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The Baldwin Articles – Leadership and Training

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17

Although the above quotation is not specifically related to military training, it is very appropriate to the subject. Here is another exchange on the topic that many of you will recognize. “What kind of training have you men been doing?” “Army Training, Sir!” If you have seen the classic movie, you also know exactly why we do not let privates train on their own recognizance. As I said last time, planning, managing and conducting good training is a complex art – and in many ways is just as hard to master as war itself. In other words, it is a truly serious business requiring continuous attention and effort. Here are just a few points to ponder and discuss.

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Let us start with the bad news. There have been and always will be training distractions and obstacles. Those routinely include conflicting priorities, constrained resources, and especially limited time. The trick is not to let the distractions sidetrack you – stay focused on the mission. True, it is something easier said than done. Still, good units and effective trainers work around or through those diversions all the time. Unfortunately, it is also true that a good number of leaders simply do not know how to properly organize and drive their training efforts. I especially worry about those squad leaders, platoon sergeants and platoon leaders who do not necessarily know what right looks like when it comes to planning and conducting truly productive training at the tactical level.

Just as you have to fight for intelligence on the battlefield, a unit has to fight to train. Know what you are trying to accomplish before you start. Plan to train but do not get fixated on your plan – be flexible. The training objective is what is important not the process. Many units spend a great deal of time trying to make the training look good and in the process lose sight of their actual training goals. Likewise, others become preoccupied with making the training uber “cool” rather than effective. My advice is to make sure your people are well grounded in the fundamentals before moving to master the high-speed flaming hoops drill (above).

Always train to a pre-established and reasonable standard and not to a time schedule. Training is never finished so do not become obsessed with the outcome of any one event. Do not be afraid of failure. Training exposes our shortcomings – if we are doing it right. Take advantage of the opportunity to figure out why you failed to achieve the intended training objectives. Was it a planning mistake, a resource shortfall or an issue of poor time management? Did the trainers know beforehand how to do the task required properly themselves? Take corrective action and do better next time.

Aggressively prioritize. Some training is always better than no training. A good trainer can get something out of even the most unproductive training evolution. At least the experience can serve as a reminder to build a better plan for future training events as mentioned above. Know who needs or will befit the most from the training. When time or other resources are limited, it is usually much better to train a few to a higher standard then everyone to a sub-par level. Look for non-traditional training opportunities and partners. Old school and new techniques can often coexist and reinforce one another. Do not presume that they are mutually exclusive or that one is automatically better than the other.

We have all probably seen the following counterproductive dynamic on qualification ranges more than once. In units with poor training habits, the intent invariably devolves into just cycling everyone through as fast as possible. The alleged point of the drill, i.e. improving unit marksmanship, turns out to be a pretense and not the true objective. Unfortunately, the longer-term and deeper negative effect can be debilitating to that entire unit. The leadership has revealed to their soldiers that they consider training an onerous chore that is to be competed as quickly as possible. Positive results are optional or even irrelevant. Sadly, that dysfunctional lesson will imprint some soldiers for the rest of their careers. They in turn will invariably infect others. It is an all too familiar cycle – but it can be broken.

Fighting back against bad training habits is hard but not complicated. It starts with leadership. Recognize that all unit training always involves team building AND leader training. Make sure to give your subordinate leaders something important to do in the training plan; and keep them visibly in charge of their soldiers as much as possible. This is especially important for those new sergeants who are leading for the first time and are trying to establish their credibility. In turn, soldiers benefit directly from seeing their leaders treated like valued members of the unit’s leadership team. In short, properly conducted unit training should professionally develop better leaders and concurrently result in stronger teams.

This also helps mitigate the problem of a unit hampered from accomplishing quality training because the leadership is overly distracted with the many other balls they are juggling. First, recognize and take advantage of the fact that every leader is part of a team and does not have to carry the burden alone. Delegate dammit! Moreover, a leader has to learn (and teach subordinates) not just to juggle but also how to judge those balls. Some balls are more important than others; and not all of them are made of glass. In reality, some balls can be set aside for another time or safely dropped. In doing so, we have the opportunity to demonstrate that unit leadership indeed considers quality training a high priority – though action rather than empty platitudes.

As I have mentioned before, there is a great book on training in WWII that I would recommend called “The Making of a Paratrooper” by Kurt Gabel. The author was a trooper going through Airborne training as a unit with the 517th PIR. He describes how the NCOs and junior officers would go off by themselves, learn a skill and – sometimes the very next day – turn around and teach it to the other troops. Not the ideal situation of course, but they made it work. They optimized, as best they could, their available organic assets to maximize limited external resources and extremely constrained time. They successfully met the challenge as an increasingly cohesive team and always took their training seriously. They knew that there was no other option. It also sets a great example to emulate even today.

Remember that even the most realistic training, conducted by the highest-speed units, has logical constraints that require soldiers to suspend disbelief when necessary. One simple example would be blanks or simunitions. If used properly, blanks are not going to kill or maim. Nevertheless, soldiers are expected to react to blank fire drills as if they were life-threatening live rounds. Likewise, when introducing simulated casualties the expectation is that soldiers will act in as close an approximation as possible to how they would respond to a real injury.

Teach your soldiers to value training though your example. It is true that not all training is fun and adventure. For instance, there is a lot of necessary repetition required to master the fundamentals of any individual or collective task. That can become boring. Bad weather can also make even good training more than a little unpleasant. Still, successfully building skills, competence and confidence – even in the worst of circumstances – is always a net positive for the collective esprit of a unit and the morale of individual soldiers.

Most of the veterans on this board could point to countless hours wasted on the tarmac or field site somewhere waiting for transportation. Did anyone in your unit consider trying to use that otherwise dead time to get at least some critical training accomplished? More often than not the answer is no. If someone made the effort, it was probably less than effective because it was not pre-planned but pulled hastily out of their fourth point of contact. Still, to be fair, I would give them at least partial credit for trying. Assuming they do better next time.

Time, money and ammunition are always finite resources. Never waste those precious assets – especially time! Always seek to get maximum effect from the resources you have. Do not waste time lamenting the resources you do not have. As with everything else we have been talking about, I would submit that the wise use of resources always comes down to the quality of leadership at the small unit level. Funny thing is that good leaders, despite the perpetual distractions and constraints, always seem to have enough to build good strong units. Even during periods when resources are much more constrained than has been the case in the last 16-17 years. Poor leaders, on the other hand, always seem to need more time, money or ammo – and still cannot get quality training results.

My final advice on training is that leaders must be willing to take risks. Most soldiers, myself included, like to think that we can always be as physically courageous as required in battle. Perhaps not ready, but willing and able to risk our lives if necessary. From my experiences and observations in various hostile places, I would say that is generally true enough. However, displaying moral courage is arguably much harder. In part, that is because the need for action does not present itself as unambiguously as it does in combat. It sneaks up on a leader over time. It often starts with the insidious – often self-generated – pressure to pencil whip a few training records so the unit looks good or to CYA. After all, training is not life or death and is certainly not important enough to risk damaging a career…or is it?

Now we are clearly talking about dedication to duty more than we are training. You have to ask yourself a question. How much do I really value training and how hard am I actually willing to fight for what might only be a modest and temporary improvement? That is an individual decision we all have to make for ourselves. The Army does constantly tell soldiers to do “the hard right over the easy wrong.” That is noble and righteous advice. However, it would be a mistake to think the institution actually cares. It does not. The Army is a soulless, unfeeling and ungracious machine; a whore who has never loved you – and never will.

If you are a whistleblower, no matter how justified the complaint, you will not be rewarded for your courage or you honesty. No exemplary service award is waiting for you; no building or street named in your honor; and you are not going to receive public recognition as the unit’s soldier, NCO or officer of the year. Worse case, you might even be punished. It should come as no surprise to any professional soldier that truly selfless service is always a bitch. None of that changes the fact that the right thing is always the right thing. In the end, all I can tell you is that principled leadership in training and war is never easy or painless – but I strongly recommend it anyway. De Oppresso Liber and good luck with your training!

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.

See The Image That Has The Internet Outraged

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

On the 23rd of December, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer was photographed while speaking with Marines and Sailors assigned to Task Force Southwest at Camp Shorab, Afghanistan. Sec Spencer, Commandant of the Marine Corps Robert B. Neller and Sgt Maj of the Marine Corps Ronald L. Green met with the unit to show their appreciation of the unit’s efforts and wish them a happy holiday season. Hayatullah Hayat, the governor of Helmand province, and other key leaders from Helmand-based Afghan National Defense and Security Forces held a shura with Spencer, Neller, and Green, allowing for the two sides to reaffirm their combined commitment to crushing insurgency in the region.

Sounds pretty standard, right? Make the jump to see the photo which has the internet is so upset about this visit. (more…)

A Blast From The Past – International Combat Arms

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

I remember purchasing issue of Vol 1, Issue 4 of Guns & Ammo Action Series during my 9th Grade year from a local HyVee grocer. It was the premier issue of International Combat Arms (The Journal of Firepower) and included articles on knives, pistols, shotguns, sub machine guns and assault rifles as well as missiles, the Border Patrol and the 82nd Abn Div. Basically everything a kid could want in those pre-Internet days.

Recently, a friend in Canada sent me a pristine copy. I opened it and a wave of memories washed over me. But, what really struck me were the advertisements.

H&K definitely got in on the act with several full-page, color ads. Oh, to have a few of those offerings now.

Thanks Lav!

WAR Pendant From Tyr Group LLC 

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

The TYR Group WAR Pendant is a reproduction of WAR pendants during the Vietnam war. Some American Soldiers during the war would wear war pendants to counter those who wore peace pendants. The TYR Group WAR Pendant is made of AEB-L stainless steel and is approximately 3/16 inches thick. It is attached to a stainless steel loop finding and a length of 550 survival cord.

To get yours, visit tyrgroupllc.com/product-category/merchandise/pendants

US Army Center of Military History Releases New Cold War Era Book About Berlin Occupation

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) has released a new Cold War era book: The City Becomes a Symbol: The U.S. Army in the Occupation of Berlin, 1945-1949.

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The latest addition in the U.S. Army Cold War series, this new book by William Stivers and Donald A. Carter begins in July 1945 during the opening days of the occupation of Berlin by the Allied powers. The four nations negotiated on all aspects of postwar life in the city, including troop placements, headquarters locations, food distribution and the question of which Berliners could serve in governing the city.

During the initial years of the occupation, differences emerged over policies and goals that led to the Soviets cutting off road and rail access to the city. With no other options, U.S. and British forces had to supply their sectors of the city by air. In addition to meeting the basic needs of the residents in their sectors, the Western allies worked to win the loyalties of the citizens and to convince political leaders to resist the spread of Soviet communism. These first four years of occupation set the stage for a decades-long face-off with the Soviets in Germany.

This book is 329 pages and contains six maps, forty illustrations and an index. It will be issued as CMH Pub 45-4 (cloth) and 45-4-1 (paper), and is available for purchase by the general public from the U.S. Government Publishing Office.

To order the book, go to bookstore.gpo.gov/products/city-becomes-symbol-us-army-occupation-berlin-1945-1949.

To see other books about the history of the U.S. Army in the Cold War please visit history.army.mil/html/bookshelves/collect/cold-war-series.

Combat Photographer Catherine Leroy

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Born in Paris during the height of World War Two, Combat Photographer Catherine Leroy is well known for her coverage of the Vietnam War.

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Here, we see here just before a combat jump with the 173rd Airborne Brigade during operation Junction City in 1967, making her the first nrwsperson of the war to jump in a combat zone. In 1968, during the Tet Offensive, Leroy was captured by the North Vietnamese Army. She managed to talk her way out and emerged as the first newsperson to take photos of NVA Regulars behind their own lines.

SMA Dailey At Army/Navy Game In Prototype Pinks and Greens

Monday, December 11th, 2017

You’re looking at the best leadership team the US Army has had in quite some time.

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Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley is seen with Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey during Saturday’s Army/Navy Game. SMA Dailey is wearing a prototype ‘Pinks and Greens’ service dress uniform which he was recently fitted for by a team from PEO Soldier.

The uniform is referred to as ‘Pinks and Greens’ because it is inspired by an iconic World War Two-era dress uniform. This modernized version is available in male and female versions. If it is adopted, there’s even talk of an optional wear leather A-2 flight jacket.

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Update: Here are a few more photos from PEO Soldier.

A Date Which Will Live In Infamy

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

President Roosevelt called December 7th, 1941, “A date which will live in infamy.”

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Today is the anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. Sadly, we no longer even hold ceremonies commemorating that day. As our greatest generation passes on, let us honor their sacrifices to keep America free.

I’d also like to take a moment of silence for the 2402 Americans who were lost on that day, along with the hundreds more who were wounded during the attack.