep pace with these changes, the Army's schoolhouses and combat training centers are duplicating conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan in their training scenarios. Schoolhouses teach tactics, techniques and procedures proving their value in Southwest Asia. The training centers feature realistic villages and urban environments, as well as tunnels and cave complexes.
As one TRADOC general put it: Within a week after U.S. forces found Saddam Hussein hiding in a "spider hole" in Iraq, the Army combat training centers had introduced similar holes at their facilities.
Similarly, training scenarios introduce the complex nature of the battlefield with the myriad players involved. Lt. Gen. William "Scott" Wallace, commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., incorporates up to 1,700 civilian role players into its scenarios, and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., has introduced up to 200 Arab speakers to increase the realism of its training.
Meanwhile, students at the training centers encounter one of the biggest complexities of the war on terror: the overlapping of phases of the operation, particularly combat and stabilization missions.
Wallace, who commanded the Army's 5th Corps as it lead the Army forces during major combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom, said the training helps soldiers prepare for the simultaneous operations he experienced firsthand in Iraq. "One day you'll be kicking down doors and the next day, handing out Band-Aids," he said. "And some days you'll be kicking down doors and handing out Band-Aids on the other side."
As soldiers complete their overseas deployments and rotate back through the training centers, Army leaders recognize that a new phenomenon will soon begin: Many students will have more combat experience than their instructors. Cadre at the schoolhouses, once the fonts of knowledge about tactics, techniques and procedures, will begin serving more as facilitators, rather than straight instructors, as students share their firsthand combat experiences.
The result, the leaders agreed, will be one of the best-trained, most- experienced forces in Army history.
By tapping into this capability and quickly incorporating lessons learned on the battlefield into its training programs, Barrett said the Army will ensure the key to its future success: "skilled soldier warriors, adaptable leaders and dominant ground forces."