Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Army Basic Training: Not Your Father's Boot Camp

In a Pentagon briefing, Gen. William S. Wallace, commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, spoke with reporters about the command’s campaign plan and how basic training has evolved over the last four years. “Our campaign plan has two big deals from my perspective,” said Wallace, who led V Corps into Baghdad in 2003. “First of all, the campaign plan recognizes that the center of gravity within TRADOC is our ability to learn and adapt in support of our operational forces. It also recognizes that the centerpiece of our adaptation is our people.” Changing civilians into Soldiers is what TRADOC does as the architect of the Army, and that involves changing with the times. Gone are the days when recruits arrived at basic training to learn just the fundamentals of weaponry, how to fight from a foxhole, how to march in parade formations and a mere three days in the field. In those days prior to 2003, TRADOC gave recruits nut-and-bolt basics, then sent the new Soldiers to their units where the real training started.“Once upon a time we had this notion in the Army that when there wasn’t a war going on we in the training base would teach about 65-70 percent of the skills associated with being a Soldier. The rest of the burden was then placed on the operational Army,” Wallace said. “We now recognize that with the pace the operational Army is moving today, we need to produce new Soldiers who are capable upon arrival at their first unit to make immediate contributions because they’re being asked and expected too,” he said. To achieve “Soldier” status, recruits now spend 21 days in the field during basic training. The training focus has changed dramatically from what was primarily a standards, discipline and soldierization process to one of intensive combat skills.Recruits now undergo weapons immersion, through which they receive their weapon three days after arrival and keep it throughout training. “They carry it to the dining facility, clear it before entering and do functions checks throughout the day,” Wallace added. “Instead of locking the weapon up in an arms room at night, they put it in a weapons rack in the barracks.” Weapons qualification training has changed as well. “We’ve increased advanced rifle marksmanship training beyond just basic qualification with a weapon. We’re teaching folks close-quarters marksmanship, reflex firing and muzzle awareness,” Wallace pointed out. “They’re learning how to do this, not from a foxhole because that is not how Soldiers fight today. Instead, the training is from alongside vehicles, in urban situations while wearing full battle-rattle to include body armor. “The way a Soldier’s weapon seats into his shoulder with body armor on is completely different from a foxhole position, so weapons training is now from the kneeling, unsupported position, which is very difficult because there’s nothing to rest the butt stock and your front hand on,” he said.A major part of weapons immersion training involves a convoy operations live-fire to push Soldiers into the mindset that they may have to engage the enemy from a moving vehicle. How to maintain weapons orientation, distribute fire, maintain a reasonable volume of fire, dismount from a vehicle, and assault an objective are all being taught in basic and advanced individual training. Wallace said the weapons immersion program has created Soldiers who are qualifying with their weapons quicker than in the past. Weapons maintenance problems have also decreased because Soldiers better understand their weapons and how to manipulate them. “When you ask 100 young people how many of them have fired a weapon, you might get eight or 10 raised hands. They aren’t familiar with weapons, which is good from a societal perspective but that’s not necessarily a good thing from a military perspective,” he said. “So we’ve got to teach them how to use their weapons and how to be comfortable with them, and that involves immersion.” Basic and advanced individual training also involve counter-insurgency instruction and surroundings awareness, particularly as it applies to IEDs on convoy operations. “Over time, you teach Soldiers to be extremely suspicious and very aware of their environment; so they’re always thinking about what’s different, what’s new, what’s going on around them that they haven’t seen before, then reporting it up the chain of command,” he said. Though basic training has become much tougher, Wallace said it hasn’t deterred people from joining the Army. “We’ve found our recruits to be extraordinarily motivated,” he said. “They’ll tell you the toughness is why they came into the Army; they’re expecting a challenge and appreciate the fact that we’re giving them one."

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