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The Baldwin Files – The Fighting Load Continuum Part II

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

It has been a couple of months since Part I of the Fighting Load Continuum (FLC) series. I am not going to re-plow the same ground, but I will be referencing points from the first article. Consequently, it would probably be helpful for readers to review Part I before reading this iteration. We will start where the last part ended. “leaders have to face the fact that for the majority of dismounted combat operations – even relatively short ones – it is all but impossible to avoid at least some overloading [and]…the goal of effective load management should be to keep as many of a unit’s soldiers as possible in the more combat effective green range [of the FLC] – for as much of the time as possible – rather than the cautionary amber or high-risk red zones.

I gave away the “bottom line” of my own FLC concept last time. There is no magic solution and there is no trick to effective dismounted load management – it just requires timely, hard choices and deliberate trade-offs between firepower, protection, and mobility. However, units can be considerably more tactically effective if leaders make better-informed, pre-mission load management decisions. That involves consistently practicing the fundamentals like planning the mission first, then the load; focusing on successful prosecution of the fight, rather than equitably distributing the weight; and practicing and mastering deliberate and hasty load transitions. If a unit is following the age-old principles I outlined last time, everything carried is needed and represents capabilities deemed essential – not just unrelated or superfluous burdens to be endured.

Leaders need to acknowledge their limitations and not waste time agonizing over factors that they cannot “fix,” mitigate, or eliminate. Consider body armor for example. For extended dismounted combat operations involving “closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver,” I am – and have been – comfortable with lighter plate carriers and helmets. I accept the tradeoff between reduced protection and enhanced individual mobility. If in a static defense or mounted operations more body armor (protection) may be more appropriate. For dismounted reconnaissance perhaps no armor at all. What the leader cannot fix, mitigate, or eliminate in combat is the likelihood – sometimes the certainty – that some of your soldiers will die or be seriously injured no matter what choice you make. A leader has to live with that truth and shoulder than burden alone.

Likewise, recognize up front that load discretion is actually quite limited. Fixed weight items are a constant. Weapons, clothing items, body armor, and technological aids weigh what they weight – and if deemed necessary will be carried. NBC protective gear would be another example. If there is a realistic threat that the enemy will use chemical weapons there may not be a choice – the gear will need to be carried. On the other hand, consumables, like water, food, batteries, and ammunition, must be carried in quantities based on the anticipated rate of consumption and frequency of planned resupply. Longer duration missions, and those with limited options for external resupply, naturally force a unit to carry more of all consumables. Still, a unit should only carry what it truly needs, wasting nothing, and not burdening itself with “nice to have” items.

There is nothing new about that tactical reality. In fact, US Army doctrine on load management has been remarkable consistent for decades. ALL of the doctrine has repeatedly recommended that the “fighting load” not exceed ~48 lbs and so called “approach march load” not exceed ~72 lbs. However, FM 21-18, Foot Marches, as far back as 1990, explicitly acknowledged the inescapable conundrum. “Unless part of the load is removed from the soldier’s back and carried elsewhere, all individual load weights are too heavy [emphasis added]. Even if rucksacks are removed, key teams on the battlefield cannot fulfill their roles unless they carry excessively heavy loads. Soldiers who must carry heavy loads restrict the mobility of their units. Overloaded soldiers include the antiarmor teams (individuals carry weights of 111, 101, and 90 pounds), mortar teams (individuals carrying 83 pounds, even after distributing 100 mortar rounds of 3.5 pounds each), fire support teams (carry 92 to 95 pounds), and M60 machine gun teams (carry 78 to 87 pounds). All radio operators equipped with the AN/PRC-77 and KY57 VINSON secure device are also loaded above the maximum recommended combat load (84 pounds). AT4 gunners and low-level voice intercept teams are overloaded as well as Stinger and engineer breaching teams.”

That goes to show that recognizing the problem does not in and of itself solve the problem. One might incorrectly assume that today’s excessive loads can simply be attributed to changing public attitudes about casualties and some element of subsequent risk aversion by modern uniformed and civilian leadership. Except, the overloading of soldiers has always been a problem in every army and in every era throughout history. Generally, soldiers went to war with less capability, a.k.a. “lighter” than their opponents only because of the logistical limitations of their side in the conflict – not by choice. It is also true that lighter forces alone can reasonably delay, but rarely “win” toe-to-toe fights against heavier forces. Think Operation Market Garden.

Much has often been made of the fact that, in many cases, insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan can run away faster than we can pursue on foot. Sure, small groups of locally based fighters that have no intention of seeking or accepting decisive battle can operate and travel extremely light. Indeed, blending quickly back into the general population enhances their chances of survival –not firepower. That is frustrating but in no way indicates that the insurgents are “winning” individual skirmishes. As a matter of fact, because of the more substantial capabilities we routinely carry and can bring to bear, we have – on average – been killing more than 100 insurgents for every one of ours lost for the last 18 years. Even overloaded by comparison, it is extremely rare for us to be at risk of losing any tactical engagement. Granted, it is also true that the prosecution and ultimately the strategic outcome of a war has very little to do with relative body counts, or whether we succeeded or failed to manage individual soldier loads, or even win tactical engagements.

Let us focus for a moment on one consumable class of supply in particular – ammunition. Can a unit or individual have “too much” ammunition. If in a static defense the answer may be no; however, if that ammunition has to be carried on soldiers’ backs the answer is yes. Ask any overloaded trooper who drowned in the inland canals or wading ashore at Normandy. Excess weight is excess weight. As mentioned in Part I, the baseline or standard “fighting load” has been defined by whatever the “basic load” of ammunition is for a rifleman in a given timeframe. Frankly, there has never been much “science” behind determining what a basic load should be. In the First World War, when the 1903 Springfield was the standard rifle, a soldier’s basic load was 55 rounds. 50 in his ammunition belt and 5 in the rifle. For the M1 Garand it was 88. 80 in the belt and 8 in the rifle. For the M14 it was 100 rounds, 80 in ammo pouches and 20 in the rifle. During the initial fielding of the M16 it was 140 (seven 20 round magazines) – although in Vietnam soldiers habitually carried twice that or more. After Vietnam, and the standardization of the 30 round magazines, a basic load stabilized at 210 rounds (7 magazines). I am not being facetious when I say that, historically, it seems the number of rounds or magazines a solder can carry in the issue ammunition belt or pouch has dictated basic loads – not rigorous scientific study.

Do modern riflemen actually need to carry almost three times more ammunition than their World War II counterparts? There is no quantifiable evidence that I am aware of that supports any such conclusion. Logisticians have developed scientifically derived and reliable food and water consumption rates for soldiers in combat. On the other hand, ammunition consumption rates are essentially subjective; and therefore, are of limited utility and not reliable at all. Simply stated, based on even a cursory review of modern (WW II and later) historical combat engagements, the more ammunition available, the more ammunition a unit in combat expends. This is true whether the unit ultimately wins or loses any particular fight.

If a modern unit does legitimate mission analysis and concludes that double or triple basic loads – i.e. 6-9 times what the WWII infantryman carried – is necessary to take an objective, maybe the task is simply more appropriate for a larger unit to tackle?  In any case, I would respectfully suggest that the unit establish an expedient range and expend that extra ammunition to improve soldier shooting skills and confidence before going on the mission instead. I can just about guarantee that would be a more effective use for that ammunition than carrying all that extra weight out of an overabundance of caution or fear.

In other words, it is much more likely that excess ammunition will be wasted rather than used for good effect. As seen in the attached picture, blindly pointing a weapon in the general direction of the enemy and going cyclic until running out of ammunition or a weapon inevitably fails is usually referred to as the “spray and pray” firing technique. Indeed, even calling it a “technique” lends it some semblance of unwarranted legitimacy and is far too kind. Let us call “spray and pray” what it is – panic fire. While panic fire may be emotionally cathartic for poorly trained leaders and scared soldiers, it produces no positive tactical results – and wastes a great deal of ammunition. In short, despite its reportedly widespread use by American forces in Vietnam, panic fire is NOT effective at eliminating the threat or winning the close fight. How do I know that with a high degree of certainty? Simple, no Army has ever had programs of instruction or ranges designed and dedicated to teaching panic fire techniques.

A unit that allows soldiers to panic fire every time they make contact does not need more ammunition – they need more training and a lot more fire discipline. Fire superiority does not mean that one side makes more noise or simply fires more rounds than the other side. Fire superiority requires synchronized fire and maneuver to gain a relatively dominate position to suppress, fix, and ultimately finish an enemy – while simultaneously thwarting his efforts to do the same to you. That means, upon contact  – if not prior to contact – soldiers shed their excess load, return disciplined, aimed, and effective, fire in order to seize the initiative, out maneuver, and decisively out fight their opponents.

Historically, cohesive units with more combat experience tended to carry less rather than more ammunition into battle. Arguably, the unpopular draft, individual soldier and officer frequent rotation policies, and shake-and-bake-NCOs made the experience of some American units in Vietnam the exception that proves that rule. Conversely, American Airborne units of World War II were a great example for modern leaders to study. The paratroopers certainly jumped overloaded to get as much materiel into the fight as possible. However, the troopers dumped or cached the excess ASAP and went into the fight with not much more than ammo and water. That is because the Airborne training program emphasized speed over firepower. The ability of relatively lightly burdened troopers to secure tactical and operational objectives as fast as possible before heavier forces could react and reinforce those positions was critical to mission success. Therefore, the individual troopers and leaders trained with a focus on the lightest possible fighting load, not the necessarily heavy jump load.

Similarly, today’s leaders must triage the fight ahead and adjust load priorities accordingly to facilitate mission success. Do not confuse what you CAN carry with what you NEED to carry to win that fight. Determine what is needed, who needs to carry an essential item, and where (what echelon of the FLC) does the item need to be in to effectively support each phase of an operation. I would suggest that – except in extreme circumstances – a basic load of 7 magazines should be considered the hard ceiling for an individual rifleman’s load. Indeed, smart small-unit leaders know that their bigger organic “boom sticks” can produce better tactical effects against a determined enemy. Machineguns, recoilless rifles, and mortars provide more combat bang for the buck than individual carbines. In other words, instead of carrying more M4 magazines, a unit’s mission is likely better served by distributing more of the heavier ammunition for the crew-served weapons.

In Part III, I will discuss techniques for mastering those load transitions and some training strategies that can better prepare units and leaders to successfully manage every aspect of the Fighting Load Continuum.

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.

Fort Campbell Team Places First in 2019 Best Sapper Competition

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — The 13th annual Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers Best Sapper Competition concluded with an awards ceremony Thursday on Gammon Field.

In a heavily-contested race to earn the title as the next Best Sapper, Capt. John Baer and 1st Lt. Terence Hughes representing Team 17 from the 39th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, emerged as this year’s top-placing team.

Top finishers were:

1st Place — Team 17: Capt. John Baer, 1st Lt. Terence Hughes, 39th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Fort Campbell, Kentucky;

2nd Place — Team 16: Staff Sgt. Lucas Tucker, 1st Lt. Sabin Vaira, 27th Engineer Battalion, Fort Bragg, North Carolina;

3rd Place — Team 6: Capt. Erwin Marciniak, 1st Lt. Jeremy Matsumoto, 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Fort Carson, Colorado.

Event awards went to the following units:

Non-standard Physical Fitness event winner — Team 17: Capt. John Baer, 1st Lt. Terence Hughes, 39th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Fort Campbell, Kentucky;

Water Operations Phase — Team 6: Capt. Erwin Marciniak, 1st Lt. Jeremy Matsumoto, 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Fort Carson, Colorado;

Round Robin Phase — Team 28: Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Olson, Sgt. David Wilson, 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska;

Land Navigation Phase — Team 6: Capt. Erwin Marciniak, 1st Lt. Jeremy Matsumoto, 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Fort Carson, Colorado;

X-mile Ruck — Team 16: Staff Sgt. Lucas Tucker, 1st Lt. Sabin Vaira, 27th Engineer Battalion, Fort Bragg, North Carolina and;

X-mile Run — Team 17: Capt. John Baer, 1st Lt. Terence Hughes, 39th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Story by Martha Yoshida, Leonard Wood

Photos by Michael Curtis, Leonard Wood

US Military Academy at West Point Combat Weapons Team Earns Top Honor at 2019 SIG Relentless Warrior Championship

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

NEWINGTON, N.H., (April 11, 2019) –SIG SAUER, Inc. is honored to announce the conclusion of the Second Annual SIG Relentless Warrior Championship.  On Saturday, March 30, 2019, ninety cadets from the United States Air Force Academy, United States Naval Academy, United States Coast Guard Academy, United States Military Academy at West Point, Virginia Military Institute (VMI), Texas A&M, and the Merchant Marine Academy competed in the SIG Relentless Warrior Championship at the SIG SAUER Academy in Epping, New Hampshire.  The course of fire consisted of seven mission stages that tested the marksmanship and leadership skills of our future military leaders.  The U.S. Military Academy at West Point Combat Weapons Team earned the top honor of being named the 2019 SIG Relentless Warrior Champions. 

“Our team has always focused on training to become the best leaders, shooters, and warriors.  The stages tested their ability to problem solve, plan, execute, and represented a wide scope of shooting skills,” began Gary Salman, U.S. Military Academy at West Point Academy Combat Weapons Team, Coach.  “Our team was relentless when it came to training.  Mindset and focus was the overarching message throughout our training.  The excitement of the win, validated by hard work and dedication was truly amazing.”

Additional top awards for the SIG Relentless Warrior Championship are as follows:

Top Gun:

Awarded to the individual first place finisher of the competition

Bobby Sobeski (US Military Academy at West Point)

High Lady:

Awarded to the top female competitor

Savannah Butters (Texas A&M)

Top Shot:

Awarded to the best shooter from every school

Isaac Perkins (US Air Force Academy)

Philip Kuong (US Coast Guard Academy)

Nick Wiley (US Naval Academy)

Wade Ledbetter (Texas A&M)

G.M. Goldsmith (Virginia Military Institute)

Bobby Sobeski (US Military Academy at West Point)

Ultimate Warrior:

Awarded to the top finisher of the Warrior vs. Warrior shoot-off

Colton Roach (Texas A&M)

“It’s an honor for SIG SAUER to host the SIG Relentless Warrior Championship for these cadets and to participate in their development as they prepare to lead and serve our country and defend our freedoms,” began Tom Taylor, Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President, Commercial Sales, SIG SAUER, Inc.  “The success of this championship is shared through a strong partnership with the National Rifle Association and their commitment to our nation’s future leaders and the sport of competitive shooting.”

The 2019 SIG Relentless Warrior Championship was sponsored by the National Rifle Association (NRA), GT Targets, and Atlas PyroVision Entertainment. 

 

The Baldwin Files – Leadership – Imposing a Modicum of Order on Chaos

Saturday, April 6th, 2019

When I was a younger soldier, I thought that leaders were – by definition – “problem solvers.” For a time, I was convinced that leaders had the duty and the power to “fix” almost anything. In the 1990s, we even babbled in professional forums about the need to evolve into “full-spectrum” or “multi-dimensional” problem solvers. However, long before that, I came to realize that definitively solving problems is rarely something that a leader – no matter how senior or experienced – has the authority, capability, opportunity, or realistic possibility of actually accomplishing.

What I found over the years is that leaders almost invariably can do little more than ameliorate (make something bad or unsatisfactory better) problems – not solve them. Complex human conundrums in peace and war rarely lend themselves to simple, singular solutions. Instead, those kinds of difficult challenges demand trial and error and a series of continuous and incremental decisions on the part of leaders. In other words, at any particular point in time, a leader likely only has the power to impose a modicum of order on whatever chaotic dilemma their unit might be facing. Therefore, as leaders, we have to recognize – but remain undaunted – by our limitations and strive to become masters of the art of timely and “good enough” decision-making.

Although the principle I am talking about applies to military leadership anytime and anywhere, I think it is appropriate to use my Ranger School experience to illustrate the point. Indeed, Ranger School is all about good enough leadership. Also, since many of the readers on SSD have been there, much of this will be very familiar. The school focuses on leadership and uses the vehicle of small unit combat actions to stress and test students. That means countless iterations of ambushes and raids. Initially, students work in squads at Fort Benning and there were a couple of company-sized missions in the Desert and in Florida when I went through: however, the majority of patrols are at the platoon level

I attended the school in the 1980s and would not deny that some of the details are a little fuzzy after all these years; but I will tell the story as I remember it. The school was 64 days long at the time divided into 4 phases at 4 different locations (Benning, Mountains, Desert, and Swamp). As was normal then, and probably still is now, the majority of the students are fresh-minted lieutenants and specialists from the Ranger Battalions. That was about 85% of my class. Beyond that, there was a handful of NCOs from various other units and a few more seasoned officers. We had two captains, so I was not the most senior student in my class. However, having already been in the infantry ~ 12 years at that point, I was – no doubt – the most experienced in small unit tactics.

Because of my time in the infantry, I also had a good understanding of how Army schools work. Therefore, the methodology behind the process was not as new or mysterious for me as it was for some of the younger candidates. For instance, like most Army schools, Ranger School intentionally racks and stacks students so that not all of the most experienced or least experienced people cluster in any one training platoon. Likewise, all the other sub-categories of students were evenly distributed across the class. For example, we had a half dozen NCO cadre (SSG and SFC) from the Sapper Leaders Course, 5 USMC Lieutenants and 10 or 11 International Students. One of each ended up in the squad I was in and a Turkish Commando became my Ranger Buddy.

A Ranger Class is not a normal unit; nonetheless, it does become a more cohesive entity over time. Some students drop out or get recycled at the end of each phase and a handful of recycles from the last class join at the beginning of each new cycle. Still, the core of the squad and platoon I started with were still there at the end and we became pretty tight. There is an internal logic to the training, but it is an artificial environment and only simulates some aspects of combat. For one thing, rank and experience is generally irrelevant – but not entirely. The Ranger Instructors (RIs) do (rightly) expect the more senior students to display leadership skills sooner and more consistently than they expect immediately from the youngsters.

Every Ranger student is cautioned many times about being a “Spotlight Ranger.” That is someone who only puts out maximum effort when he is in a leadership position but otherwise tries to lay low and coast. It should be obvious that if one does not voluntarily shoulder a fair share of the burden and then some to help a buddy get a “go” than that buddy will not be inclined to do the same for you when it is your turn to be a leader. Still, some have to learn that lesson the hard way. In my experience at the school, spotlights who did not quickly correct themselves did not fare well and frankly were glaringly obvious to the other students and the RIs.

However, conversely, directly assisting a buddy in decision-making was strictly prohibited. I got a minus (negative) spot report early on while trying to quietly “coach” one of the younger guys leading a patrol for the first time. The RI used me as a bad example and explained to the entire patrol that the designated leaders were being graded on their leadership and each student has to meet or fail that standard individually. In the end, everyone has to carry their own ruck. Obviously, that is the central premise of the school. Of course, I already knew that but managed to step on my crank anyway. As a side note, the same RI took me aside and confided that the cadre would generally give me a little more latitude when helping my Turkish Ranger Buddy since English was not his first language.   

Rank and experience were also subtly factored into leadership rotations. For a platoon sized patrol there was a Patrol Leader (PL), an Assistant Patrol Leader (APL)(the APL was often referred to by the RIs as “Platoon Sergeant”), and 3 or 4 Squad Leaders (SL) – depending on the size of the platoon. Usually a phase would start with 4 squads and by attrition go down to 3 by the end of the phase. When a new chain of command was put into place, it was usually a mix of stronger guys and some that might be struggling. It was also noticeable that in the last 3-4 days of a phase some students would start getting back-to-back leadership positions. This was so that someone at risk of recycle – but salvageable – would have the extra chance to get a “go” and improve their record.

There was one particular instance during my class when the deck was clearly stacked with only the most experienced students. That was the culminating company sized live fire raid in the desert at Dugway, Utah. Unlike more routine missions that often saw multiple leadership changes after planning, movement, actions on the objective, and occupation of a post mission patrol base, the live fire had the same leadership team throughout. That was immensely helpful. Not surprisingly, the mission went off without a hitch and the student leaders all got a “go” for their efforts. In fact, the PL got what was called an “Honor Grad Go” for not screwing it up. I was that PL.

Less than 24 hours later, we jumped from C141s into Florida for our final phase of Ranger School. We were a winter class, it had been dry but very cold at Dugway, and we were all looking forward to a warmer clime. Ironically, because we were constantly wet, we shivered and hovered close to hyperthermia more in the swamps than we ever had in the desert or even the mountains. The fact that we had no body fat left to speak of did not help either. We did some river crossing exercises, rope bridges and small boats the first few days and then right into patrolling. By that time, we were fully drilled in the SOPs of the school and worked well together. However, we were collectively and individually very tired and the sleep deprivation over time can impede even the hardest chargers or the best units. 

That brings me to the very last patrol of my Ranger Class. I had already been in leadership positions in the swamps several times. Twice as PL, one APL and 2-3 SL positions. Based on the post patrol debriefs by the RIs I was reasonably confident that I had gotten at least a qualified “go” in each case. The RIs rarely left any doubt if you were a “no go.” None of the students knew exactly when we would get to that final mission but we were aware the end was near. We also knew that several guys had not / were not doing well. One young lieutenant had been the PL just the night prior and had done poorly. The patrol itself had not gone too badly, but that was only because the other leaders held it together. The PL’s leadership – or lack thereof – had been irrelevant to the outcome. He knew that, was one depressed puppy, and fully expected to be recycled.

Therefore, I am sure he was surprised to be called on again to be PL so soon. I was equally surprised to be designated as the APL for that last ambush patrol. To round out the team one of the SLs was a stud from the Sapper Leader Couse and the other two were at risk and, like the PL, also really needed a “go.” To be clear, none of us needed a “no go.”  The first part of the patrol, planning and movement, went routinely. I did the APL tasks like equipment and personnel accountability. Mostly that meant I ran after students that started to wander away from the column in a stupor thereby preventing breaks in contact. I was positioned at the tail of the platoon with two RIs. Another RI was with the PL forward. It was very a bright moonlit night and we were moving through relatively open, flat ground. Every so often, a student would make a 90 degree turn and chart his own route. The RIs would laugh and tell me to get after him. I would put the sleepwalker back in place by hand and make him hold on to his buddy’s ruck. After a short time, the platoon looked more like a conga line than a unit in mock combat – but we did what we had to do. Zombie herding 101.

Occupying the Objective Rally Point (ORP), leaders’ reconnaissance and occupation of the ambush site went without incident. So far so good. Indeed, despite being extremely tired, the platoon was doing what it had been trained to do. In fact, things were going too smoothly and the leaders – me included – were not really being tested up to that point. That was about to change. The ambush site was flat and also sparsely wooded and a one-lane firebreak road ran parallel to our ambush line. As was the school SOP for APLs, I was with the support element (two M60 machinegun teams) on the left flank and at an angle to the assault element (classic L-Shaped Ambush formation). As expected in our mission planning, a single truck moved into our kill zone from our right to left. The PL initiated the ambush with claymores (grenade simulators) and we poured on the blank fire.

At this point, the RIs intervened and things started going in a different direction. The assault element had been expected to assault across the objective, search the truck, recover a piece of “sensitive” enemy communications gear from the back and destroy the truck with a satchel charge upon withdrawal. None of that happened. Only half the assault element moved forward at all and no one crossed the road. Additionally, the RIs designated two casualties just off the road immediately behind the truck. Moreover, the 2-3 enemy soldiers from the truck had not been killed or wounded by our fires but rather had taken up positions on the other side of the truck and were engaging us and preventing the immediate retrieval of our wounded. In other words, we had failed to secure the objective.

“So, PL, what are you going to do?” I heard one of the RIs say as I joined the PL. Now, to be fair, the PL had not made any glaring mistakes to that point. However, as with the earlier patrol, he had yet to display any real leadership under pressure. The dilemma we were in was certainly artificial and of the RIs making, but it was entirely up to the PL to ameliorate the situation. Instead, inexplicably, the PL decided to simply reinitiate the ambush. So we did that. In the second iteration, we fired off every last blank we had. Nothing changed. The RIs informed the PL that our fires were ineffective and the volume of fire from the enemy on the other side of the road was too heavy to assault across the objective without significantly more casualties. So the senior RI repeated his earlier question – louder this time so that the entire platoon could hear – “what are you going to do, PL?”

Silence. The PL froze and said nothing. The SLs and I are laying there in the prone waiting for the PL to give us some direction. We are all acutely aware that the person at the most risk in this scenario was not either of the two simulated casualties but rather that PL and any chance for him to avoid recycle or perhaps get a Ranger Tab at all. Nevertheless, we could not make the decisions for him. It was truly a surreal situation. Bright enough to read a newspaper in the moonlight and very quiet – except for the occasional blank being fired by the enemy. The pause was not long, perhaps two minutes. The PL never uttered a word. Finally, the senior RI made the decision instead. He said, “Platoon Sergeant, what are you going to do?”

I was not expecting that. The normal protocol would have been to designate a new PL, or perhaps an entirely new chain of command. I suppose that because the RIs knew it was literally the last event the intent was to give most of us a final chance to get a “go” even if the PL had already failed. So, the RIs did not explicitly relieve the PL, or make me the PL, but had just made it my problem to ameliorate. I had no time to feel sorry for the PL or myself. I told the RIs that I intended to get us out of there as fast as I could. I had no plan but was making it up as I went. No need for noise discipline if we are in an ongoing “firefight.” Consequently, I am yelling all of these instructions out so that everyone in the platoon can hear. I directed the RTO to call in fires 300 meters on the other side of the road and walk it in danger close to the truck. I tell the squad closest to the road to throw smoke on my signal (we had no smoke) and then recover the two wounded.

Someone asked about the communications gear we were supposed to recover. I replied, “screw that” and told the squad to stay out of the truck but throw in their satchel charge on the way out. I had just changed the mission. The RIs said nothing. After another minute or two, the RIs informed me that the indirect fire was now danger close. They had no more artillery simulators either. I repeated that to the platoon. I then ordered the platoon to provide covering fire for the retrieval of the wounded. Everybody went bang bang or pew pew. I gave the order to throw smoke and the RIs “confirmed” that the smoke was out. We got the casualties, destroyed the truck with the dummy explosives and withdrew from the objective.

The same chain of command remained in place the rest of the night as we moved on foot back to the Florida Ranger Camp. I continued to be the APL and ran after many more stragglers. The moral of the story is I could not and did not solve any dilemmas that night in Ranger School. I did not “fix” that flawed ambush situation. However, I did have the power to act. All I could reasonably do was extricate the platoon from that fiasco in the most expeditious way I could think of. Two of the SLs passed and graduated. The PL and one of the at risk SLs did not. Hopefully, they learned from the experience, took the recycle, and graduated with the next class. Nothing wrong with that – some 30-40% of Ranger School Graduates have at least one recycle. I got my second “Honor Grad Go” for that patrol.

As I pointed out in the beginning, even the very best leaders can only do so much. It behooves us to acknowledge that none of us has the power to do or “fix” everything. On the other hand, leaders are never powerless and are always capable of doing something with whatever resources they have on hand. I saw this pattern repeat itself many times during “real-world” operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. New leadership crew rotates in with the “perfect” plan developed at home station to solve all the systemic problems in “their” province before they tap out. Failure is not an option and they are ready to do it all. About halfway through the rotation, reality sets in and they conclude that there is absolutely nothing they can do to fix the local situation in the time allotted. By the end of the rotation they have determined that they could have done so much more…if only higher had listened to them…if they only had more resources…or if there was only more time.

We all know it is easier to shift blame and make excuses than it is to learn the hard lessons from our mistakes. A leader that fails to continuously and realistically assess the challenges and the opportunities he or she faces is almost certainly going to fail. I suggest you ask yourself this question: did the decisions I made today – or chose not to make – impose the intended modicum of order or instead add to the chaos. If the answer is the former, that was a good decision and you should do more like that. If the latter, then that was a bad decision and you must take corrective action immediately. A leader paralyzed into indecision is probably the worst form of chaos a military unit can encounter in peace or war. Strive mightily every day not to be that kind of leader.

De Opresso Liber!

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.

Strategie & Technik – German Navy Awards Boarding Specialist Qualification Badge

Sunday, March 31st, 2019

According to our friends at the German language blog, “Strategie & Technik” the Seebataillon der Deutschen Marine has awarded the Boarding Specialist (Bordeinsatzsoldat) Qualification Badge for the first time since its creation in 2015. It is meant to designate fully qualified boarding team leaders.

Read the full details here.

NCOs Are The Backbone Of The American Military

Friday, March 29th, 2019

Enforcing the standards is a tough job. It requires intestinal fortitude and impartial fairness.

—SMA Julius W Gates, USA Ret

New Marksmanship Test Aims To Create More Realistic Environment

Sunday, March 24th, 2019

CAMP GUERNSEY, Wyo. — While it hasn’t received as much attention as the new Army physical fitness evaluation, the 40 targets on the rifle marksmanship range are also about to be engaged in a more combat-focused manner.

Soldiers from the Wyoming Army National Guard’s C Company, 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment (Forward) were the first to try out the new test at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center as part of pre-deployment training that will require them to conduct the proposed analysis two more times this year.

The new marksmanship test has been undergoing evaluations and changes for about two years, primarily by the active duty’s airborne infantry units, and is slated to become the Army-wide standard for rifle marksmanship qualification in the fiscal year 2020.

“It’s a lot more functional and realistic, integrating more of a rifleman’s tasks,” said Staff Sgt. Zach Semmons, a squad leader with 1/297th. “You have to maintain situational awareness, keep a round count, and execute combat magazine changes, all while engaging the targets.”

According to an Army Times article from Jan. 17, 2018, Brig. Gen. Christopher Donahue, commandant of the U.S. Army Infantry School, said the proposed changes are all aimed at increasing Soldier lethality and presenting a more realistic shooting environment based on what the Army has seen in 16 years of combat.

As it sits now, the new weapons qualification will feature four shooting positions–prone unsupported, prone supported, kneeling supported, and standing supported. Soldiers are issued four 10-round magazines, to engage 40 pop-up targets from the four shooting positions. Some iterations will show three or four targets at a time, forcing Soldiers to be extremely focused.

Sgt. Sol Griffith, a fire team leader with the Afton-based infantry company, said the unit will conduct the qualification with its parent unit in Alaska soon, and again during mobilization training at Fort Bliss, before deploying overseas this year.

During the March 7 training day, Griffith demonstrated the test for his comrades before they conducted the current qualification for their annual records when they concluded that test, the rest of the unit tried out the future test.

Spc. Lance Pierce, a target systems repairer, assigned to Camp Guernsey’s Training Center Command, learned about the new standard last year while attending a course at Training Center University, and built a software program that would run the test and the targets at Camp Guernsey.

“This is the first unit to try it out,” he said before the demonstration. “No one had any use for the program until now.”

“Now you have three or four targets up at the same time, and you have to transition between them very thoughtfully,” said Griffith. “It’s not like it was with someone yelling what target is coming up. Plus, the tower doesn’t tell you when to do a (magazine) change. You have to know when to do it, and then, do it.”

The new standard is going to be difficult for a lot of shooters, even those who hold the rifleman occupational specialty. For instance, the range noncommissioned officer in charge announced from the tower’s public address system that Griffith hit 22 of the 40 targets during the demonstration. “Sgt. Griffith usually hits 40 out of 40,” the tower announcer added.

As for the rest of the unit, Semmons said about half the Soldiers met the minimum qualifying standard of 23 hits, and a 32 was the high score of the practice round.

“It was the first time trying it for most of them,” he said. “But, I think it went extremely well, and they were very receptive to it. They liked the mag change and engaging more targets.”

By Sgt. 1st Class James McGuire, Wyoming National Guard

US Army Small Arms Championship Winners Announced

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

FORT BENNING, Ga. – The 2019 U.S. Army Small Arms Championships, which is hosted by the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, concluded it’s seven-day competition at Fort Benning, Georgia on March 16 with an awards ceremony.

The annual competition, which is commonly called the All Army, is the Army’s premier marksmanship competition that tests Soldiers ability on both their primary and secondary weapons through 11 different course of fire. This year, more than 260 Soldiers from across the United States and all four components of the Army (active duty, National Guard, Reserve and ROTC) came seeking the top titles as they battled it out in both tactical and civilian-style rifle and pistol matches, as well as a multigun match.

This year’s winners are:
• The 2019 All Army Champion: U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Horner with the Army Reserve Careers Division. (Suffolk, VA native)

• The 2019 All Army Champion Team: The U.S. Army Reserve team from Army Reserve Careers Division. Team members are: Sgt. Joseph Hall, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Horner, Staff Sgt. Rafael Fuentes, Sgt. 1st Class Charles Parker, and coach: Sgt. Maj. James Mauer.

• The 2019 All Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley Trophy awardee: Texas A&M Cadet Brannon Sickels. This marksmanship excellence award is presented to the top cadet having the highest combined score from all rifle and pistol excellence in competition matches. During the All Army Championships, Sickels earned his Distinguished Pistol Shot Marksmanship Badge.

• The 2019 All Army Col. Ralph Puckett Awardee: Texas Army National Guard Sgt. Jaymes Sendo. This for excellence in marksmanship award is presented to the combined top novice shooter from all the rifle and pistol Excellence in Competition matches.

• The 2019 All Army Multigun Champion: U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Horner with the Army Reserve Careers Division.

• The 2019 All Army Pistol Champion: U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Christopher Liming.

• The 2019 All Army Rifle Champion: National Guard Maj. Samuel Freeman with the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center.

• The 2019 All Army Open Division Champion: North Dakota Air National Guard Senior Airman Gavin Rook.

• The 2019 All Army Top Cadet: Texas A&M Cadet Brannon Sickels.

• The 2019 All Army Novice Division Champion: U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyler Virgin with 1st Corps.

• The 2019 All Army High Drill Sergeant: U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Varela from the 198th Infantry Training Brigade.

• The 2019 All Army Pistol Champion Team: Texas Army National Guard. Team members: Staff Sgt. Justus Densmore, Sgt. Tyler Greene, Capt. Robert Lee, Sgt. Jaymes Sendo, and coach: Staff Sgt. Michael Richey.

• The 2019 All Army Rifle Champion Team: California Army National Guard. Team members are Master Sgt. Philip Brock, Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Garcia, Staff Sgt. Wayne Gray, and Sgt. Obed Gutierrez.

• The 2019 All Army Multigun Champion Team: U.S Army 1st Corps Team. Team members are: Sgt. 1st Class Tyler Virgin, Sgt. Ashton Foster, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Wirts, Staff Sgt. Logan Frost, and coach: Staff Sgt. Jeffery Lewis.

Story by MAJ Michelle Lunato, US Army Marksmanship Unit