Tactical Tailor

Archive for the ‘Profession of Arms’ Category

Soldiers Test New Combat-Focused Marksmanship Qualification

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii — Similar to the implementation of the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), the Army is now changing how Soldiers qualify with their weapons, making individual weapons qualification more combat focused beginning October 2019.

Soldiers across the 25th Infantry Division with varying skill levels prepared for the new marksmanship standards by conducting a pilot program to assess current installation support capabilities at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

The new four-phase course will now feature standing firing positions. Soldiers are issued four 10-round magazines to engage 40 pop-up targets from the four shooting positions. Soldiers start in the standing position then go to the prone unsupported, then prone supported, kneeling supported and finally the standing supported position. Soldiers utilize a barricade and will have 8-10 second intervals to change magazine and positions.

The new course will replace the current marksmanship qualification course with one that requires Soldiers to engage targets faster and to operate as they would during an enemy engagement.

“The old qualification did not help in combat situations, so they incorporated magazine exchanges and position changes by yourself to represent combat,” said Staff Sgt. Tadeysz Showers, assigned to the 25th Sustainment Brigade. “No matter the military occupational specialty (MOS), any MOS can teach a Soldier how to do this new weapons qualification.”

The division marksmanship pilot program was led by the Lightning Academy Senior Instructor Staff Sgt. Daniel Martin and three other instructors through preliminary marksmanship instruction (PMI), Engagement Skills Trainer (EST), and qualification tables on a standard pop-up range.

In the current qualification course, Soldiers take instructions from the range tower, such as when to change magazines and firing positions. “Now, the qualification only has commands to begin the qualification and when it has ended,” said Martin. “The four 10-round magazines will be in your kit, and you will transition your position and conduct magazine changes on your own without any commands from the tower.”

“The new qualification saves time,” said Showers. “The old qualification took about 20 minutes, this one takes about four minutes to execute and is much faster paced.”

The course is set to become the Army-wide standard for rifle marksmanship. Qualification implementation begins October 2019.

“The new qualification is more challenging, but a lot more realistic,” said Martin. “Some Soldiers have never conducted magazine exchanges on their own without being told when to on the line during the Automatic Record Fire. The course is helping the Army become more efficient in urban combat scenarios.”

“Soldiers start by receiving a series of classes on how to properly zero the rifle, whether it’s a bare rifle or with optics,” said Showers. “Soldiers received classes on laser bore sight, Minute of Angle (MOA), zeroing process, windage, ballistics, and also received EST training and practiced position changes before going to a live range.”

The new weapons qualification maintains the same score requirements as the current system to pass in each category; Soldiers must hit 23 targets out of 40 to qualify. Soldiers must hit 23 to 29 targets for a Marksman rating, 30 to 35 for Sharpshooter and 36 to 40 to qualify for Expert.

“This new weapons qualification is more combat oriented with changing positions, changing magazines and engaging the targets,” said Sgt. Octavius Moon assigned to the 25th Sustainment Brigade. “This will help Soldiers shoot better as well as make ranges faster and have more Soldiers qualified. It helps Soldiers become more knowledgeable about their weapon as well.”

By SGT Sarah Sangster

1st SFAB Trains and Certifies Military Advisors for Worldwide Employment

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

FORT BENNING, GA. – The 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, an Army conventional force for training and advising globally, had the opportunity to enhance their capabilities and train their military advisors over a two-week period during Advisor Forge at Fort Benning, Georgia, August 5 through 18, 2019.

Across scorching hundred degree temperatures in field environments, the Army’s advisors trained in partnering with a foreign force, conducting sling-load operations, establishing electronic equipment for global communication and emergency medical relief scenarios.

The training exercise focused on the development of skills for Army advisors to provide support, advise, and liaise with foreign conventional security force partners in time of worldwide employments.

“Through adaptability, we can be prepared for all different presented issues and come together as a global team to solve them,” said Sgt. Michael Fletcher, an intelligence analyst assigned to 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade.

The culminating exercise was an opportunity for participating Soldiers to enact 1st SFAB’s mission statement of supporting local security operations to build partner security capacity and capability and achieve regional security in support of US National Interests.

“The reason why we are in the SFAB is to create enduring innovative solutions,” said Cpt. Travis Coley, Headquarters and Support company commander within the 6th Battalion, 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, “We exist to empower conventional foreign security forces in establishing sustainable methods to solve issues.” Coley believes SFAB Soldiers are able to do so by applying their training in the understanding of local customs, culture, traditions and political nuances.

The military advisors and instructors of the 1st SFAB, formed in 2017, includes 529 Soldiers, 360 that are officers. It is the first brigade of its kind. According to the Pentagon. Six fully operational brigades are expected to train and preform at the highest capacity by 2020.

By PVT Daniel Alkana

The Baldwin Files – What Next?

Monday, September 16th, 2019

I did some walking around the homestead today. Specifically, I checked and did some minor clearing of an old logging trail that crosses a ridgeline on the “backside” of my property. I have about 56 acres of mostly steep hillsides, and the retirement home I am building is in a central bowl of about 10 acres. When I was a kid, I read about the Native American Tribes east of the Mississippi. They had semi-permanent settlements long before Europeans showed up. It was their habit to clear certain trails of debris to allow their warriors to move quickly and quietly when necessarily in or out of the villages. They used proper camouflage techniques so that those trails would not be obvious to potential raiders from other tribes. Likewise, they took pains to obscure the heavy traffic areas that led to their most productive fishing, hunting, and trapping, locations.

I always liked that idea. I have a one lane paved (public) road that leads to the edge of my property on one side. I do not own it and, therefore, cannot do much with the front door. However, I do like having a not so obvious private backdoor trail off my property that very few know about. Besides the work involved, I do my best thinking – at least I believe I do – when I am moving. Likewise, I have always preferred to give orders, guidance, praise, or admonishment, on the move – rather than in an office. So much so, that it was something of a running joke in at least one of my units. As in, “you know you screwed up if Major Baldwin invites you on a Wisdom Walk”! Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about where I want to take these articles. I already have some in the que in various stages of completion. The fourth and final chapter of the Fighting Load Continuum, something on the Airborne Tactical Assault Panel (A-TAP), and another on machinegun crew training that I am collaborating with Kirk on; just to name a few. Still, it seems appropriate that I also open this up to suggestions from the readers as well.

Of course, I have a one major caveat. I am not likely to attempt to write about a subject in which I have no expertise or that is too far outside my personal experience. I will talk about leadership, training, tactics, gear, and fieldcraft all day long. I have been practicing and trying to master those related skills all my life. That does not make me an expert, but it does make me more knowledgeable than average. I believe in self-reliance, preparedness, and have some experience with “survival skills.” However, my opening vignette notwithstanding, I am obviously not about to go “off the grid” and do not consider myself a Prepper or Survivalist. Therefore, I am not going to opine on how much seed you may need to stockpile in your bunker for the End Times. Although, just as clearly, I may talk about my homestead from time to time if it is germane to the subject.  

I do not talk about shooting. Not that I do not have an opinion, but there are others on this forum that are making a living and still doing that kind of training every day. I will generally defer that subject to them. I will take the opportunity to reinforce something that I have heard others say here; some of the recent shooting fads are just that – fads. In a year or two, they will be gone and some other shiny new technique will capture everyone’s imagination. I did make an exception a few weeks ago when someone mentioned that a shooter can use his thumb to “lock” a pistol slide forward when using a suppressor. Apparently, that is a thing and I was assured it works fine. OK. I am not ever going to try it myself so I will take their word on it. Still, using a part of your body to prevent a weapon from functioning as it is designed to work seems particularly ill advised. Indeed, an old fuddy duddy like me would call it an accident waiting to happen.    

SSD has been very accommodating with space here these last many months, and I appreciate that. Otherwise, I would just be another angry old man shouting at the neighbor kids to get off my lawn. Yet, I have a tough time gaging whether I am reaching what I consider my target audience or determining the level of interest in some of the subjects I have chosen to write about. Some individuals choose to comment and that is good, but I am assuming some number of others read the articles and remain silent. Many of the people who respond with any regularity are retired like me. That is ok, but it makes me wonder if more than a couple Active Duty guys and gals are reading these articles? If not, then I am clearly missing the audience I am most interested in engaging.

Therefore, while general comments are still welcome, I am hoping to get two specific types of responses after this piece. One, feedback from those that can give me some sense (hopefully) whether I am reaching that Active Duty target demographic – or not. Two, a sentence or two about what other subject matter readers might want me to explore or reattack in the future. All answers are welcome; even if the response is “Old man, your stuff does not appeal to me or is too dated to be useful.” Finally, I will be traveling to Fort Campbell (Sept 19th – 22nd) for the 5th Special Forces Group Annual Reunion. That is an opportunity for me to touch base with old friends – in and out of uniform – and younger guys still on the Teams. In years past, in between Group events, I have also been able to engage a few folks from the 101st as well. I am looking forward to it. De Oppresso 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, reader, contributor and friend.

Army Pulls New Individual Weapons Training and Qualification Manual, TC 3-20.40

Sunday, September 1st, 2019

Just after it was officially listed for download by the Army Publications Directorate, TC 3-20.40, Training and Qualification, Individual Weapons, was taken offline.

Currently under investigation, the manual, which transforms both training and qualification standards for Soldiers, is being held up because insensitive examples were used in illustrations.

Sure, it shouldn’t have happened, but why wasn’t it caught during the multi-year rewrite and review process it was subjected to? And what is the cost to the force in lost time while this investigation is conducted?

Army, fix the TC and reissue it. The enemy isn’t going to wait for you to lay blame.

You can download a copy of the original version here. Just promise to not be offended as you use the TC to make yourself and your unit better.

Army Overhauls Small Arms Training with Tougher Standards, Combat-Like Rigor

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

This is the official story on the Army’s new TC 3-20.40, Training and Qualification-Individual Weapons.

FORT BENNING, Ga. — The U.S. Army has drawn up a sweeping overhaul of how it will train Soldiers in using small arms — rifles, pistols and automatic rifles — a revamp that adds tougher standards and combat-like rigor to training and testing marksmanship.

The combat-oriented revamp replaces a training system that dates to the Cold War era. It’s geared to ensuring that every Soldier — whether in a combat job or not — is trained from the start to not only hit targets but to have the other basic “tactical” weapon skills needed for combat, according to interviews with officials of the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Those skills include Soldiers’ ability to load, reload and otherwise handle their weapons just as they’d have to in the blur and stress of combat.

The overhaul is spelled out in a new marksmanship manual titled “TC 3-20.40, Training and Qualification-Individual Weapons.”

Referred to informally as the “Dot-40,” it runs to more than 800 pages and contains four chapters and nine appendixes.

“It’s exactly what we would do in a combat environment, and I think it’s just going to build a much better shooter,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert K. Fortenberry, who currently oversees the Infantry School’s marksmanship revamp project and is the Infantry School’s senior enlisted leader.

The Infantry School is part of Fort Benning’s U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, or MCoE.

The Dot-40 applies to the entire Army — the active duty force, including cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, as well as the Army Reserve and National Guard.

It covers four categories of what the Army considers “individual” weapons: the rifle and carbine; pistol; the automatic rifle; and sniper rifles.

It’s meant as a standardized, one-stop-shop for all Army units to follow in training their troops in individual weapons marksmanship.

And it applies to all Soldiers regardless of whether they’re in combat jobs — Infantry and Armor, for example, or not — a cook, a finance or supply clerk, X-ray technician or a musician in an Army band.

It was developed at Fort Benning over a two-year span by staff of the MCoE’s Directorate of Training and Doctrine, and by the Infantry School, as well as nearly 200 marksmanship experts drawn from across the Army, including the Reserve and National Guard, officials said.

All units regardless of type will be held to the same tougher basic standards. All will have to train their Soldiers in the same skills, and ensure they schedule the same amount, type and frequency of marksmanship training mandated by the Dot-40.

“It was just time for a re-blue,” said Fortenberry, using a term that refers to the re-bluing of firearms. “It’s not to say that what we were doing in the past was wrong. We killed a lot of bad guys in Iraq and Afghanistan and all over the world with our current level of marksmanship training. So it’s not that the old way of firing didn’t teach you how to shoot.

“There was an opportunity to create a fundamental change in regards to marksmanship that more closely aligns with what was done and learned over the past 19 years of combat, making it to where it fits the entire Army as a collective, and makes a more proficient marksman.”

To help foster proper understanding of the Dot-40 and to offer help to units in putting its requirements into action, members of the Infantry School’s Marksmanship Team have begun traveling widely to Army posts and explaining it to key audiences. Those include, among others, senior leaders who head divisions and brigades, as well as Soldiers at what are known as Leadership Professional Development sessions.

In creating the new approach the Army wants to bring all Soldiers to a “baseline” set of marksmanship skills that go beyond what it takes to get a passing score during a “qualification,” a term for a graded shooting test at a firing range.

The ability to hit their intended targets, though crucial, is only one part of the overall marksmanship skill set every Soldier should be equipped with, Infantry School officials said. Marksmanship training should also train Soldiers on the other tasks they’d face in using their weapon in combat, they said.

The Dot-40 mandates a series of drills and tests that check whether Soldiers can rapidly load and reload as they’d have to under fire, work the bolt of their weapon, switch firing positions quickly — standing, kneeling, lying prone, firing from behind a barrier — while at the same time exercising “critical thinking” — making battlefield snap judgments as to which targets to shoot at in which order — and hitting them. All are elemental to being deemed actually proficient in Soldier marksmanship, officials said.

And it adds other new requirements: that Soldiers fire their weapons effectively in night combat scenarios and in conditions that simulate chemical attack.

Marksmanship training in which Soldiers fire from the standing position or while steadying their weapon against a barricade is not new. But under the new methods both will become part of the official, graded marksmanship test each Soldier must pass to be declared “qualified” on use of their weapon.

“You’re employing your weapon system in a more tactical environment or scenario, versus the more traditional way of doing it,” said Fortenberry. “And by doing so, it creates additional rigor, using all of the elements of critical thinking, sound judgment, adapting to change, all of those non-tangible attributes.

“So for the individual, it’s a clear progression, to make them way more capable with their weapon system and all of the nuances that are part of marksmanship,” he said.

“You will work your transitions, from a standing against the barrier, you’ll work the kneeling to the prone, the prone to the kneeling,” he said. “Coaches will be assessing you based upon your transition periods, how well you do it. You’re forced now to pull from your kit and insert magazines.

“Before, commanders, leaders, didn’t have to necessarily focus on that,” said Fortenberry. “It now forces everybody to practice on it.”

Under the old method of marksmanship testing, Soldiers at the firing range would have magazines of ammunition neatly stacked in front of them, and would have to fire in a set progression that tested their aim but not the other weapon-related skills they’d need in a firefight, officials said.

Soldiers being tested during the “course of fire” will be called upon to fire at multiple targets and will have to aim true and think fast. And they’ll have to pull magazines from their combat gear — again, as in combat — rather than reaching to a conveniently placed stack.

“Four targets at a time will present themselves in this new course of fire,” said Fortenberry. “There is a quad series that comes up. How do I engage that? No longer is it stacks of 20 magazines here, stacks of 20 over here. Now you have tens.

“The magazines, now, cannot be pre-staged,” he said. “They have to be in your kit. So you have to pull from your kit, versus stack two over here, two over here, everything looks perfect.

“You now have to shoot from a barrier, from a concealed position. You transition from the prone to the kneeling and the kneeling to the prone. The clock doesn’t stop. So, you have to know — Boom! Got that exposure. Okay. I should be transitioning to the kneeling position now. Transition. There it is! — Boom! And then you’re engaging as you go.”

Also before the Dot-40, Soldiers were allowed to call for a time-out — an “alibi” in Army parlance — if their weapon were not working properly during the marksmanship test.

The Dot-40 changes that, too.

“Alibis are gone,” said Fortenberry. “‘Hey, Sarge! Got an alibi on lane three! Weapons malfunction!’ There’s no alibis anymore. You have to fix the malfunction,” just as a Soldier would have to in combat, he said.

If, however, a time-out were warranted, he said, leaders would be authorized to permit it but on a case-by-case basis.

Also mandated in the Dot-40 is use of indoor, electronic firing ranges as one of the methods to be used in teaching Soldiers to shoot. The electronic ranges, often called simulators in the Army, make marksmanship training more efficient and cheaper than relying solely on outdoor ranges.

The simulators are equipped with a set of stations from which Soldiers fire their weapons at electronic screens that display targets. The electronic equipment captures precisely where each shot landed. And it shows details of how the Soldier held the weapon when firing. Such details greatly aid instructors in assessing whether the Soldiers are holding their weapons properly and in coaching them toward becoming good shots.

Use of simulators for individual weapons training is also not new. But before the Dot-40 it was left to units’ discretion as to whether they’d use them. The Dot-40 requires their use.

All units regardless of type will be held to the same new, tougher basic standards. All will have to train the same skills, and ensure they schedule the same amount, type and frequency of marksmanship training mandated by the Dot-40.

But besides being a means of new, higher standards that lead to greater weapons proficiency at the shooter level, the Dot-40 is also meant to help all units Army-wide know through a single manual exactly what’s required of them.

Officials were concerned that the Army’s small arms methods had long been spread among numerous manuals in a way that could work against a unit being able to conveniently pin down all they had to do to meet the Army’s requirements consistently.

The Dot-40 codifies the new methods in a single, handy source for individual weapons, officials said.

“The Dot-40 was designed simply because we had multiple manuals and multiple best practices,” said Fortenberry. “And we were just grabbing whatever was on the shelf. We had nothing that spoke to individual marksmanship other than a very broad series of best practices, manuals. It hadn’t been evolved over time.

“What the Dot-40’s done is it’s now given everybody common ground, common understanding of marksmanship and how to effectively employ their weapon system,” Fortenberry said.

“Now,” he said, “they can grab the Dot-40 and say, ‘We need to get after individual marksmanship. What’s our way ahead?’ ‘Well, sir, based upon the Dot-40, we can lay this progression out.’ It gives them a template to design a training week or eight-week training model” to follow.

“We’re calling it ‘new’ but it’s truly not new,” said Fortenberry. “It’s a revamp definitely, an overhaul, of what we were already all doing. We now have synchronized it all and we have now built it all into a one-stop-shop.

“We are trying to give the Army something better than it had before, incorporate all these components that give a good, baseline-level of proficiency that is better than it was,” he said. “And it is achievable and attainable by every Soldier in the Army. Not just a qualification on the wall. They are proficient. They’re capable.”

The requirements outlined in the Dot-40 become part of the Army’s broader, overarching “Integrated Weapons Training Strategy,” which encompasses the Army’s training methods for all categories of its weapons.

The Army will give itself a year to have the new methods take effect, starting this October.

“Every commander and leader out there wants a Soldier to be trained and proficient in warrior tasks and drills, marksmanship being one of those — be able to place effective fires on the enemy,” said Fortenberry. “So the intent has never changed. This just grabs all the tools and gives them a blueprint to achieve that end state.”

Story by Franklin Fisher

Photo by Markeith Horace

West Point Combat Weapons Team Tryout Highlights

Monday, August 26th, 2019

One of the clubs West Point cadets may participate in is the Combat Weapons Team whose mission is to develop competent leaders of character through the medium of live fire training events, the mentorship of fellow cadets in the employment of small arms, and by competing in local and regional small arms competitions. This video showcases their 2019 tryouts.

The Baldwin Files – Talent Management – Part 3 of 3

Saturday, August 24th, 2019

At the end of Part 2, I had taken command of F Company of the Training Group’s 1st Battalion at Camp Mackall, NC. For those that do not know, Mackall is a small installation, occupied by elements of the Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) about 30 miles west of Fort Bragg. It is home to several components of the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC). At the time, F Company ran 2 Phases of the SFQC. One (Phase II), focused on land navigation and small unit tactics and the other (Phase IV), conducted Unconventional Warfare training and the culminating Robin Sage Exercise. I was living the dream and enjoyed every day of that assignment. Of course, the Army’s personnel management system has the mission to make sure that nothing good ever lasts long.

It started indirectly. Although I had not known him before, I got along very well with the Battalion Commander (BC) who had hired me. As luck would have it, he came out on a Special Mission Unit (SMU) Command List shortly after I took command – and he was gone. It was a great opportunity for him – but turned out not so good for me. Another Lieutenant Colonel was activated off the Alternate Command List to take the Battalion. As it happens, he and I had been Majors together in 3rd Group (96-98), although I did not know him well. The mission at Mackall was clear for my cadre and me; however, as I wrote in an earlier article, there were many ill-conceived initiatives for the SFQC being considered at SWCS during this period. I quickly found out that my new BC and I were philosophically on opposite sides of these plans. That naturally led to friction between us. Moreover, as often happens in these situations, that friction eventually evolved into one of those annoying ethical dilemmas I have written about ad nauseam.

Long story short, in May of 2001, I was Relieved of Command by that BC, a.k.a. fired, sacked, dismissed. However, since that episode is convoluted and not germane to the subject at hand, I will save that part of the story for another time. Suffice to say, getting fired is considered a sub-optimum outcome to any assignment. That is also how I became personas non grata at the Training Group and, indeed, all of SWCS for the second time. I spent the next few months fighting the accusations made against me to justify my firing. I will mention just one here because it is the only accusation that was based on a kernel of truth. Allegedly, I had been “insubordinate” to the BC. For what it is worth, I have found that it is all but impossible to tell your boss something he really, really does not want to hear without him perceiving it as insubordination.

As a practical matter, there is an administrative process to appeal those sorts of negative personnel actions and I took immediate advantage of that mechanism. Bottom line, I made my case to the Army and achieved a partial vindication in a matter of 9 months or so. I received my promotion orders to Lieutenant Colonel in March 2002, backdated with an effective date of 1 January of that year. I purposely held my promotion ceremony in front of the Bull Simon statue across from the SWCS HQ. Then Brigadier General Stanley McChrystal did the honors. He was one of those SF qualified infantrymen I mentioned in Part 1. As he put the rank on my collar, he asked me, “Terry, is it true that you commanded three SF Companies?” I replied, “Yes Sir, twice successfully!” We all got a chuckle out of that.

That was not the end of the story; I also had to spend a considerable amount of money to hire lawyers who spent years getting the associated “bad paper” removed from my records. Oddly enough, that was not my biggest career management problem going forward. With my promotion orders came a letter from Department of the Army (DA). The letter stated that since I had more than 24 years of combined service I was ineligible to be considered for War College attendance. In effect, I was non-select for the school before I even pinned on that silver oak leaf. In turn, that meant that I was instantly non-competitive for Battalion Command or promotion to Colonel. Unfortunately, there was no waiver or appeal process for that verdict – and, yes, I looked.

However, in the interim, 9/11 happened and I had little time to dwell on it myself. I wanted to get into the fight ASAP. For that first few months, I was in assignment limbo at Fort Bragg. SF Branch wanted nothing to do with me and DA was indifferent. I came to realize that essentially I had been ejected from the system. I had not jumped ship, I had been pushed off. That was fine with me. I still knew a lot of people and started doing my own independent talent management. The pattern for the next 9 years went like this. I would call commanders I knew directly, or have a mutual friend introduce us and ask for work. I was not often rejected. I did a number of jobs: J3 (Operations), J5 (Plans), Chief of Staff, and Deputy Commander for example. Additionally, I did Liaison work between HQs on occasion and even commanded a couple of ad hoc organizations in theater.

I do not want to exaggerate my contributions to the mission. I am not pretending to be a hero. I took my share of risks, but I have no medals for valor or purple hearts. Nevertheless, I carried my share of the burden and then some. I am proud of that. The reasons I was able to do that for an extended period are directly related to the idiosyncrasies built into the current personnel management system. First, because I was a “free agent,” I could go where I pleased and no one at DA or SF Branch cared – or interfered. Second, the system was consistently failing commanders in the field. Almost everyone else was “locked” into his or her current assignment and even the system itself had no pre-existing mechanism to meet fluctuating personnel demands from the field commanders. Never mind “talent management,” there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that has to ignore its own rules to even try to support the warfighter. The result was that commanders – by necessity – had to make off the books “handshake deals” with their peers who were not deploying for critical manpower fills.

It was a heck of a way to run a railroad. Still, it worked for me for a long time. Of course, the system could not abide that sort of autonomous freedom of action indefinitely. Toward the end, I was involved in planning for the drawdown of all SOF in Iraq. In February 2011, I had briefed the plan for approval to all the senior leadership in the theater and beyond. Afterwards, I decided to take some down time back at Bragg with my wife. That is when SF Branch sprung their ambush. About 10 days after I got home they hit me with a “Request for Orders” (RFO) sending me to a Branch Immaterial (BI) assignment with the 8th Army HQ in Korea. BI simply means that the job required only a warm body to move papers. As usual with the system, my training, expertise, experience, and / or “talent” was entirely irrelevant to the job parameters.

To be certain, I could have dodged this RFO. Technically, I was “on leave” and could have got on the first thing smoking back to Iraq. The 1-Star Commander of the HQ I had been working for had asked me to come back as soon as felt like it anyway. I doubt that Branch would have even tried to “extradite” me out of theater. That is why they did not drop the RFO earlier. I also could have gone to a number of 3 or 4-Stars I had worked for and asked for a favor. I did not do either. My last boss in Iraq in 2011 was a Colonel (O-6) who had worked for me as a Major in 2004. One of my peers had already pinned on his first star and another was about to. I did not envy their success, but all were glaring reminders that professionally I was just treading water. Objectively, I had done all that I could do and then some from outside the system. And, just as obviously, the system saw no further value in me. I did not leave because I was tired, disillusioned, or discouraged but I also had no interest in just killing time. Therefore, I came to the conclusion that while I was still having fun and did not want it to end, just as clearly, it was the right time to go.

So I told SF Branch to find someone else and I dropped my retirement packet. Frankly, I do not think they cared. I believe that they offered that crap job as my one and only assignment option because they wanted to force me out. I may not be anyone special, but I am not Joe Shit the Ragman either. I thought that it was insulting and told them so. They certainly made no effort to dissuade me from leaving. They were convinced that I was “excess to the Regiment’s requirements” and needed to go. The sooner the better as far as the system was concerned. The funny thing is that when someone takes retirement “in lieu of PCS,” DA does not let you quit honorably; rather, they make it abundantly clear that that you are being fired as punishment for your transgression.  In other words, after 36 years of mostly exemplary service, DA itself declared me persona non grata! Somehow, that seems entirely appropriate.

In terms of military careers, in typical American style, today we have made promotions (and the resulting pay raises) the single measure of professional success. You either get promoted on a strict timetable or you are forced out. No matter how good you are in your current job, you must always keep moving with the herd. Therefore, the system persists in pounding ill-fitting human pegs into holes they are not suited for to temporarily fill spaces. And, I do mean temporarily. In a year or so we pull out all of the pegs and start pounding every one of them into new holes! In the process we disillusion far too many and they vote with their feet and leave. How exactly does a personnel system that facilitates and perpetuates high turnover help sustain unit combat readiness? It does not. That does not make much sense today. I would argue that it never did, and it is past time to overhaul our system.

I submit that the current system is actually optimized not to retain talent, but rather to deprive the Army of soldiers and officers – just as they are seasoned enough to be of real value to a unit. In effect, the system is fratricidal and designed to encourage the majority of our junior officer and NCO leaders to self-select out at the end of their initial contracts. In turn, we spend enormous time, money, and effort, bringing newer people into the front end of the pipeline to replace our loses. There is no real logic or military necessity that drives this dysfunctional methodology. We allow that nonsense to continue simple because that is the way we have always done it – at least since WWII. If an enemy had such a devastating casualty producing capability, we would be working tirelessly on an effective countermeasure. We certainly must stop doing it to ourselves – and soon.

Managing talent effectively takes more effort than what we are doing now. To make the best blades, you have to hammer the steel. The harder the metal, the more you have to hammer. It takes extra work, but those harder heads – if hammered properly by a good leader – often make great soldiers. I was lucky that some good leaders took the time and effort to hammer me. Here are some of the old-fashioned mallets used successfully on me over the course of my career. Rehabilitative transfers, “acting” rank (call it a test run), and Article 15s – used old school style to punish, educate and shape, not to terminate. Leaders must be provided these kinds of tools if talent management is ever going to be a reality. True talent cannot and will not be centrally managed and mass-produced by DA. Rather, it must be handcrafted by the individual soldiers themselves and their leaders at the lowest levels. The Army must push down the right tools and authorities to them and would be better served by removing the bulk of those “personnel management” responsibilities and decisions from PERSCOM.

Epilog: one of the foreseeable consequences of having been rogue for almost a decade is that I did not really belong to anyone at Fort Bragg. SF Command and later USASOC had carried me as “excess” on the books for that entire time. The HQ G1s had kept accountability of me, but none of the Staff Directorates owned or owed me. Therefore, there was no one obliged to even consider putting me in for an end of service award or to sponsor a retirement ceremony of some kind. Therefore, it is no surprise that I got neither. When I signed out on my last duty day in the Army, one of the Specialists at HHC USASOC gave me a folded American flag in a triangular display case and thanked me for my service. I thanked her back and left. I must say, it was an anticlimactic conclusion to a professional career I consider very well spent. Moreover, I will not deny, I thought the occasion was fully deserving of a wee bit more pomp and circumstance.

I did have one last “official” duty to perform. Two days after my retirement date, I returned to Camp Mackall one last time to take a student team’s Robin Sage Briefback. After interacting with the students, I sat down with a couple of the Cadre Team Sergeants and reminisced about the Q-Course for an hour or so. Although I did not remember him, one of the NCOs had gone through the course when I had been out there. It was a pleasant afternoon. Of course, I had to eventually let them get back to work; so, I said my goodbyes and headed home. Although I was driving east and it was mid-afternoon, I had no doubt that I was riding into the sunset. That is, after all, exactly the way a story like this is supposed to end. De Oppresso 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.

Army General, SOCOM Commander Emphasizes Character to New SEALs

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

The legendary toughness of the Navy’s SEAL teams was on display as the general in charge of U.S. Special Operations Command addressed the 57 sailors graduating from SEAL Qualification Training Class 322 in Coronado, Calif.

Socom Commander Army Gen. Richard Clarke opened his Aug. 2 address noting he felt fortunate to be addressing the graduating class.

“I am glad to break the streak as the first U.S. Army officer and the first U.S. Army Ranger to preside over a [SEAL qualification] graduation,” Clarke said. 

The class began training 15 months ago with 157 students. The physical and mental challenges the sailors faced whittled down the numbers and polished those who made it through to graduation.

“For each of you preparing to walk across this stage, it is an almost indescribable achievement,” Clarke said.

The new SEALs are a diverse group, hailing from 21 different states, the general said, telling the graduates the only thing they shared when the training began “was a desire to test yourselves, to experience a unique challenge, to be part of something bigger than yourselves and to put the needs of the nation ahead of your own.”

Clarke noted the new SEALs have charged through the surf many times in the past 15 months of training, but the next time they do it, it will be different — it will be as members of operational units. 

“Right now, around the globe, Navy SEALs — your teammates — are hard at work,” Clarke said. “SEALs have — and will continue to play — an active and vital role in our national security efforts.” 

SEALs continue to quietly and professionally set the conditions for their fellow service members to deter, disrupt and defeat any adversary, the general said. “You can be sure that we will continue to ask our SEALs to accept the most difficult missions,” he said. “This will challenge you in ways you cannot anticipate, and you need to be ready now.”

That these missions will require physical and technical competence is a given. But they will also require the SEALs to demonstrate character, the general told the graduates. “The themes of trust and of teamwork have been a large part of your training,” Clarke said. “Across the [Special Operations Command] enterprise, trust is our currency with the American people. It’s a powerful but fragile credibility that each of us must guard fiercely.”

“The American people trust that you — that we — will take on these challenges,” he added. “That we will not only win, but win with honor [and] with your values intact. Never allow a disordered loyalty to an individual or team to obscure the values, commitment and trust you share with your great Navy service, with Socom and with the nation.”

Clarke said the new SEALs will have lives in their hands, and that how they respond will affect their fellow citizens. Graduating from the SEAL Qualification Course is the first step. “We count your success here as assurance of your courage, your competence and, most of all, your character. I know that all of you are sufficient for the task,” he said.

The next time they have to wade into cold waters, Clarke said, he wants them to “wade into the unknown boldly, and keep your hands steady.”

The new SEALs are now part of this greater team of special operators who “share a common commitment to protect the American people, our prosperity and, most important, our way of life,” Clarke said.

BY JIM GARAMONE, Defense.gov