TYR Tactical

Archive for the ‘Profession of Arms’ Category

Additional SFAB Bases Announced

Monday, May 21st, 2018

The US Army has announced the final three bases for its new Security Force Assistance Brigades. The 3rd SFAB at Fort Hood, TX; the 4th SFAB at Fort Carson, CO, and 5th SFAB at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA. Tgese john n the 1st at Ft Benning and 2nd at Ft Bragg. SFABs are specialized units whose core mission is to conduct advise-and-assist operations with allied and partner nations.

State of the Infantry: Updates to Marksmanship, Training

Monday, May 7th, 2018

FORT BENNING, Ga. — The U.S. is being challenged by a number of near-peer adversaries and, to a certain extent, terrorist organizations, said Brig. Gen. Christopher T. Donahue, Infantry School Commandant, Maneuver Center of Excellence.

Riflemen with 4th Infantry Division at Rukla Training Area, Lithuania, Aug. 24, 2017. T (Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Lithuanian Land Forces)

“We still have the capability to defeat them all but we are at a point where we have to improve the mental and physical toughness of the infantry and ensure we’re incorporating new technologies and capabilities to ensure we remain the decisive force for the military,” he added.

Brig. Gen. Christopher T. Donahue, Infantry School Commandant, Maneuver Center of Excellence, congratulates Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division, who won the Best Mortar Competition during Infantry Week, April 2018 at Fort Benning, Ga. (Photo Credit: David Vergun)

Donahue spoke after attending the April 16 awards ceremony for the inaugural Best Mortar Competition. The competition was part of the April 13-20 Infantry Week here.

The general addressed several initiatives that the Army is taking to ensure the infantry retains overmatch.

One of the most fundamental responsibilities the Army has is ensuring that the right people are being selected for the Infantry Branch, he said, describing the infantry as “the 100,000 who close with the enemy.”

The Army is doing that through reform of its talent management system, he said. “We want intelligent, physically fit people who are capable of enduring hardships against a near peer.”

At higher echelon, the Office of the Secretary of Defense is also examining the attributes of a successful infantryman with its Close Combat Lethality Task Force, he added.

Once these people are recruited into the Infantry Branch, it’s important that they master infantry basics right off the bat, he said. “You can’t do anything without mastering the basics. You have to be very good at that.”

Soldiers compete in Best Mortar Competition during Infantry Week, April 2018 at Fort Benning, Ga. (Photo Credit: David Vergun)

In July, the Army will run a pilot to extend the Infantry One-Station Unit Training out to 21 weeks, he said, explaining that OSUT is the equivalent of Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training.

Lengthening OSUT “will help ensure we’re producing the right person that can walk into a unit, ready to fight, win and survive,” he said.

In another initiative, the Army will be transitioning to a new marksman qualification test, he said. Soldiers will still be given 40 rounds, but instead of just shooting prone and from a foxhole, they will shoot prone, prone unsupported, kneeling and then standing — all within six minutes. “It will reflect what we think you’ll be doing in combat.”

Soldiers compete in the Combatives Tournament during Infantry Week, April 2018 at Fort Benning, Ga. (Photo Credit: David Vergun)

Soldiers will also be trained to fight in austere environments where communications is degraded or denied, he said, terming it a “multi-domain environment” that includes space, cyber, urban and even subterranean battle.

Donahue noted that when he was a lieutenant going through infantry training, Soldiers were taught how to continue the fight despite severed communications with headquarters. “We’ve got away from that, but we’re going back to doing that.”

What he didn’t learn as a lieutenant, he said, was how to deal with social media that the enemy will use to gain an advantage. That too is being incorporated into the schoolhouse.

To fight and win also means equipping Soldiers with the right technology and capability, he said. Cross-functional teams will be going after that in the new Futures Command.

For instance, virtual reality will enable Soldiers to get a lot more training in than they normally would with live-training only. Virtual training environments allow commanders to run Soldiers through many more repetitions, at no extra cost, before going to validate in a live environment.

Col. Townley Hedrick, deputy commandant for the Infantry School, said that the Army is developing a functional fitness test that will better prepare Soldiers for the rigors of combat.

Hedrick spoke after attending the Combatives Tournament awards ceremony, another Infantry Week event, held concurrently with the Best Mortar and Best Ranger competitions.

While vigorous and repetitive training is important, “when you compete at anything, it makes people up their game to the highest level,” he said. “You can train and train and train, but it’s actually competition that takes you to that final level of precision and perfection.”

Hedrick predicted that there will be more competitive events coming throughout the Army similar to those featured here during Infantry Week.

By David Vergun, Army News Service

(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)

The Art of the Operational Advisor

Monday, May 7th, 2018

The U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG), headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, selects, trains, and prepares the most qualified applicants to become Operational Advisors (OAs). Operational Advisors are subject matter experts in their field. They are seasoned warriors who support Army and Joint Force Commanders to enhance Soldier survivability and combat effectiveness, and enable the defeat of current and emerging threats in support of Unified Land Operations.

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Operational Advisors are senior enlisted Soldiers (Sgt. 1st Class and above), Officers (Capt. to Lt. Col.) and Consultants. Most of the consultant Operational Advisors are combat veterans with Special Operations background, who were once senior ranking enlisted and officers, and are now retired from the military. The consultants continue their service supporting AWG deployed in theater and stateside by mentoring, coaching, and providing guidance to the active duty Operational Advisors. These OA consultants are a critical asset to the organization and assist in the overall completion of the mission. All OAs communicate with each other to spread the knowledge from their observations past and present across the formation.

The Asymmetric Warfare Group has a worldwide focus with regionally aligned squadrons. Traveling in small teams, OAs must also be able to accomplish the mission individually with ambiguous instruction to meet the Commanders Intent. As the OAs prepare to conduct a mission, they will gather information that allows them to identify the initial threat situational template and understand the Operational Environment. The OA will then embed with units and gather first hand observations on enemy tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to increase their situational understanding of the threat. As an external observer, AWG OAs can then assist commanders with material or non-material solutions to provide a time sensitive upper hand in a complex and fluid environment. Operational Advisors will think, adapt, and anticipate ensuring mission success.

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It is clear that AWG places emphasis on readiness of all personnel prior to deploying into a combat zone. As a Combat Cameraman (COMCAM) in support of the Asymmetric Warfare Group, I received an extensive amount of training to prepare myself for most missions during my assignment. (This training is a requirement for all OAs, Operational Advisory Support Personnel, and consultants in the organization regardless if scheduled to deploy or not.) I attended the Combat Skills Training Course (CSTC) where advanced and refresher tactics such as shoot, move, communicate, and medicate skills are taught. In addition to immediate and remedial drills, transition drills from primary to alternate weapons, barrier shooting, and several shooting positions are enforced through scenario driven events. I received a class on different communication platforms and their tactical applications in combat. The medical training was an introduction to mass casualty situations and how to categorize patients for treatment and evacuation if an event became catastrophic. I also attended an IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit) 101 class to get familiarized with all equipment in the personal medical aid kit and how to properly use it. The medic cannot save everyone, but with helping hands from combat lifesavers many battlefield deaths have been prevented simply by someone stopping the bleeding of a casualty. First Aid is a high pay off task and Operational Advisors and OA support personnel go through extensive training to maintain proficiency on this skill.

Integration is a major component of becoming part of the team. After completing CSTC, Charlie Squadron members provided further mentoring to complete additional training and prepare for deployment. Additionally, I attended weekly briefings alongside senior members of the squadron to gain situational awareness of the areas I could be providing support. The squadron’s logistician ensured I was ready to deploy and coordinated for issue of AWGs equipment and weapons. They worked hand in hand assisting me to make sure I had everything I could possibly need in combat and so I could be outfitted and look similar to the advisor I would be shadowing. They helped me coordinate the shipment of my equipment overseas; thus making the deployment official.

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I had the unique opportunity to deploy in May, 2018 with Sgt. 1st Class Roberto (Rob) Crull, an AWG Explosive Ordnance Disposal Advisor from Charlie Squadron to Iraq, as he supported units during Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). I was able to witness first hand how an advisor works from getting into country, to coordinating embeds with an operational element. Prior to departure from the AWG hub in Iraq, we prepared equipment to be self-sufficient so that we would not be a burden on the supported unit. I learned that AWG has the capability to establish expeditionary communications via BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) for secure communication in remote locations. Sgt. 1st Class Crull established a point of contact with the unit to make sure that they could accommodate our stay in their area of operations. Sgt. 1st Class Crull stated that “an OA should never be a hindrance to a unit he/she embeds with. An OA brings everything they need to establish all forms of communications to include solar kits for power for when in austere environments.”

Upon arrival to the unit we were supporting, Sgt. 1st Class Crull met with leadership, introduced himself, gave a capabilities brief on his role, why he was in their area of operations, and presented an overview of what he was looking to accomplish. Once communication was established within the unit, I witnessed the relationships immediately grow between Sgt. 1st Class Crull, unit leaders, and the Soldiers around the area. Sgt. 1st Class Crull quickly became an icon as many Soldiers opened up to him with the many challenges they faced. Sgt. 1st Class Crull and I made ourselves a part of that team by sleeping in the transient tent with the Soldiers versus being in a VIP tent away from unit members, which is what the camp mayor was trying to do out of generosity. A humble servant spirit is necessary to operate with AWG.

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An incident occurred during my time with him where the supporting unit had to respond to a Fallen Angel crisis in their area of operations. Sgt. 1st Class Crull’s past experience in Fallen Angel incidents and mine in forensic photography to assist investigators played a vital role in this unfortunate situation. Sgt. 1st Class Crull was able to integrate us into the flow of operations to assist during the crisis. We loaded into vehicles and moved out with the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to the site. My initial impression was that this was enemy related and my training prepared me to respond with force if necessary. I was ready to perform my duties as a Soldier and secure the site. My training allowed me to be confident in my abilities and calm under stress, but also to respond accordingly. Nothing can prepare you mentally for how to respond to all situations. It is true what they say, in stressful situations your training will kick in and it’s like you automatically know what you have to do. Once the scene was secure and all heroes were recovered from the site, I switched from rifleman to a combat photographer. I began to take photos of the scene to paint the picture for the investigators before the scene could have been contaminated from wind or operational disturbance.

Unit members in the supported unit, valued the knowledge that Sgt. 1st Class Crull presented. Before our departure from the unit, Sgt. 1st Class Crull was able to provide advice and “Make the Unit in Contact Better”. I learned that an Operational Advisor has extensive resources and reach back capabilities, providing the units in contact with rapid solutions. Everything the OA does is based on building relationships within units and earning their trust. The supporting unit was very thankful and opened the doors for him to return. Sgt. 1st Class Crull bolsters the term “quiet professional” and is a great representation of AWG. This was a great experience and I was able to see how AWG operates from a tactical and operational perspective.

The OAs job is never-ending. Upon returning to the states they must gather their observations from the duration of the deployment for post mission dissemination. Those observations are non-attributable towards any specific unit, and identify ways to properly assist the fighting force to defeat current and future threats. The process then starts over and the OA will engage with units during home station training and also at the Combat Training Centers (CTC) to support the next deployment.

When talking to Sgt. 1st Class Crull during one of my days with him, he stated the Charlie Squadron Commander’s vision and in his own words what an AWG Operational Advisor does:

“We strive to make units in contact better by understanding the enemy and the complex operating environment while moving to the sound of guns. AWG is not there to tell a unit they are doing things wrong, we are there to identify outdated doctrine and friendly TTPs so that units in contact can adapt. Successes of operational solutions can then be carried forward to units deploying and currently deployed across the globe” Lt. Col. Kirk Liddle, Charlie Squadron Commander.

Earning the title of an Operational Advisor is not for everyone. The job is very demanding, but the rewards are endless. Once you are part of the Asymmetric Warfare Group, you become part of the AWG family. Families make lifelong bonds through the unique experience of a high operations tempo environment. If you wish to make a difference and be part of the solution, apply for selection at www.awg.army.mil.

Photos feature U.S. Army SSG Jeremiah Hall and SFC Roberto Crull, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Operational Advisor with Charlie Squadron, Asymmetric Warfare Group, waits at a landing zone for transport at a Forward Tactical Assembly Area in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, Mar. 22, 2018. AWG provides operational advisory support globally and rapid solution development to enhance survivability and combat effectiveness, and enable the defeat of current and emerging threats in support of Unified Land Operations. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Randis Monroe)

Story by SGT Randis Monroe, AWG

2nd SFAB Is Recruiting

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

The 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade is forming at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

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Their mission is to deploy in support of a Combatant Commander, integrate with foreign partner forces, assist and advise local security operations to build partner security capacity and capability and achieve regional security in support of US National Interests.

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They are looking for experienced NCO in the following MOSs to fill their ranks.

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I am serious as a heart attack when I recommend that you consider an assignment with SFAB. The Army is putting a lot of emphasis on these new units. If garrison duty has you down, assignment to an SFAB will get you back on track.

By all accounts, the 1st SFAB is filled with excellent NCOs and Officers and they are being fielded the latest equipment, receiving training not offered to most in the conventional forces, and are being deployed to combat zones. That’s what being a Soldier is all about.

There are also some incentives:

$5,000 bonuses (Assignment Incentive Pay (AIP)) for qualified voluteers–as long as the Soldier serves in the unit for at least 12-months.

– Special Promotion Category to SGT–fully eligible SPCs/CPLs promoted with 799 points upon completion of Security Force Assistance Advisor Course (SFAAC).

– Suspended PME requirement to attain pin-on eligibility to SGT through MSG.

– Assignment of choice upon completion of 24-month assignment.

If you’re interested, here’s the link.

www.armyreenlistment.com/sfab

The Need For Tactical Trainer Professional Organizations

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Over the weekend, I shared a press release announcing the formation of the Firearms Trainers Association. The comments on that post here on SSD were as much questions about the program as complaints about its creation. However, on Facebook I saw a great deal of pushback.

Much of it was based on the personalities involved. Some, because the program hasn’t been fully disclosed. There were lots of concerns over the cost of the program as well as the idea that it was mandatory. I saw several people worried about the scope, pointing out that tactical firearms training is different than other types. Still others felt that it wasn’t needed, preferring the current situation. Then, there were those who opposed it, simply because it is.

Regardless of the organization, this is a good concept. Almost a decade ago, I sat down with Grey Group and suggested the creation of a trainer’s organization, offering certification and standardization. At the time, I mentioned that the training industry would soon grow drastically and along with that would come an increase in questionable training. It did, and then some.

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Why Organize?

I believe in the voluntary professionalization of all pursuits, especially this one. I also believe, that in addition to the right to bear arms, we have a right to learn how to use them safely and effectively, even though it is not an enumerated right.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few trainers putting out bad info or are underqualified. Some are just downright unsafe. On the plus side, there are men and women who are excellent, professional tactical firearms trainers. They should be able to work together for self improvement as well as protection in the form of advocacy and insurance and to let customers know they meet a certain standard.

Multiple Organizations

I fully suspect that there will be multiple organizations created before the field shrinks to just a few. Primary & Secondary has been trying to get something going; cost free. Others will form groups of friends. Some will create very specialized organizations. Over time, some will rise to the top, others will combine, and some will fade away. Those who survive will do so by gaining the confidence of trainers and students alike. Eventually, there will be one or more effective professional organizations for tactical firearms trainers.

Standards

As I mentioned earlier, there is bad stuff being being put out by some firearms trainers. The industry needs to adopt a set of standards. It also needs to offer certifications based on those standards.

Advocacy

One thing I want to see in such an organization is advocacy. Earlier, I posed the idea that we have a right to learn how to use our firearms. That right must be protected as much as the firearms themselves.

I mentioned on Facebook that organized groups with standards for its members serve as a hedge against government regulation. Those regulations and the laws they are derived from originate at all levels of government. I was called paranoid because I mentioned this, with several people telling me the government would never try to regulate firearms training. My counter to this argument was the myriad gun laws already on the books as well as a slew of proposed regulation currently under debate around the nation. It’s only a matter of time before training comes to their attention. Best to organize now.

Acknowledging the American spirit of the rugged individualist, I understand that many instructors are wary of adopting a standard set by others. They will be concerned that it will stifle innovation. That’s why it’s so important for a trainer to find a group which advocates a similar mindset and let his voice be heard. It’s much easier to get in on the ground floor and participate in a voluntary endeavor than to later have to conform to a set of regulations imposed by others.

I also expect to see a true professional organization go to bat for the group’s members and interests. They need to be prepared to speak on behalf of their members to public and private interests and work to keep the industry free from government influence.

Once again, I am a fan of voluntary participation in groups which will improve a pursuit, such as tactical firearms training. The point here is to avoid mandatory requirements set later, by someone outside the industry.

That advocacy can also be used to enrich instructors through clinics and coaching, on the training as well as business sides. Some will think it’s horrible, but this is a business for many, no matter how passionate they are about the subject. It’s how they feed their families. While instructors generally get into it due to passion, they are rarely trained to run small businesses. Such an organization can provide mentorship for its members.

Vetting

A professional organization could vet, or verify, the backgrounds of instructors, preventing ‘stolen valor’ incidents and other false claims. It could also serve as a clearing house for student feedback of instructors. This could be used for customer advocacy as well as mentorship of instructors.

Likewise, the organization could vet students on behalf of the instructors, helping to prevent a trainer from inadvertently training a prohibited person.

Perhaps, a whole slew of compliance services, like ITAR support could be available as well.

Flexibility

Not all trainers are full-time nor do they all have the same backgrounds. A professional trainer’s organization must be able to certify those with different backgrounds and offer something for all of them.

Students

Another advantage is for the student. He can identify a ‘seal of approval’ which informs him the trainer will teach to a standard. It will also hold him as a student to a common standard which is great for instructors to understand the student’s level of performance. For example, a student wants to take an advanced course but did not learn everything he needed in a basic course from another instructor. All too often, the instructor must spend extra time with the student to get him up to speed with the rest of the class. A common framework alleviates such problems.

Membership Fees

I belong to several organizations and they all require a membership fee. There’s nothing shocking about that. Some groups offer more than others and comsequently, cost more to join. Effective organizations cost money to run. But, the value of membership has to be there.

If insurance is available with a program of this scope, even better. In fact, that’s a great reason to join. Maybe, the primary reason.

To Join Or Not Join? That Is The Question

Join a group or start a group, but if you don’t participate on some level, you won’t have a voice. Shaking your fist in the air on Facebook isn’t going to influence the situation.

I Support The Concept

I am not endorsing the Firearms Trainers Association, or any other group at this point. I am however, endorsing the concept. Let’s watch it grow. It will be beneficial to students and instructors alike. Better trainers and better students make for stronger support for the Second Amendment.

Go Commando Show – Episode 33 Featuring SGM Rob Trivino (USA, Ret)

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

Rob Trivino is a Retired US Army Special Operations Veteran and owner of Evergreen Mountain LLC.

I purchased his book, “A Warrior’s Path : Lessons In Leadership” when it came out. It was a valuable read, even though I’m retired. I gave it to one of my sons who also plans a career in the military and hope that he finds its wisdom valuable throughout his life.

Trivino was interviewed on the most recent episode of the Go Commando Show.

I don’t often share other’s work like this without some form of partnership, but I thought it was so important for my readers that I obtained permission to share this episode of the Go Commando Show.

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Go Commando Show is the creation of retired Marine Fred Galvin. The whole series is worth a listen.

Ever Want To Submit An Article To The Army’s PS Magazine?

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

Here’s everything you need to know.

The Baldwin Articles – Fort Benning Trip Report

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

I had the opportunity to spend a few days this last week at Fort Benning, Georgia. It is now the U.S. Army’s Maneuver Center but has been known as “The Home of the Infantry” even longer. I went ostensibly because of my Nephew’s graduation from Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT). However, I traveled early specifically because I had additional objectives in mind. It was a perfect excuse for me to at least briefly observe training first hand and engage some of the training cadre. My time was short so my impressions below are admittedly not scientific or comprehensive. Still, I spent a great part of my professional career quickly assessing the capabilities and status of individuals and units. Therefore, I have reasonably strong confidence in the accuracy of these snapshot assessments. While there, I met with OSUT Drill Sergeants, Officer Candidate School (OCS) Tactical Officers (TACs) and even members of the 1st SFAB.

I will start by enthusiastically and shamelessly plugging the National Infantry Museum (NIM) that is located just outside one of the Post’s gates just off Victory Drive. I actually visited the NIM twice. The first time by myself and the second time with my Nephew and his family. It is an impressive and ultra-modern historical facility and is open and free to the public. There is everything one would expect from a museum focused on the Infantry. Like small arms and support weapons displays – including never fielded experimental items – broken down by era. Likewise, uniforms and field gear. Touch screens accompany many displays and provide background and context on the history of the individual exhibits. For those that appreciate the art of scale modeling, as I do, there are a number of examples displayed throughout the museum including several impressive professionally built dioramas of battle scenes. If I had more time, I would have gone through a couple more times. The NIM alone is worth the side trip if you happen to be in the area.

On my second visit to the NIM, I had one of my better Forrest Gump moments. That is I was in the right place at the right time. By sheer coincidence, it happened that the 1st SFAB had their official activation ceremony on the parade field behind the museum mid-day on Thursday. I cannot tell you who was in the reviewing stand on the far side of the field or who spoke at the ceremony. I observed the event from the second level observation windows of the NIM. I had a great view – but no sound! Two things stuck out immediately about the unit formation. First, as to be expected, it is much smaller than a standard modern maneuver Brigade. Second, it is a combined arms and multifunctional organization. There were infantry, artillery, engineer, combat support and combat service support company guidons on display.

SSD has already reported on their revised beret color. In person, it is dark brown as the pic he posted most recently showed. No mistaking it for the SF green or Ranger tan berets. Likewise, the revised patch is more distinct than the earlier version. I talked in passing to a handful of the younger SFAB NCOs after the ceremony. They were all combat vets – as were most of the NCOs and Officers I saw from the unit. Not to say there were not some without combat patches, but they were few in number compared to those with combat experience. To a man, they were eager to get on with their upcoming deployment. In short, they seemed sharp, disciplined, motivated and ready to take on their mission. As I have said on this site before, I have concerns about meeting their long-term personnel sustainment needs or if the Army can find enough talent to stand up six SFABs total. However, I do believe the mission is valid and, based on everything I have seen and read, I am convinced this first unit is well prepared to tackle this critical assignment.

I had hoped to spend some quality time with the Black Hats at Airborne School but had only limited success. I observed training for the students in ground week for a couple of hours. Specifically the aircraft exit drills on the 34’ Towers. Not much has changed in this phase of the school since WWII or when I went through decades ago. No surprise, the mechanics of jumping out of a fixed wing aircraft in flight or the physics of how a parachute canopy functions have not really needed to evolve much over the years. Consequently, although the students were wearing ACHs rather than steel pots or camouflaged ACUs rather than OD green fatigues, the drills looked exactly the same. The tempo of the drills and the student to instructor ratio was such that I did not get to talk with the Black Hats there. They were simply too busy for me to feel comfortable interrupting their rhythm. I had intended to go out to Fryar Drop Zone on Wednesday. The Cadre Drop Zone Safeties usually have down time between aircraft sorties and I knew that was my best opportunity. However, it drizzled rain all that day and I unfortunately did not have the option of rescheduling.

I did get to spend two early mornings with the TACs at OCS during their 0545 PT sessions. It was my first formal exposure to some of the newer PT techniques that the Army is transitioning towards. For old timers, the most obvious difference is that PT is a lot quieter than it used to be. Not any “in cadence…exercise” involved in the new system. There were still traditional pushups as well as a number of variations, pullups, dips, fireman’s carries and tire rolls. In short, it was not as exotic or unfamiliar as I might have expected. In fact, it just looked a lot more like the small team / individualized PT I had seen and practiced for years in SF units. Of course that means it was quite different from the centralized and regimented system I had experienced in line infantry units way back when. I do not know if this system will ultimately result in better overall physical conditioning. I do suspect that it will generate fewer long-term joint issues than the old system routinely produced. In any case, by the end of those hour plus drills I observed, it seemed obvious that the OCS Candidates were getting a good workout.

I, of course, spoke to my Nephew quite a bit about his experiences in OSUT. I also talked to a number of his compadres. They were all sharp, disciplined, respectful, and showed appropriate pride in their uniforms – as one would expect of newly minted infantrymen. It would be fair to say that they seemed a hell of a lot more professional than my peers and I were at the same point in 1975. However, since the new guys did not have any real frame of reference, it was the Drill Sergeants that I was most interested in surveying. During the week, I spoke one on one with four different Drills, one from E Co, and three from C Co, 54th Infantry (OSUT). As one would expect, they were an impressive bunch of leaders and trainers. All had CIBs, some with multiple tours, all were airborne and one had his Ranger Tab. They certainly compared favorably with the Vietnam veteran Drill Sergeants that trained me.

I will summarize what we discussed beyond exchanging war stories. They were generally comfortable with the product that they were putting out to the force. They emphasized to me that they had already incorporated portions of the 2016, TC 3-22.9: Rifle and Carbine, during the Basic Rifle Marksmanship (BRM) portion of OSUT. In fact, Drill Sergeants were required to rotate through a formal marksmanship program on post specifically to learn how to train what was in the TC. They saw that as a significant positive and thought as a result that BRM was much improved from just a couple of years ago. Still, we all agreed that the new guys did not really know their ass from a hole in the ground yet – but they had proven to be trainable. However, we also agreed that they were no more clueless than we had all been at their age and level of training.

A generation in the Army is about six years. You can tell because every six years or so some young promotable Sergeant, Staff Sergeant or First Lieutenant will write a letter to the Army Times bemoaning the supposed FACT that today’s entry level soldiers are no longer as well trained, disciplined, patriotic or professional as they were when he or she came in. Of course, the “grizzled veteran” is oblivious to the fact that someone said exactly the same thing about him when he was a cherry soldier. After observing this cycle a few times, it becomes predictable and humorous. Often the alarm is raised because someone saw a ragbag or two at some airport. And, of course, that in turns means all new soldiers are ragbags. If you think an occasional disheveled soldier is a new phenomenon you must not have passed through an airport in the 70s, 80s, 90s or 2000s.

But, the alarmist will say, the standards have obviously been lowered! Standards change all the time. True, not all changes produce the intended results. In that case, standards will be readjusted yet again. Rigidly adhering to the old techniques because that “is how it has always been done” is even more counterproductive and ultimately dysfunctional than experimenting with change. The new PT routine I mentioned above is one example that may or may not be perfectly successful but will likely at least reduce rates of injury over time. But, but…the minimum standards are too low. This argument is entirely subjective so it is a little harder to refute. Most professional soldiers believe in demanding and achieving the highest practical standards – individually and collectively. I do. But do not fall into this trap. You will notice that the guy who can run fast always thinks the minimum run times should be shortened. If he is less confident about his upper body strength, he will argue just as energetically against raising the pushup standards.

Likewise, the guy who readily shoots expert thinks “marksman” is too low a standard. Alternatively, the guy who is already bilingual or learns languages easily always thinks 2/2 should be the minimum entry-level score for SF soldiers. I for one would not have gotten into SF if that had been the minimum standard. Each and every one of us have probably been in a situation where we were eternally grateful that the minimum passing standard was no higher than it was. My observations at Fort Benning led me to conclude that the minimum standards are being strictly enforced and that those new infantrymen, soldiers seeking those silver wings and candidates reaching for a commission are, in fact, doing far better than the minimums.

Let us talk about symbols. Are hats or beret colors important to you?  Probably not. Ask any Green Beret and he will tell you that it is not the hat that makes the man and therefore the beret is not that important. He will be sincere when he says that, but just try to take that piece of felt away from him and suddenly it is important. Symbols in the military are significant and powerful. They are magic. But they only have as much magic power as we infuse them with – sometimes even including baptism with the blood of heroes. I thought of that magic as I pinned my Nephew’s infantry blue cord on his ASUs on Thursday morning. Symbols like that cord, or jump wings and jump boots, or tabs, or combat patches can simultaneously mean nothing…and everything.

I personally appreciate the passion that symbols evoke – often manifested in the comments on this site. I was in when GEN(R) Rogers took away the Airborne maroon beret and GEN(R) “Sly” Meyers gave it back a few years later. Paratroopers had complained about the beret until it was no longer authorized – then they wanted it back. Now it would be all but impossible to take it away from them again. GEN(R) Shinseki wanted to harness that symbolic power when he made the decision about issuing the black beret. I respect him and think he was well intentioned. Unfortunately, it has not worked. The Army has never managed to infuse the black beret with any magic. If it went away tomorrow, it is not likely that there would be much of a fight to keep it. However, those kids at OSUT did not know all of that history or drama and seemed genuinely proud to be wearing their berets. As a side note, I admit that I had not noticed before that the generic blue Army flash is a good match in color to that infantry blue cord.

Everyone I observed and talked to at Fort Benning gave me confidence in the future. These young people and their instructors are ably carrying on the traditions of selfless service the American people expect. The Army is sound and the Republic is not in any jeopardy with them – ever vigilant – on the parapets. They are at least as capable and motivated as those that served in my formative years and on par with every generation of soldiers I have served with since. Bottom line, they ARE as well trained, disciplined, patriotic and professional as we “old timers” like to think we were. My Nephew starts Jump School on Monday.

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.