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Archive for the ‘Profession of Arms’ Category

Maybe the Toughest Man Alive

Monday, December 17th, 2018

He’s been called the toughest man alive. Being the only U.S. military member to complete SEAL training (Hell Week three times), Army Ranger School and Air Force tactical air controller training, he makes a compelling case. Even more astonishing is his drive to lose more than 100 pounds in only three months to enlist in the Navy.

An Interview with retired Navy SEAL David Goggins

David Goggins’ military background reads like a case of bad “stolen valor” — the retired Navy SEAL chief is believed to be the only member of the armed forces to complete the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/s) course (including going through Hell Week three times), U.S. Army Ranger School (where he graduated as honor man), and Air Force tactical air controller training.

If that wasn’t enough, Goggins has also completed more than 60 ultra-marathons — many of them involving running more than 100 miles — and holds the Guinness world record for pull-ups, having completed 4,030 in 17 hours.

Reading through his impressive resume, you would be correct in imagining him to be in excellent physical shape; at 43 years old, Goggins still regularly competes in ultra-marathons and runs anywhere from 8 to 30 miles every day. However, 18 years ago when he showed up at a Navy recruiting station looking to become a Navy SEAL, it was a different story.

Goggins began his military career at age 19 in the Air Force, with aspirations of becoming a pararescuman. The training was difficult, Goggins said, and involved more swimming than he had expected.

“I wasn’t real comfortable in the water — I hated it,” said Goggins.

During training, military doctors told Goggins he had sickle cell anemia — a blood disease — and gave him the option to drop out.

“It kind of gave me a way out,” admitted Goggins. “I didn’t want to go back in the water, so I pretty much just quit.”

Instead, Goggins became a tactical air controller, serving the rest of his contract with the Air Force in that career field. Still, Goggins said, the reminder of having dropped out of pararescue school depressed him, and he gained more and more weight as he approached his exit from active duty service.

Upon returning to civilian life, Goggins got a job spraying for cockroaches, and gained more weight, coming in at 297 pounds — more than he’d ever weighed in his life.

That’s when he saw a documentary that would change his life.

“I saw this show on the Discovery Channel, and it was just guys going through Hell Week. They were freezing, there was a lot of water, and it brought back memories of me going through pararescue training,” said Goggins.

“So at 297 pounds, I decided to try to be a Navy SEAL.”

Already older than a typical Navy SEAL candidate, and far from being within the weight standards to even join the Navy, Goggins began reaching out to recruiters.

“When you tell a recruiter that you’re almost 300 pounds and you want to be a SEAL, it doesn’t go too well,” he said. “I got hung up on a lot.”

After weeks of determination, he finally found a recruiter who was willing to give him a chance — as long as Goggins could lose enough weight to ship out within three months.

“I had to lose 106 pounds in less than three months — that’s really where it became challenging for me,” said Goggins. “I knew that if I stopped training or became stagnant, there were no calories being burned; so I just basically trained all day long.”

In just under three months, Goggins lost 106 pounds, and was ready to ship out to BUD/s.

Because Goggins had already completed basic training in the Air Force, he was sent straight to BUD/s after a short indoctrination period at Recruit Training Command. While he had lost weight, he was not in ideal physical shape, however, and certainly not prepared for what is almost universally considered some of the toughest military training on the planet.

“When you go from 297 pounds to 191 pounds in that time period, and you’re running, you’re starting to break yourself,” said Goggins. “So I broke myself before I even got into Navy SEAL training.”

Goggins made it to “Hell Week” — an arduous crucible of physical and metal challenges designed to separate candidates who aren’t ready to become SEALs — but failed the course due to stress fractures and pneumonia. Since he didn’t voluntarily quit, he was instead rolled back to day one, week one of BUD/s.

Not wanting to give up, Goggins pushed through training, but fractured his kneecap before reaching Hell Week. In an attempt to avoid being sent back a second time, he pushed through Hell Week with his fractured kneecap and passed.

Unfortunately, Goggins’ injury kept him from being able to keep up with his class, so two weeks after Hell Week, he was rolled back to day one, week one of BUD/s anyway.

“I just had to find different ways to stay in the fight,” he said, explaining why he didn’t give up. “And while staying in the fight, it got me tougher and tougher and tougher.”

His third attempt was a success; Goggins made it through Hell Week with BUD/s Class 235, and earned his Navy SEAL trident on Aug. 10, 2001.

Less than a month later, the terror attacks of 9/11 occurred, and the SEAL teams were mobilized for combat. Goggins deployed to Iraq with SEAL Team Five, and served as a training instructor for other SEALs.

In 2005, during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan, 12 Navy SEALs were killed, and more were injured in brutal fighting. Goggins personally knew every SEAL involved in the mission. He had been through Hell Week with Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, Lt. Michael Murphy and Petty Officer Danny Dietz, and had trained Petty Officer Matthew Axelson. Goggins was devastated by the news.

“I wanted to find a way that I could raise money for their families,” said Goggins.

He learned of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which pays for the college tuition of children whose parents were special operators killed in combat. He realized the best way to raise money was to run races, and learned there was an upcoming race called the Badwater 135.

Goggins, who at this point was 250 pounds and enjoyed weight lifting, had no idea what the race was. He had run approximately 20 miles in the entire year, and had never attempted long-distance running.

Goggins didn’t realize that the Badwater 135 is considered by many to be the most challenging race on the planet — a 135-mile continuous run across three mountain ranges in extreme heat. Competitors cannot simply sign up for the race either; they have to qualify for it by proving they can run 100 miles in 24 hours or less.

“I was like, is that even possible?” said Goggins.

Fortunately, Goggins discovered there was a 100-mile race near his home in San Diego in three days, giving him no time to prepare. Somehow, he still managed to run 101 miles in 19 hours and 6 minutes.

“By mile 70, I was destroyed — I was dizzy, lightheaded, peeing blood,” said Goggins. “But I was able to draw on my experiences from BUD/s; I was able to draw on being calm.”

Goggins went on to complete the Badwater 135, finishing the 135-mile race in 30 hours and 18 minutes — fifth overall. Since then, he has completed more than 60 ultra-marathons, and, at 43 years old, has no plans to quit anytime soon.

“Back in the day, what motivated me was overcoming myself,” said Goggins. “Now I believe in being a leader. I’ve done it all — I’m good. Now, it’s about setting an example for others to follow. I can’t just talk it — I have to live it.”

When asked what he missed about being an active-duty Navy SEAL, Goggins had a surprising answer.

“Nothing,” he said. “I was that guy who left it all out there. Everything I did in the military, I gave 100 percent, no matter what I was doing. So at 21 years, I was good with it. I did it all, and lived every day like it was day one, week one of BUD/s.”

In fact, he advises current Sailors to do the same.

“Go back to Boot Camp in your mind,” said Goggins. “Boot Camp sucks — SEAL training sucks — but you know what? That’s what makes you good.

“It’s like a muscle — if you stop going to the gym or stop running, you get weak. The military teaches you these great values, but we don’t keep up the discipline on our own and we lose it. So wherever you go, keep that discipline up.”

Originally published in the US Navy’s All Hands Magazine.

US Army Creates ESPORTS Team

Saturday, December 15th, 2018

Here’s another opportunity for Soldiers to excel. US Army Recruiting Command has established an ESPORTS team.

According to MG Frank Muth, commanding general for USAREC the idea is to connect with potential recruits stating, “If we are going to be successful in recruiting, then we need to be where young people are — and they are operating in the digital world. There are already thousands of current Soldiers who are competitive online gamers. Now we are giving them a chance to use their talents to help us relate to and connect with other young gamers. They will have the ability to start a dialogue about what it is like to serve in our Army and see if they are interested in joining.”

Soldiers selected to the team will be assigned to the Marketing and Engagement Brigade at Fort Knox for three years and will involve constant competitive training, recruiting engagements and interaction with the public on a daily basis but will not become recruiters.

The team is expected to begin competing on behalf of the U.S. Army by summer 2019

All active-duty and Army Reserve Soldiers are eligible to apply. Interested Soldiers should visit recruiting.army.mil/army_esports to learn how to compete for a spot on the team.

Good Morning SSD!

Monday, November 26th, 2018

It was a long weekend. Let’s hit the ground running!

US Army Establishing Warrior Fitness Team

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

We are always on the lookout for interesting assignment opportunities. One of the latest for Soldiers is a 10-member Warrior Fitness Team being established under USAREC’s Marketing Engagement Brigade at Fort Knox.

The team will represent the Army at fitness competitions and health expositions that help bring awareness to the Army and the recruiters that will be at those events. The initiative is being led by 1SG Glenn Grabs, a certified functional fitness coach, who is also certified in functional fitness gymnastics, power lifting and sport specific training. He has been doing functional fitness for six years and coaching for four years.

Soldiers interested in applying should visit the U.S. Army Warrior Fitness webpage at recruiting.army.mil/functional_fitness. The deadline for applications is December 14th.

Based on the applications received, Soldiers identified as the most competitive will visit Fort Knox for a fitness evaluation and formal interview by the selection committee. Soldiers selected to the team will be stationed at Fort Knox for three years and, in addition to fitness competitions, will participate in outreach engagements and will regularly interact with the public as an Army ambassador.

The team is expected to begin competing on behalf of the Army by March 2019.

Blast From The Past – Jim Schatz – 9 Known Truths

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

Jim Schatz passed away last March. For those you who didnt know him, he served his country as a paratrooper and later, became a legend in the small arms industry. Every year, he’d stand up in from of his peers and government and remind them that the emporer was naked. Fortunately, his briefing slides are still available, although missing the context of his passion.

I originally shared Jim Schtatz’ “9 Known Truths” concerning small arms last year after he passed. Since then ‘Lethality’ has become the cause du jour and DoD, led by the Army, is ankle deep in a transition to a new caliber and family of small arms for its Close Combat Forces, called Next Generation Squad Weapon. It’s a 6.8 caliber capability (once again, NOT 6.8 SPC for those of you who believe what read on other websites) consisting of Carbine and SAW replacements.

The “9 Known Truths” is based on Jim Schatz’ experience in the Small Arms industry. Consider them now that we’ve seen DoD’s path forward.

9 Known Truths
General Thoughts on Modern Warfare and Small Arms Technology
1 The asymmetric threat, unencumbered by “western” doctrine and politics, exploits our capability gaps faster than we can react within our cumbersome infrastructure.

2 Kinetic Energy (KE) kill mechanisms (launched bullets, fragments) have been and remain state-of-the-art weapons technology since the 15th century. That will not change anytime soon so we should embrace and improve on it.

3 Man-portable “directed energy” technology is decades away. One cannot “schedule a break through”, regardless of what the sci fi writers and S&T community developers espouse.

4 For the ground combatant, pH and pI/K has not been markedly improved by so-called “Leap Ahead” or “Revolutionary” technology and “Star Wars” S&T projects, yet $B’s have been spent on unrealistic and undelivered promises.

5 Desired Target Effects (direct hits or effective target suppression) depends on aiming and launch “hold proficiency” (marksmanship) be it used for semi, burst or full auto KE fire, air-bursting engagements via accurate lasing, XM25 or “TrackingPoint”-style FS/FCS, or even directed energy “pulses”.

6 Repeatable First Shot hits/kills will never be readily accomplished due to the many “hold” and error factors beyond the control of the operator. Immediate through-optic BDA and rapid adjusted follow-on shots offer the greatest chance of improved target effects, BUT the equipment must provide that core capability to the trained operator.

7 Snipers as “force multipliers” exploit magnified optics, superior weapons, sights and ammunition to increase pH & PI/K at all ranges, especially those beyond assault rifle range. Rifleman can/should leverage that capability by employing affordable “paradigm shifting” precision enablers.

8 Training is paramount to effectiveness BUT advanced hardware enables advanced training and employment.

9 Incremental, available and emerging (and affordable) advancements in small arms, sighting and ammunition technologies offer the greatest return on investment and are waiting to be exploited.

You can read the briefing this came from here.

The Baldwin Files – The Army Green Uniform

Monday, November 19th, 2018

This article is about Pinks & Greens or OGs or whatever we eventually call the newly approved U.S. Army dress uniform. However, it is about larger concepts as well. When I was a lieutenant in the 2nd Bn, 505th PIR, 1985-88, I had the great good fortune to get to spend time with LTG(R) James Gavin (picture right). He had been the WWII commander of the 505th and later the 82nd Airborne Division. He made four combat jumps during the war and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) twice. During the mid-80s, he was our honorary Colonel of the Regiment. He took the ceremonial duties seriously and came to almost all of our unit events during that time. I took every opportunity to talk to him and we even had a couple of one-on-one discussions about leadership. It was an honor and an education. When General Gavin’s health began to fail, COL(R) Benjamin Vandervoort took over the duty. Vandervoort had commanded the 2nd Battalion during the war and he too had earned two DSCs. He was played by John Wayne in the movie “The Longest Day” and did break his ankle during the Normandy jump. He recovered, jumped into Holland, and was seriously wounded by German mortar fire at Nijmegen three months later.

From a professional development perspective, I have had many such fortuitous encounters over the years. Heck, I had Aaron Banks over to my house for dinner and beers when I was a Detachment Commander in 5th Group and spent an afternoon chatting with John Singlaub in the Group area on one warm summer day. Both were WWII Jedburghs and Special Forces legends. Therefore, these historical figures are perhaps a little more real and relevant to me than they may be for the current generation of soldiers. Big wars make big heroes and fewer and fewer of these giants are still with us. We may never be blessed with their likes again. I have talked a great deal about symbolism before. How important it is to appreciate and perpetuate unit histories, heraldry and special customs. These intangibles are not trivial. Instead, they are key building blocks in creating and sustaining unique group identities and unit cohesion. However, symbols only have as much power as we consciously imbue in them. If leaders teach soldiers that the service uniform is anachronistic and superfluous they will treat it that way rather than displaying the appropriate respect. Not esteem for the clothing item itself, but rather for what the uniform represents. That should not happen. Good units revere their symbols and take pride in their uniforms.

The Army has made this fundamental mistake many times. Despite having won a worldwide war on multiple continents, the Army actually suffered an identity crisis and loss of confidence after 1945. Because of the atomic bomb, there was a growing belief – even within the ranks – that traditional ground combat itself was obsolete. Rapid post-war demobilization gutted experienced officer and NCO leadership. Tiny budgets barely supported constabulary duties in occupied countries like Germany and Japan. Readiness, training and basic unit cohesion was not a priority. This leads us to Task Force Smith and the dark early days of the Korean Conflict. Marine Corps funding and state of training was not significantly better that the Army’s. However, there were considerably different levels of esprit between the Army and Marines. This disparity is evident in the retreat from Chosin Reservoir. In that campaign, Marine units maintained good order and performed notably better than many Army units. It was not gear or tactical training that made the difference but rather a shared unit identity and stubborn pride that proved to be the critical factor. Make no mistake, symbols like the Eagle, Globe and Anchor (EGA) and the uniform of a Marine only mean something in combat because the Corps makes the concerted effort to give those items significance and power.

Unfortunately, the brutal but ultimately indecisive Korean Conflict did nothing to reestablish Army confidence in itself. Rather, the “lesson” of Korea was that the early and widespread use of atomic bombs would be necessary to avoid any future, similar strategic stalemate. Therefore, the Army decided it needed a new “modern” identity. That in turn meant discarding prominent symbols of the old Army. The Army dress uniform or “Dress Greens” that most of us grew up with was one of the misguided results. That new dress uniform was deliberately cut in a business rather than martial style. More obviously, the color had no historical connection with any previous Army uniform. Furthermore, although there was still conscription, the Army began – for the first time – to sell itself to the American people as a job rather than a profession. It was a huge mistake precisely because it erased a strong identity and replaced it with a muddled professional ethos that was inferior and less resilient.

The Army has an unfortunate habit of forgetting history and disregarding heraldry because, I suspect, there are too many people who do not think it is important for combat readiness. Those people are wrong. On the other hand, the Marine Corps has been exponentially more successful in avoiding similar identity pitfalls. For example, on the left side of the picture is GEN Dunford, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, visiting Belleau Wood this last week. While his uniform is perhaps not identical to the early 20th Century Marine dress uniform, it is close enough that a WWII Marine would instantly recognize it, as would just about every American – and many people in other countries around the world. Are dress uniforms important in shaping that desirable and unbreakable unit identity?  I say yes. However, one need not take my word for it; the evidence is clear that the Marine Corps’ leadership thinks so and has thought so for generations.

It is no coincidence that the American people have much more difficulty in identifying their own soldiers. The Army has done a bad job of establishing an enduring “brand” or strong collective identity like the Corps. It is sad but all too true. The Army has had a strong sense of distinctiveness in the past, most notable during the post-Civil War period (1866-1898) and the post-WWI period (1920-1940). Both time periods saw an all-volunteer but woefully underfunded Army in which a career was no less than thirty years and selfless service was almost a given. The first era was indelibly shaped by leaders like Sherman and Sheridan and gave us the classic blue uniform. Leaders like MacArthur, Marshall and Eisenhower left their mark on the second while wearing P&Gs. It is only fitting, in my opinion, that we reestablish a link back to the uniforms of that period.

Some argue that because less than perfect or even bad decisions have been made about uniforms in the pass we must now forgo making any future decisions. Nonsense. When it becomes clear that a decision is not achieving the desired result it is the obligation of a leader to make a correction. Many of the mistakes in this arena were made in the name of cost cutting in one way, shape, or form. The Army has always been penny wise and pound foolish. Probably that is because the return on the investment in symbols and esprit de corps is only discernable in the toughest of situations. Others argue that dress uniforms have no utility because they are not worn often enough to be “cost effective.” Since when has the intrinsic value or the symbolic power of an item depended on frequency of use? Take the American Flag for example. It is unquestionably one of the most powerful symbols of our national identity. It has always been with me – whether it was visible on my uniform or not – because I have long since internalized its meaning and power. When going into battle, soldiers now wear it on our sleeves while Marines do not. Yet it accompanies and bolsters the resolve of all of us – visibly displayed or otherwise. A dress uniform may not get much use but it should nevertheless mean something when it is worn – no matter how infrequently.

Other times the Army has been driven by some vague sense that we needed to discard history in order to effectively move into the future. Wrong again. Service and Unit histories are cumulative, built over generations, and become more powerful over time. We do not shake the etch-a-sketch, erase unit histories and start over after each conflict. A point I tried to make about the 5th Special Forces Group Flash some time ago. Except for the 82nd, none of the WWII Airborne Divisions had a history. None of the 500 series Parachute Infantry Battalions or Regiments had a history. Leaders recognized the need so they expended a great deal of precious time and energy to build a collective identity. Mostly that involved symbolism. Jump Wings were essentially the paratroopers EGA, and jump boots clearly set him apart from all other soldiers. Moreover, creating that mystique was not a training distractor but rather essential in preparing those soldiers to prevail in combat. Today, Jump Wings and bloused jump boots may seem inconsequential and even unnecessary in a peacetime garrison environment, but they meant a great deal at Bastogne. Ask any man who was there.

I admit I have been surprised about how many people have waxed nostalgic over the old Dress Greens. By my recollection, from day one people were constantly bitching about how unmilitary they looked and especially about the god-awful color. As early as the mid-70s, surveys consistently showed that soldiers would have preferred to re-adopt a P&G type uniform. Several times, including the mid-80s, there was even serious movement in that direction. Instead, the Army doubled down and made the situation worse. First, as a cost saving measure the Army stopped issuing the well-liked Khaki summer Class-B uniform; then replaced the tan shirt – the last vestige of the older era uniforms – with a blue-green version also without any historical precedent. The last major decision that converted the Dress Blue, formal uniform, into the ASU actually ruined two uniforms at once. Kluging the purposes and the heraldry of both into a hybrid that serves neither purpose well. The blue pants and white shirt of the ASU make a particularly unflattering Class-B uniform. And it does not help unit cohesion that there is an accommodation for a wartime service unit badge on the ASU pocket, but no place for the current unit of assignment.

However, even now the situation is not hopeless. It is up to leaders. Uniform items can mean everything or nothing. The Green Beret for example is just a piece of dyed wool – but just try to take it away from someone who has earned it. The Airborne Maroon Beret was not important until GEN Rogers took in away in 1978. The Airborne community made their displeasure known until they got in back in 1983. If berets are not important, why are people still re-litigating the Ranger Beret decision twenty years later? These pieces of headgear are significant – as are badges, tabs and unit patches – but only in as much as they are a visible reflection of the unit’s identity and character. Unfortunately, as we all know, the Army failed to give the black beret any power when it became standardized service headgear. I expect better results from the P&Gs simply because they do reflect history, are indeed iconic, and the American people can actually tell that it is the uniform of a soldier.

As to the question of cost, a new dress uniform purchase – of any flavor – can be a considerable individual expenditure. However, in the time between announcement, availability and required to have dates, soldiers have the opportunity to plan and budget for the eventuality. Many soldiers need not worry at all. Approximately 75% of soldiers get out after one term or less, 50% of officers leave after completing their initial obligation. Because these uniform changeovers are deliberately spread out over years the majority of soldiers will never need to buy the new uniform and will leave service with whatever they were initially issued. Even if that were not true, I think the current Army leadership has made a decision that is good for the service. They have reembraced storied organizational history and it is long overdue. In fact, I would like the Army to go faster and further and issue P&Gs to all soldiers RFI style – the sooner the better. Moreover, it should come with a pamphlet that outlines the history AND the Army should pay for initial fittings and additional tailoring every three years or upon promotion to sergeant and each grade after.  It would be a small investment that could pay huge dividends. I also look forward to ASUs reverting to a cleaner formal “Dress Blue” status. No doubt P&Gs will provide a more suitable and professional looking Class-B configuration as well. In any case, the Army will only get out of this uniform change whatever leaders put into it.

Bottom line: Do I think a modern soldier – commissioned, warrant, noncommissioned or enlisted – can and should be proud to wear a dress uniform reminiscent of those worn before and during WWII thru Korea by leaders like: James Gavin, Matthew Ridgeway, Reuben Tucker, Robert Frederick, Aaron Banks, John Singlaub, Lewis Millet, Hal Moore, Audie Murphy and William Darby – just to name a few?  Damn right I do.

Administrative addendum: Earlier discussions on this site about this subject has been contentious at times and frankly overly personalized. We have all – myself included – resorted to ad hominem attacks when we are angry. I have said it before and will say it again; in adult and professional debates, smearing an opponent’s character does nothing to strengthen an argument, provide evidence in support of a position, or prove a point. Another thing, I am the soldier I am today because of NCOs. I actually sought a commission on the advice of an NCO. I came out on the SFC promotion list at just nine years of service (which at the time was fast for infantry). I was feeling confident in my enlisted career prospects at that point. My First Sergeant sat me down and gave me a different perspective. He said, “You are doing great. In four years, you will probably have my job. Or, in four years, you could be commanding an infantry company. I think you would be good at that too. Which would you prefer?” I thought about it and decided I was more intrigued by the challenge of command and dropped my OCS packet soon after.

In doing so, I benefited from the full support of my chain of command, NCOs and officers alike. These were the kind of professionals I grew up with and admire. They reinforced what I had always been taught. NCOs and officers are teammates and partners in building and leading units. I have never had time for anyone who – for any reason – cannot be a teammate deserving of full trust and confidence. I have done some things in my career, drunk and sober, that are worthy of a reasonable amount of ridicule. I have made more than my share of bad decisions that merit being called out. Good teammates – of all ranks – have consistently done that for me when necessary; and I am the better leader and person for it. While there has been a very few occasional exceptions – the odd bad leader – I have served in units where the relationship between almost all NCOs and officers has been one of mutual respect and shared purpose. That should be the standard. NCOs denigrating all officers or officers disparaging all NCOs is unhelpful, unprofessional, and unnecessary. Good leaders do not do that. It is never “us versus them” in good units.

Finally, I would never have the audacity to equate my service to those who saw combat in WWII, Korea or Vietnam. Those stalwart soldiers participated in engagements of a size, scope, duration, hardship and danger well beyond anything I ever experienced. However, I am confident enough that the length and girth of my professional “resume” is adequate when compared to most soldiers that have served since Vietnam. Not the longest or the most impressive…but not embarrassingly small either. So – although I do not see any sense in it – if someone feels any compelling need to measure his resume against mine to judge who is or is not a “real soldier,” I suppose we can go down that rabbit hole. However, I would prefer a more productive and reasoned discussion. I expect that a good number of people may take a divergent or even opposing position from mine. That is fine. I will not question your intellect, professionalism or your integrity just because we disagree. I only expect the same in return.

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.

Army’s Soldier and Squad Performance Research Institute Will Increase Lethality, Resilience

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

NATICK, Mass. — “No Soldier ever fights alone,” says Cynthia Blackwell, the S2PRINT project director at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC.

The ways in which Soldiers interact individually, in squads and on small teams play a key role in success on the battlefield. This is one of the main ideas behind the creation of the Soldier Squad Performance Research Institute, or S2PRINT.

NSRDEC and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, have joined together to lead the development of this state-of-the-art facility, which is slated to be built at the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts.

The institute will empower NSRDEC’s and USARIEM’s world-class scientists and engineers with a controlled, cutting-edge, and mission-relevant environment in which to perform applied studies to uncover ways to optimize Soldier and squad performance and enhance combat readiness.

U.S. Soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) engage opposing forces in a simulated exercise during Saber Junction 18 at Hohenfels Training Area, Germany, Sept. 26, 2018. The ways in which Soldiers interact individually, in squads and on small teams will be a key area of study for the Army’s new Soldier Squad Performance Research Institute, or S2PRINT. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Gabrielle Weaver)

S2PRINT’s emphasis is on Human Performance Optimization, with research focusing on the individual Soldier’s and the squad’s cognitive, social, physiological, physical, and nutrition-based performance. Blackwell explained that S2PRINT will provide the Army with a greater understanding of teams, leading to the optimization of team interactions and team dynamics.

S2PRINT will help researchers to develop validated performance and training strategies; tools and interventions for the Soldier, leader and small unit; techniques to mitigate injury; and interventions to increase Soldier and squad resilience and longevity.

Studies performed in the S2PRINT facility, which will include several operationally relevant laboratories, will help researchers baseline, measure, predict and optimize individual and small unit readiness, performance, and resiliency across real-world, mission-essential tasks. Outcomes/findings of this research will ultimately help improve readiness, enhance mission performance, and increase Soldier and squad lethality.

The new facility will also enhance NSRDEC’s and USARIEM’s already strong collaborations with top-notch academic institutions, cutting-edge industrial partners, and other DOD agencies and initiatives. As with other work performed by NSRDEC and USARIEM, the knowledge obtained through S2PRINT will lead to technologies and informational resources that will benefit not only warfighters but also first responders.

Moreover, Natick will be able to develop and evaluate prototype gear and emerging technologies more quickly than ever before, accelerating the delivery time of critical information and equipment to troops in the field — all while reducing costs.

S2PRINT is expected to become operational in the spring of 2023.

By Jane Benson, NSRDEC Public Affairs

The Baldwin Files – Physical Fitness, Combat Readiness and Leaders Who Just Look the Part

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018

There has been a lot of interest and commentary lately about the Army’s new physical fitness test the Army Combat Fitness Test or ACFT. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to it generically as a Physical Training Test or PT Test for short. Part of what I will be arguing here is that the name of the new test is something of a misnomer. A PT Test – by any name – is not a good standalone gage of the “combat fitness” of an individual or a unit. Indeed, the discussions about the subject on this site and elsewhere on line got me thinking about my personal experiences and observations of successful and unsuccessful physical fitness programs. Visits earlier this year to Fort Benning and last month to Fort Campbell reinforced my own direct experience the last few years I was on active duty. The Army has grown smarter over time about individual fitness and now achieves as good or better results – and with far fewer injuries – than we did in the so-called “good old days” with unit PT centered on long formation runs.

As I considered the subject, I realized that PT Tests and the testing process were never that useful to me as a leader. Certainly, there were a couple of exceptions. Prerequisite testing to get into Ranger School and the SFQC can and does cause anxiety for the candidates and I was no exception. Other than that, in my long career in Infantry and Special Forces “line” units, PT Tests were simply a routine administrative requirement that provided only another data point to indicate if the unit fitness program was working or not. In terms of judging whether my unit was combat ready, PT Tests scores were of little or no relevance. Frankly, in as much as statistics matter, I was a lot more concerned about individual marksmanship scores and in some cases how recently we had completed requalification on infiltration techniques like HALO or SCUBA. Or perhaps how many people I had on hand with advanced skills in demolitions or long range shooting (snipers). Granted, in Special Forces, baseline physical fitness is rarely an issue, but I would say essentially the same thing about the various infantry units I served in over the years.

While we all often use the analogy, combat is not a sporting event or collegial competition.

I agree wholeheartedly that some sports medicine and physical training techniques are applicable to building physical fitness in soldiers. Some extreme sporting events like ultra-marathons might even approach the kinds of physical exertions seen in combat. However, beyond that, the analogy falls apart. NO competition or sanctioned sport I am aware of requires the participant to intentionally and continuously risk death or catastrophic injury. The fear that combat naturally engenders can be debilitating and sap the strength of even the most physically fit – but otherwise unprepared – soldier. Indeed, the physical and especially the psychological demands on soldiers in combat are not analogous to anything an athlete ever faces in a sport. Soldiers have to perform when they are not at their physical peak. They have to function at an acceptable level with little sleep, less than optimum diet and in austere environments and in all weather conditions day in and day out. In other words, sustained combat requires endurance and mental toughness beyond anything that a brief PT test can possibly measure. That is why longer duration stressful programs like Ranger School are considered so valuable a tool in preparing leaders for combat.

As I have mentioned many times, when I came into the service in 1975, all of my NCOs and the majority of the officers were Vietnam combat vets. Some of the Colonels and CSMs were Korean War vets too. Most of them smoked a lot, and a good many drank way more alcohol than polite society thought acceptable. I am sure those vices reduced their physical fitness by some mathematical factor. Did that really matter? What I do know is that these leaders were exactly the kind of “rough men” that Orwell spoke so eloquently of…and they were nothing if not HARD. Each had been physically and psychologically challenged in the crucible of jungle warfare and had passed the test. Sustained combat is difficult, frustrating, mean and always exhausting. The attached famous picture of members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade speaks to that unforgiving reality. What kind of soldier is best prepared to face that challenge? On the upper left, we have an imaginary commando. He has an impressive physique and the movie is fun to watch but we all know he is play-acting and is not combat ready. Still, because of popular culture that is what many – including some in uniform – think a combat ready soldier should be built like. On the right, we have a short skinny kid named Audie Murphy who was undoubtedly combat ready; this despite the fact that his physique was always unimpressive. That is how many a real combat soldier actually looks. I have no doubt that Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime could bench press, or dead lift much more weight than Audie Murphy ever could. Nevertheless, if I could choose which one I want at my side in combat it is no contest. I choose Audie Murphy.

I never met Murphy or Schwarzenegger so I am not going to say much more about them. Instead, I am going to talk about some real soldiers I did know. Four in particular that I met while serving in the 1st Bn, 27th Infantry in the 25th Infantry Division in 1982-83. This was before the “Light Infantry” initiative of the mid-80s. In those days, infantry battalions of the 25th were referred to (at least by airborne qualified personnel) as “Straight Leg” or simply “Leg” infantry. This meant that we were not organized to be delivered by parachute and did not have enough organic helicopters to routinely be airlifted into battle. Therefore, we walked everywhere with always too heavy rucksacks on our backs. I am not going to name three of the soldiers in this story because it is not relevant to the points I am trying to make. They were my Battalion Commander, Brigade Commander and a Sergeant (E-5) who worked for me. I was a Staff Sergeant and was leading a Scout Section at the time. The fourth soldier was a SFC (later 1SG) named Jim Myers who was the TOW platoon sergeant in the battalion.

SFC Myers was a friend and mentor of mine and a great professional influence on me. He had joined the Army in 1956 and gone to jump school as a combat engineer at Fort Campbell. After a couple of years, he got out but reenlisted in 1966 to go to Vietnam. He served 4 tours in country with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He was a short guy and because of his size and previous engineer experience he was routinely called on to do tunnel rat work. He had a picture that was taken as he was crawling out of one of those holes before collapsing it with explosives. In the process, he also earned a couple of Bronze Stars with Vs and four Purple Hearts. My wife and I used to meet up with Jim on Waikiki or one of the other beaches on Oahu on the weekends. So I got to see him with his shirt off many times. On his chest he had one long scar from his right hip up to his left shoulder. There were four distinct bullet holes equidistance along that scar thanks to an AK47 burst he took on his last tour. Not surprisingly, doing pushups and sit-ups was always a struggle for him. Still, he could ruck much younger men into the ground and I swear that if you look up “tough as nails” you will see his picture.

SFC Myers retired in 1988 and passed away about 10 years ago. He was my hero and I wanted SSD readers to meet him. Another positive role model during that time was my Battalion Commander. He had earned two Silver Stars in Vietnam with the 1st Infantry Division. He was a big guy about 6’3” and was a chain smoker as I recall. He had received just one Purple Heart during the war. A mortar shell had landed near him and shredded the muscles in both legs. He apparently had to endure some two years of physical therapy after they put him back together as best they could. His legs remained twisted like warped wood. He walked with a limp and it was painful to watch him run. Yet, he led all the unit road marches – including a three day, 70 miler that we did just before Team Spirit 83. More importantly, he was always out at training actively teaching, coaching, mentoring and leading by example rain or shine. Despite not being what some would consider a PT stud, he was probably the single best infantry battalion commander I ever served with.

On the other hand, my Brigade Commander was almost exactly the opposite. He was tall, tan and fit. However, I never once remember seeing him out at training in the rain or the mud or at night. I never saw him with a rucksack on his back and that is noteworthy in a leg infantry outfit. I learned a lot about bad leadership from him and for that I am grateful. He did have one idiosyncrasy I will highlight here. He liked to run by himself out to unit training on sunny days. He did not like to wear a standard PT uniform on his runs. Instead, he wore ranger panties, running shoes without socks, and – I kid you not – a gold chain around his neck with a silver dollar sized gold medallion. I know all this because he did not wear a shirt but rather a generous coat of coconut tanning lotion slavered over his entire body. Before anyone asks, I have no idea who on his staff was tasked to put the lotion on his back. He would come out, put his hands on his hips, display his toned physique, and grace us lesser men with his presence for a few minutes before running on his merry way. Because of this odd and frankly disturbing habit, he was known in the Brigade un-affectionately as “Disco.”

Sadly, the Brigade Commander had a certain cult following among a few of the junior officers and even some of the junior NCOs. He was young and dynamic and looked like the central casting version of the steely-eyed infantry officer of the movies. My Scout Platoon Leader was one of those guys. It was clear that he idolized the Brigade Commander, saw him as the better professional role model, and was frankly ashamed that the Battalion Commander could not and did not project the same kind of “studly” image. Since he could not differentiate form from substance, the Lieutenant saddled me with a buck sergeant who was a semi-pro bodybuilder. One look at the kid’s guns and the tiny waist and the LT just knew this had to be a superior NCO. Of course the fact that a line company had sent him to us was an obvious clue that they had no use for him. I quickly found out why.

The kid made sure to educate me on his detailed training and dietary requirements. He had to get 8 hours sleep per night and at least an hour at the gym twice a day. He required 5 high protein meals per day that he needed time to prepare himself. Messhall meals or C-Rations were calorically insufficient for his needs. Not to mention that if he was preparing for a competition he would need additional time. Of course, he assured me that he would otherwise be available for unit training. He really said that. I did learn some interesting things about bodybuilding from him and from Schwarzenegger. First and foremost, bodybuilders are not as healthy as one might think from looking at them. They practice unhealthy tricks to make their muscles “pop” like dehydrating themselves before a competition. They train their muscles for show not go and deliberately and severely limiting their fat intake means they have little stamina. They are great for short bursts of activity – say for an hour or less – but flag quickly. This kid could easily max a PT test but literally could not keep up on a road march of several hours even after others took his ruck and weapon.

In short, despite his well-developed muscles, this young sergeant was actually not physically fit enough to be in the infantry let alone the scout platoon. Unfortunately, I was not able to get my LT to see that. He actually wanted the guy to take over the platoon’s PT program and turn us all into bodybuilders! Luckily, I had a little juice of my own in that battalion. I went up the NCO chain to the CSM and then we both went to the Battalion Commander. Shortly thereafter, the sergeant moved to the Brigade HQ to be the Brigade Commander’s driver. Together I am sure they could pose for a nice recruiting poster but the truth is that neither one was much of a soldier. My LT never forgave me. He actually thought we had lost an asset rather than removed a combat liability from the platoon. In terms of vehicles, the Brigade Commander and that sergeant were racecars. We all know that racecars look sleek and powerful on dry, purpose built paved tracks. However, they do not do well when conditions are less controlled. Say when the track is wet and those cool machines are all but useless off-road on rough terrain. On the other hand, the Battalion Commander and SFC Myers were high mileage but still reliable pickup trucks. It should be obvious that when there is dirty, heavy work to be done, a pickup truck is much more valuable than a racecar.

Indeed, I have always trusted guys that perform reliably day after day like pickup trucks more than those flashier types who require higher maintenance. Effective PT programs are important. I have believed that, preached that gospel and hopefully set the right example my entire career. However, as you can see here, I do not give too much weight to PT tests. I know this new one is more logistically burdensome than the simpler test it replaces. I expect that it will be a better indicator of overall physical fitness but admit that I do not think the juice – in terms of measurably improved soldier fitness – will be worth the more cumbersome squeeze. I draw your attention one last time to the attached picture. Everything a leader does should focus on preparing your individual soldiers and your unit collectively to fight and win in the harsh reality of sustained combat. Physical fitness is just one of many components that build combat readiness. Keep it in the proper perspective. Finally, always remember that the picture on the left is an imaginary soldier and the picture on the right is a real soldier. I assure you that particular real soldier is in every way the better role model.

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.