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ACFT 2.0: Changes Sparked by COVID-19

Friday, June 26th, 2020

FORT EUSTIS, Va. – The Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, will be the force’s test of record Oct. 1, but the Army’s top enlisted Soldier says troops will have more time to train for and pass the six-event test — without fear of it negatively impacting their careers during that time.

Despite hold ups caused by COVID-19, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston is confident the long-planned ACFT will stay on track. In addition to the new training timeline, he also announced a handful of other modifications to the test, dubbing it ACFT 2.0.

It’s the same six-event physical fitness test — just an updated version, Grinston said. So even though troops don’t have to pass the test this year, they still have to take the ACFT as scheduled.

“When it’s the test of record, you have to put it into the system of record, and that’s the only requirement right now,” Grinston said. This means the Army won’t take administrative actions against Soldiers for potential ACFT failures.

Potential career impacts like separation, derogatory or referred evaluation reports, and a Soldier’s Order of Merit List standing are all off the table to be negatively impacted due to an ACFT failure.

This news comes as the Army,  in response to social distancing guidelines, hit the brakes on all physical fitness tests in March. Although fitness tests slowed down, Army leaders went full-steam ahead to plan how Soldiers will jump from the 40-year-old Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT, to the new ACFT 2.0.

So what are the changes?

First, for many, the APFT is gone for good. Once testing suspensions are lifted, the only Soldiers required to take an APFT ever again will be troops without a current passing score, the sergeant major confirmed.

“As for everyone else [with a current passing APFT score] — they should start training for the ACFT,” he added.

As far as the evolution of the ACFT, the biggest change for Soldiers is the option to substitute a two-minute plank, once a Soldier has attempted the leg tuck.

The other six events are still locked in; the 3 repetition maximum dead-lift, standing power throw, hand release pushups, leg tuck, 2-mile run, and sprint, drag, carry. The plank is just an interim assessment.

The plank is seen as a transitioning tool for Soldiers jumping from the APFT to the six ACFT events, said Maj. Gen. Lonnie G. Hibbard, the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training commanding general.

Depending on an individual’s physical starting point, switching back to the leg tuck should take “anywhere between six to three months,” Hibbard added, but for now, the plank is an alternative.

Planks are a core muscle-burning exercise, completed by individuals who remain static with their elbows planted to the ground directly beneath the shoulders at a 90-degree angle while maintaining a straight posture.

Plank exercises can be conducted almost anywhere, Hibbard said, and do not require equipment to train for. Under the current COVID-19 conditions, this could be an ideal transitional assessment.

Also, the stationary bike event dropped its initial 15,000-meter standard down to a 12,000-meter standard. Biking is an Alternate Assessment for Soldiers with permanent profiles unable to complete the two-mile run.

Additional changes for fiscal year 2021 also include scoring standards. All Soldiers are challenged to pass the ACFT at the “Gold Standard,” Hibbard confirmed, which is an overall minimum total score of 60.

To pass, all troops are required to meet the  moderately challenging “gold standard” instead of the more grueling “grey or black” scoring minimums — typically reserved for harsher, more physically demanding career fields. This standard applies to all Soldiers, regardless of age or gender.

Until COVID-19 hit, “we were seeing vast improvements with the ACFT,” Grinston said, adding the changes to the ACFT promotes a better physical fitness standard that will mirror the physical demands of the Army, while also decreasing injuries and having more effective Soldiers within the ranks.

For New Infantry Troops on Hold During COVID-19, Fort Benning Offers Chance to Seek Sniper Training

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

FORT BENNING, Ga. – One clear morning a few months ago, among the tall pines and broad sprawl of Fort Benning, 1st Sgt. Kevin L. Sipes phoned someone he knows over at the big unit here that trains Soldiers for the Infantry.

It was late March, a time when the COVID-19 pandemic had brought restrictions on military travel. Many newly-trained Soldiers were on hold, waiting to be shipped to their first units.

Sipes had an idea on how Fort Benning could help the whole Army, by adding to the quality of its sniper units. Snipers are exceptionally good marksmen. They’re specially trained in spotting and killing enemy targets, ideally on the first shot. They’re also trained to gather eyes-and-ears battlefield intelligence that can help commanders manage the fight.

Fort Benning’s U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence trains them through its seven-week U.S. Army Sniper Course, which is part of MCoE’s U.S. Army Infantry School here.

He’d had the idea for about two years, long before the pandemic. But “it kind of got put on the backburner,” he said.

“Then the COVID situation happens, and there were trainees that were here on Benning that weren’t going anywhere for a while,” said Sipes. “COVID-19 was sort of the catalyst to make it happen,” he said. “It was sort of a no-brainer.”

So, he thought, now’s the time for another try.

The call was to Sgt. Maj. Vincent M. Lewis, operations sergeant major of the 198th Infantry Brigade. The brigade runs Infantry One-Station Unit Training, or OSUT, which trains Soldiers to serve with the Infantry.

Sure, said Lewis, come on by.

With Sipes was Capt. Zach Lemke. Lemke commands Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, 199th Infantry Brigade. Sipes is the company’s first sergeant. It’s Charlie Company that runs the Sniper Course.

“We popped in – ‘Hey good to see you’ – and got right to the point,” Sipes said.

He made the pitch to Lewis: How about giving new Infantry OSUT Soldiers the chance to volunteer for sniper training while they’re still right here at Fort Benning?

Sipes recalls Lewis’ answer: “‘He said, ‘Man, that sounds like an awesome idea. How do you plan to do it?'”

“We talked about it for about 30, 45 minutes, just laying out the groundwork for what we we’re trying to accomplish,” Sipes said.

Their idea, Sipes told Lewis, was to offer Infantry OSUT Soldiers a chance to volunteer for a kind of five-day tryout for the formal, seven-week Sniper Course. It would condense the course to key sniper basics.

“Obviously, if you go to a basic training company full of privates and you asked, ‘How many of you wanna go to sniper school?’ every single one of ’em’s gonna raise their hand, basically, I would assume.” – Capt. Zach Lemke, commander, U.S. Army Sniper Course, Fort Benning, Georgia

We’d put them through the training, he told Lewis, and if they show the right degree of mental sharpness and other aptitudes, we’ll send them on to the Sniper Course.

Then, if they made the grade in the Sniper Course, those recent OSUT graduates would arrive at their new units sniper-qualified, and stamped virtually from the start of their Army service formally schooled in the best, state-of-the-art, sniper skills and methods.

Infantry units may train their own Soldiers to serve in their sniper squads, but they sometimes decide they want to send a Soldier to Fort Benning for formal sniper training at the Sniper Course’s level of quality. Taking some of the Army’s newest Soldiers and putting them through the Sniper Course – especially while they’re here already – would be “a win-win,” Sipes said.

“The units won’t have to work as hard to train a Soldier,” he said. “They are ready to succeed on day one. The only thing they lack is experience within the job, but that can be done through training. They’ve met the requirements. They know how to perform the specialized tasks. Now they just need the experience that comes from working in that organization.”

Lewis took it to the brigade leadership, Sipes said, including Command Sgt. Maj. Ronnie E. Blount Jr., who in turn discussed it with Col. Dave Voorhies, the brigade’s commander at the time.

“They came back and told us we were good to go,” said Sipes. “It took about a week to 10 days to get the final approval on it. We created the schedule, sent it over to them.”

The 198th helped with finding volunteers, said Lemke.

The brigade’s drill sergeants formed up the trainees, Lemke said, told them there was a chance to try out for the Sniper Course, then asked for a show of hands. Among Soldiers who’d enlisted for the Infantry, the chance to specialize as a sniper had warrior appeal. Hands went up.

“Obviously,” said Lemke, “if you go to a basic training company full of privates and you asked, ‘How many of you wanna go to sniper school?’ every single one of ’em’s gonna raise their hand, basically, I would assume.”

To be considered, candidates while in OSUT would have to have gotten the highest possible marksmanship score, which is “Expert,” and have a score of at least 270 on the Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT. And they’d have to be in the Army’s Infantryman job category, which it codes administratively as 11B, commonly referred to as 11 Bravo.

The brigade’s drill sergeants jotted their names and sent forward a list of 20 who met the requirements, said Lemke.

“We got a list of names probably within the next 48 hours,” said Sipes, “and then we went and picked them up and started to train ’em. So from flash to bang was probably 18 days or so.”

They’re calling the five days’ training the OSUT Soldier Sniper Assessment, Lemke said.

Charlie Company instructors teach the sniper-hopefuls how to spot targets, how to estimate the distance from themselves to the target, how to gauge the wind’s movements so they can adjust for it in taking their shot, how to use a sniper’s high-tech optical gear to trace the path of a shot. They’re also taught basics of stalking a target, and are tested on their ability to fire the M110 sniper rifle, using live ammunition.

But throughout the five days the trainers also put a keen eye on whether a candidate has the “cognitive ability” to absorb the instruction, including its many technical fine points, and then apply it all properly,” Sipes said.

Sipes consulted a sports psychologist who works at Fort Benning for tips on how best to evaluate each candidate’s “ability to receive new information, learn how to apply it, apply it, and then work to improve performance in the future,” he said.

Charlie Company ran the first assessment April 20 – 24 and a second May 11-15.

Ten OSUT Soldiers went from the Assessment into the Sniper Course’s Class 4, which ran April 27 to June 12 and started with a total of 47 students. Fourteen graduated, four of them OSUT Soldiers who’d gone through the Assessment. Two OSUT Soldiers washed out and the remaining four were allowed another try, in Class 5, which began May 18 and ends July 2, Lemke said.

As the time approached to run another Sniper Assessement, the 198th sent Charlie Company another list of 20 candidates.

Class 5 started with a total of 36 students and is now at 29, 11 of them OSUT graduates who had gone through the Assessment, Lemke said.

Lemke and Sipes think the results of Class 4 – four out of 10 OSUT Soldiers who were still virtual rookies to the Army making it to Sniper Course graduation – suggests the effort to seek sniper candidates from Infantry OSUT right at Fort Benning, has big potential.

“And that’s only gonna improve over time as we master how we assess them and select,” said Sipes. “That was our first two attempts, he said of the OSUT-Sniper Assessment-Sniper Course. effort. “We’ve taken notes on how to improve it and it’ll only get better.”

But that wasn’t the only encouraging sign, Lemke and Sipes said.

Of those four OSUT graduates who completed Class 4, two achieved special distinction: one received the Top Shot award for highest marksmanship scores in the class. Another took the Fieldcraft Award for top grades in stalking, target detection, and range estimation, Lemke said.

“We have these Soldiers here, on post, already,” said Sipes, “that are brand new, hungry, they’re physically fit. They’re already in that training mindset.”

“We can see the potential of these Soldiers immediately out of OSUT,” said Lemke, “we can measure it, train them, and the send them to the force ready. That’s an extremely important thing for the Army.

“This allows us to take a lot of the training burden off of units,” Lemke said. “I can send a Soldier onto his next duty station already sniper-qualified, and that unit doesn’t have to make any other investment and send them back to Fort Benning. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel. He’s coming straight out of OSUT, receiving that training and then arriving at your unit, ready to perform that duty.”

“If this program can continue and we continue to send out qualified snipers to the force,” said Lemke, “this helps build the sniper capability in our Army.”

By Franklin Fisher, Fort Benning Public Affairs

The Baldwin Files – More SWCS History

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

Leaders practice leadership constantly, but rarely – if ever – come close to mastering it. Practicing good leadership is always hard. To be successful, leaders have to strive to be harder…and smarter. I have not always been good, and I certainly have not always been smart, but I always tried to do it right. The most challenging leadership position I ever had was as Commander of F Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, 2000-2001. I have spoken about that assignment several times before. To be sure, the actual job of managing two phases of the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) was both personally and professionally rewarding. It was the single most satisfying assignment of my career.

On the other hand, the leadership and command climate of the 1st Training Battalion at the time left much to be desired and made some aspects of my job harder than it needed to be. I make no secret of my bias here. I consider myself the good guy in this story, and my Battalion Commander (BC) the bad guy. Performing my unit’s training mission was a joy; dealing with my boss was a constant frustration. I am sure he saw it differently then and likely still does to this day. He is free to tell his version. However, if his story is substantially different from what I am about to share, he will be a damn liar.

As I have mentioned before, by 2000, Special Forces were in a statistical death spiral. In better times, we had become a Branch, stood up the 1st SFG, and started reactivating the 3rd SFG by 1990. Then, the Army went through a significant drawdown after Desert Storm. So, by 1993-94, our in-service recruiting pool was reduced almost by half. I saw the effects while I was commanding C/1/5th SFG, 1994-95. With few exceptions, the Group had ODAs with only 7-8 personnel assigned and even fewer on hand on a daily basis. The problem was getting worse as time went on. We were simply losing more people to ETS and retirement then we were graduating from the SFQC.

When I got to the Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) in April 2000, the situation looked bleak. Some good initiatives did come out of this difficult period. The 18X-Ray Enlistment Option for example that let us dip into another pool of potential candidates. However, while that initiative was approved during my time at SWCS, it was almost two years later – well after my time – before any of those folks got through the pipeline. Other ideas were frankly harebrained. One Group Commander opined that the Army could be convinced by SF leadership to “levy” soldiers to attend our Selection Course  (SFAS). Whether they wanted to go or not. He believed that at least some of those pressganged into attending would pass. I have no idea why he imagined that tactical units would voluntarily cull out their best and brightest – rather than take the opportunity to get rid of their shitbirds – to meet our needs rather than their own. Fortunately, that experiment was never attempted.

One of the unfortunate consequences of wrestling with this seemingly insurmountable problem was that the people actually in charge began to look around for someone else to blame. Much of that blame fell – unjustly – on the Cadre of the Training Companies. Since my company had two big pieces of the SFQC, we got our share of the blame and then some. In fact, when the new BC met my Cadre for the first time, his initial comment was “if you people were better NCOs we would have more people graduating from the course.” Fortunately, SF NCOs are not shy. One of my NCOs jumped up immediately and replied, “Sir, you don’t know what the F#@* you are talking about!”

I had only been there a couple of months myself but I had already seen my NCOs busting their rear ends trying to get salvageable borderline students across the finish line. After the BC had thrown his rhetorical grenade in the classroom, the situation only deteriorated. He got defensive, and the Cadre continued to push back – hard but professionally – on the additional points he tried to make. It was the most counter-production encounter I have even witnessed between a commander and troops. After only 3-4 minutes, the BC beat a hasty retreat. My SGM and I immediately buttonholed him and his CSM outside the building and unloaded on him as well. He left Camp Mackall and went back to the Battalion HQ at Fort Bragg. Believe you me, he left pissed at all of us – especially me – and he never got over it. As for myself, I could not have been more proud of my soldiers.

Do not get me wrong, the Cadre at the SFQC are not perfect. Some occasionally get into what we call the “protect the Tab” mode and add their own personal hoops for the candidates to jump through or invent their own standards. However, despite the pressure, most do an outstanding job class after class. In Ranger School – at least when I went through – the RIs rotated out every 24 hours or so. I would say that methodology is appropriate for that particular school. Of course, because of that constant change over, I do not remember any of the RIs except those I had served with in other units. Conversely, individual SFQC Cadre stay with the same student team throughout a phase. More akin to the way Drill Sergeants continuously instruct as well as model the behavior expected of their assigned charges. Similarly, just as soldiers remember their Drill Sergeants, an SFQC candidate will likely also remember his Cadre Team Sergeant’s example of quiet professionalism – good, bad, or otherwise.

The majority of the Cadre in my company routinely carried that heavy burden with pride, skill, and style. Moreover, they did it day after day without complaint. However, they were not inclined to be unfairly critiqued by anyone not shouldering that same rucksack. I had overlapped with the BC in 3rd Group. He commanded A/3/3 and, toward the end of my tour, became XO of 1/3 while I was commanding A/1/3; but I had not had enough personal contact to form a professional opinion of him. Still, the BC’s intensely negative attitude towards the Cadre was hard to understand. He had been an NCO in the Air Force as a SERE instructor; shifted to the Army and been an 18C (SF Engineer), in 7th Group; then a Signal Officer, also in 7th Group; before going through the 18A (SF Officer) course. I have to assume that in one or both of his SFQC experiences the Cadre at the time had inflicted damage to his sensibilities in some fashion.

He definitely held a grudge. Whenever he met with students – mine or those of the other companies in the battalion – he always asked first if they had any complaints about their cadre or had they witnessed any cadre misconduct. He made it abundantly clear that he did not trust us and, in turn, we knew not to trust him. Since he was some 35 miles away from me at Bragg, I had to deal with him far less than some of the other company commanders based across the street from him. When he did come out to see me or the other two companies (SFAS and SERE) at Mackall, he always came out unannounced – specifically, as he self-righteously told me to my face more than once – to catch us doing “something wrong.”  

Normally, given that he was only one-year group ahead of me and we had served together as Majors, one would expect our professional – if not personal – relationship to be cordial and near-peer. Indeed, I was the senior Major in the Training Group at the time. However, he took every opportunity to emphasize that he was a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) and the boss and I was just a Major and his subordinate. True enough, but irrelevant to my mission, so I mostly tried to ignore him. One of the idiosyncrasies of working at a schoolhouse is that you do not have a unit produced Training Schedule that is subject to change at a moment’s notice. Instead, Cadre execute a Program of Instruction (POI) that has to be followed with little deviation. It also meant that resources like money, aircraft, and other transportation assets were pre-allocated two years out. Therefore, I had no requirement or need to ask battalion or Training Group for anything additional. 

The BC seemed to have trouble understanding that reality. For example, he slipped onto the Camp one afternoon and started shutting down training. We were in the middle of teaching the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) in the student team rooms. In those days, the students lived and did most academic training and planning is some pre-fabricated sheds. Those sheds had been used and abused when I went through in 1990-91. By 2000, they were in bad shape. In fact, SWCS had cut off funding for anything but emergency maintenance and the buildings were already scheduled for demolition and replacement within a couple of years. He went into one of the rooms, was dissatisfied with the neatness of the student team’s gear and ordered a GI Party. He was in the process of doing the same in all the other team rooms when I caught up with him.

He started to chew my ass about how the team rooms were pigsties and it was my fault. He then demanded that I put one hour of barracks maintenance every day on the schedule. He added that he expected me to personally inspect each barracks daily to ensure a high standard of cleanliness. I told him no. I explained that the buildings were at the very end of their lifecycle. I also said I cannot change the POI, and neither can you. Every hour of the day and night is allocated to specific tasks. Right now, we are doing MDMP. For many of the NCOs and even some of the officers, it is the first time they have seen anything above a Patrol Order. They are graded on this task. If we fail, they will be recycled or dropped. Nowhere in the POI does it require me to run an NCO Academy or conduct white glove inspections. If you can get the Proponency – ultimately the CG – at SWCS to add barracks inspections I will start doing them. I also mentioned that it would take about two years before any such change would take effect.

I am not sure how much of what I said got through. He just looked at me and said, “So you are refusing my order?” I replied with more composure than I felt, “Sir, I have explained to you why I cannot follow that order.” He stormed off. I then when around all the team rooms, stopped the GI Party and got the students and Cadre refocused on their actual mission. The next day, the BC came back and gave me a Letter of Reprimand for “disobeying” his order. I took it and moved on. The funny thing is, I do not think he cared about the barracks issue. He certainly never checked again. I knew he was not going to pursue the asinine idea of scheduling barracks maintenance with the CG. I eventually came to think that he just wanted to pull my chain – just to remind me that he could.

It became a regular thing. About a month later, during Robin Sage, he came out to see a student team. The team we chose to show him was having some problems. We made a point of trying to build student teams that were balanced in terms of skill sets and prior experience. We intentionally avoided creating teams of just studs or duds. However, despite our best effort, every cycle saw one or two teams that just did not “gel” the way we would hope. One of the ways we would “reset” a team like that would be to have the OPFOR force them out of their G-Base and require them to move to another. It was a wakeup call and usually helped the students regain their footing and refocus on the mission. I explained all of that to the BC before we got there.

Robin Sage is not like most Army training. It requires the students to respond to the dilemmas they encounter in fictitious Pineland. Many of those challenges are entirely unscripted and others are of the students’ own making based on how they respond or fail to respond. It is, of course, an artificial environment but great effort is made to help the students suspend their disbelief and react as if the situations are real and deadly serious. To do that, we always kept visitors to a bare minimum. When visitors did come out, we asked them to come in civilian clothes rather than uniforms. The BC insisted that he and his CSM would be in BDUs. I asked him to at least take off his top and put on a cadre shirt and ballcap. The BC would have none of that. I noted, that he took some glee in saying no – I surmised because the suggestion had come from me.

It was mid-morning when we got to the new G-Base. The student team and their role-playing guerrillas had literally just gotten there less than an hour earlier. They had been on the run for about 40 hours and were still establishing their security. The BC eschewed going around the perimeter to meet the soldiers individually as they busied themselves with their priorities of work – as they had been taught. Instead, he yelled out for them to stop what they were doing and gather around him. He introduced himself as the BC and asked them how they were being treated by the Cadre – pointing to me and my NCOs. He did not ask any questions about their training. I had to stifle a chuckle. Given that the students knew that we were unsatisfied with their performance as a team up to that point, I was sure they thought the BC’s visit was just another Pineland dilemma for them to solve. They stood silently until the BC was done; and as he turned to leave, they went back to work. As a side note, that team did much better during the rest of Robin Sage and most graduated.

I thought that was it. I told myself that the damage was minor and I should be grateful for that. However, when we left the woodline the BC started to chew my ass. He was especially angry that the students were unshaven. I reminded him that they had been moving, sometimes under OPFOR pressure, for two days. He said that was no excuse. He declared that since I knew that my BC was coming out to “inspect” training that I should have had the students “go admin” to shave, clean themselves up, and be standing in formation – ready for inspection – when he got there. It was very bizarre. Afterward, he gave me another Letter of Reprimand for “students not clean-shaven.” I put it with the first one.

That became the pattern. About once a class, he would come out and bitch about something. From time to time, he would find some similarly absurd reason to reprimand me. It was a running joke in the company that I was going to need a bigger file cabinet for all those letters. Toward the end of the year, my company was awarded an Army Superior Unit Award. There was no award ceremony and the BC never mentioned it. As I said earlier, most of the time I forgot all about him. Our classes at Mackall were back to back to back. There was not much time to dwell on nonsense. After a while, when he realized I was not giving him much satisfaction he stopped coming out much at all. The companies at Bragg were not so lucky and I felt sorry for them but relieved nonetheless.

In early 2000, my fist LTC Board was coming up. I had about seven months with the BC at that point and might normally get a Complete the Record Officer Evaluation Report (OER) for the Board. Of course, that was only truly helpful if one was going to get a “top block” rating on that evaluation. Since I had no doubt that the BC did not consider me top block material I knew that was not going to happen. After all, I already had six formal Reprimands from the guy; not to mention countless ass chewing for various lesser “unprofessional” offenses in his eyes. In early March, I got a message to meet him at the Training Group Commander’s office. I had not seen the BC in a couple of weeks and rarely had reason to see the Group Commander (GC). I assumed that the BC had decided to take his animosity toward me to the next level and that this was going to be unpleasant.

I was wrong. When I got there the GC was friendly, calling me by my first name and inviting me in. I went into the office and saw the BC was already sitting there. The GC sat at his desk and informed me that the BC had recommended me for a top block OER. I was stunned and remained mostly silent – as did the BC. Once the GC, BC, and I signed the OER, his secretary took it for submission. The write-ups in the OER were exceptionally flattering. Apparently, everyone in my chain of command agreed, I walked on water and was the best of the best. I knew almost instantly it was a trap – or more precisely a bribe. The BC had decided that if I could not be intimidated, perhaps I could be bought.

What I did not understand immediately is why the BC went to the trouble. However, he wasted little time in letting me know that I “owed him one.” He had something specific in mind that he wanted from me in payback. The manning challenges that I mentioned the Groups were having also directly affected the Training Group. I never had more than two-thirds of the Cadre I was supposed to have. For some events like Robin Sage, we got some “guest cadre” from the Groups. The Groups wanted that tasker to go away but did not want to lose any more people to a full SWCS tour either. Someone, I do not who, came up with the idea of expanding the guest cadre program significantly in order to sharply reduce the number of assigned instructors. The trouble with that idea is that just because someone graduated from SFQC it does not follow that they can teach the course to standard without additional preparation. Graduating college does not make one a professor, getting jump wings does not make one qualified to be a Black Hat at Airborne School.

To get newly assigned Cadre ready to solo a class we used what was called the Shadow Program. It was a fairly informal process. A new guy would be partnered up with an old hand and stick with him through one class cycle. To refresh some technical skills, like land navigation, we would take them out to the STAR course and run them through separate from the students. Likewise a myriad of Small unit tactics, Unconventional Warfare techniques, etc. needed to be reintroduced. Depending on the Group they had come from and where and how often they had deployed, invariably some of those skills would have atrophied. Except for the guys shadowing, we seldom had more than one Cadre NCO for each student team. They had to be ready to teach and then evaluate the students’ performance in all those tasks by themselves. Shadowing also allowed us to evaluate that new NCO. Again, not everyone who graduates the SFQC is suited to teach at the school.

Sometimes we would get a guy on a second SWCS tour and we could shorten the timeline but that did not happen often. This idea of handing students to guest cadre with little or no preparation had been rattling around SWCS for a couple of months. I was dead set against it for all the reasons I just mentioned. I had reminded people that four Ranger students had died in 1995 in part because some of the RIs that night were not well versed in the School’s safety protocols. Therefore, I also saw it as a safety issue. Moreover, by this time I knew that my most experienced NCOs were also the guys most capable of getting student stragglers over that finish line. Inexperienced, temporary cadre would not have those skills. I thought the idea had been shelved as unworkable but my BC had decided to resurrect it. More accurately, he was tasking me to make it work.

I believe, and have often argued, that soldiers are obliged to execute legal orders – no matter how much they might personally disagree with those orders. Certainly, there can be exceptions; however, I am convinced it is a sound principle to follow barring extraordinary circumstances. So, I now had my marching orders – and they were not illegal. I gathered my Cadre, told them of my concerns but asked that we all withhold judgment until we had done legitimate mission analysis. I put the two committees to work separately and we broke down the tasks involved, the time required, mitigation strategies, and potential areas to accept risk. It was good sound work and the two teams came up with a tailored range of options. It became clear that if we had the guest cadre for enough time – the length of a class plus 3 weeks prior prep time (~10 weeks total) – we could get the job done. However, to work it also required consolidating the majority of classroom training and the result was a far more centralized process then had ever been used in the SFQC before. Bottom line: all of the Courses of Action we developed were clearly sub-optimum compared to the status quo – but not impossible. I admit I had hoped my teams would find a more obvious fatal flaw to kill the idea forever.

Nevertheless, I still expected that when I briefed the plan to the SWCS leadership and told them that the juice was not even close to being worth the squeeze they would agree to abandon the idea. I took our analysis to the BC and he went ballistic. He demanded that we redo the briefings to only highlight how we would make it work and emphasize that we saw no significant downsides. Moreover, he declared that the guess cadre would only arrive the week prior to a class starting. My company would produce and provide those guests with “cheat sheets” or a “smart booklet” that they could self-study and familiarize themselves with over a weekend! I told him he was out of his mind, that would be a lie, and I was not going to brief any such thing. I reminded him that he had a staff and he could do his own mission analysis and if he believed that bullshit he could brief it himself. He said, “no, you are going to brief it just the way I told you. Come back to me in two days with a new briefing.”

He had actually done me a favor and I am sure he did not even realize it at the time. He had just ordered me to lie to SWCS leadership – and that was an illegal order that I had no intention of following. I spent the next day visiting the SWCS Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) and Inspector General (IG). They shrugged off my illegal order premise and basically said it is not illegal or against regulations for your commander to be an asshole. I was not going to get any help from the system. That evening I went to see the SWCS CG. I had not had much contact with him but found out quickly that he was no fan of mine. Apparently, the BC had told him I was against any and all change in the SFQC and that he had reprimanded me more than once and had taken me under his wing in hopes I would become more of a team player. I tried to steer the conversation in a more fact-based direction but it was no use. He shook my hand on the way out. No help there.

The next day my SGM and I drove together to Bragg. He had been a great partner throughout all of the nonsense and I always counted on his honest feedback. He said, “Sir, it looks like you are just going to have to give them what they want. The guys will understand.” And there it was. He had just given me an opening to wiggle out of full responsibility with a relatively clean conscience by claiming, “Their fault not mine.” It was a rare moment of perfect clarity for me. I had seen it coming and knew what I had to do. I had no choice. We met the BC in his conference room with his staff present. I pushed the same briefings toward him that he had already seen. I told him that this is all we can do and this is what I intend to brief – including all the downsides. He threw the briefings in my face and started to storm out. In order not to drag this on, I will just say there were raised voices, chair banging, and red faces involved and I gave as good as I got.

When it was over I had been relieved. The BC also ordered me not to go back to Camp Mackall. He was afraid that I would foment some kind of insurgency. I probably could have. Instead, my two Cadre teams met me separately that day outside of the camp. I told all of them how sorry I was to have failed them. I cried more than once that day. I teared up writing it down just now. There is an upside to being publicly cashiered. I got to see who my real friends were. I was highly radioactive for some time. Men I had known for years would not return my calls. Thankfully, others still did. My BC had been a little too clever when he arranged that top block OER. It was clearly suspicious to write me up as a stud in March and then claim that I had “engaged in a [unspecified] pattern of misconduct” among other things a few weeks later.

SWCS unintentionally helped me as well. I requested an investigation in writing and they denied my request. If you have been in the Army you know they open an investigation if there is toilet paper missing from the latrine. That certainly looked like they were hiding something. Someone – the BC I presume –  started a rumor that I had a nervous breakdown from the pressure of the job. The SWCS SJA came to me and counseled that I was “lucky” because they could have charged me under the UCMJ. I told him he was full of shit. They had used an administrative process to remove me from command precisely because that puts all the onus on me to prove my innocence. If they charged me with a crime that meant a court-marshal, they would have to provide enough proof to convict me, and I would have a defense lawyer and the opportunity to provide evidence and witnesses of my own. SWCS did not want that. They wanted me to go quietly. That is also why SWCS did not attempt to pull my SF Tab or my TS Clearance despite my alleged heinous crimes against good order and discipline.

Later, I provided evidence of what actually happened to the Training Group Commander and he ended up writing a letter in my support. I consider him one of the good guys and a friend. Up front, I framed this as a story of good guys and bad guys with me in the lead good guy role. But, I am not the hero of this story. The heroes are those SFQC Cadre NCOs who did all the work successfully training, assessing, teaching, coaching, and mentoring, every emergent SF Candidate seeking to earn their Green Berets. Since then, I have asked myself many times if there was not a better way to work through the situation I found myself in. Perhaps a series of different decisions that might have led to a more positive outcome? Yes, I believe there probably was a better way. I still have not figured out what that might have been; but I am certain that a smarter leader, with more talent than I, would have done it differently. No doubt.

I said I believe in following legal orders. That does not mean a leader has any obligation to underwrite someone else’s bad choices. Instead, be honest with your soldiers. Tell them it is not your cockamamie idea but if anyone can make chicken salad out of this chicken shit we can. Do not let anyone barter your reputation, credibility, and integrity, as cover for his or her bad decisions. Make whoever actually made the decision own it. Good leaders will always do that anyway. Bad leaders do not deserve your loyalty, your soldiers do. Finally, I draw your attention to the attached picture. It is a framed guidon from F Company. Typically, a commander who is relieved would not receive a guidon. I did. It was presented at a clandestine ceremony the Cadre invited me to at Camp Mackall about three weeks after I was fired and forbidden to return. I consider it living proof that I must have been doing something right. It is my most prized memento and the highest award for service I ever received. De Oppress 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.

Wonder Why Soldiers Don’t Know Anything About Small Arms?

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

It’s stuff like this. This is a screenshot from a popular website for Soldiers studying for promotion and monthly/quarterly boards. As you can imagine, lazy Senior NCOs who sit on those boards also use this unofficial site to harvest questions, rather than the actual official, doctrinal publications. Apparently, it’s been like this for years. It isn’t going to get any better unless switched-on Soldiers take the time to learn it correctly and pass that information on to their peers and subordinates.

If you want the latest on small arms for either general knowledge or to prepare for a board, visit www.armyadp.com/weapons-tc-3-22.9 to review questions derived from TC 3-22.9.

I’d like to thank SFC Steffan for bringing this issue to my attention.

AUSA graphic novel – Medal of Honor: Daniel Inouye

Monday, June 1st, 2020

The Association of the United States Army is proud to announce the publication of a new graphic novel, Medal of Honor: Daniel Inouye.

I invite you to share this complimentary digital graphic novel with your readership.  Interested readers can view the work or download a free copy at www.ausa.org/inouye.

Daniel Inouye personally witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor and volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which became one of the most decorated units in World War II. As a second lieutenant, Inouye led an assault on the German defenses in Italy during the final weeks of the war, where he lost an arm but continued fighting the battle. He entered politics upon his return to Hawaii and became the first Japanese American elected to the U.S. Senate.

The AUSA Book Program recognizes these remarkable acts of valor with Medal of Honor: Daniel Inouye. This full-color digital graphic novel was created by a talented team of professionals:

Script: Chuck Dixon (Batman, The Punisher, The ‘Nam)

Pencils, Inks, Cover: Christopher Ivy (G.I. Joe, Avengers, Flash)

Colors: Peter Pantazis (Justice League, Superman, Wolverine)

Lettering: Troy Peteri (Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men)

The Association of the United States Army is a non-profit organization devoted to the US Army and Its Soldiers, and the book is being distributed free of charge as part of our educational mission. The new graphic novel is the first issue in the second volume of the Medal of Honor series, which launched October 2018 with Medal of Honor: Alvin York and continued with profiles of Roy Benavidez, Audie Murphy, and Sal Giunta. These graphic novels are available on Medal of Honor series page at www.ausa.org/moh.

This year’s graphic novels, in addition to Inouye, will highlight Sgt. Henry Johnson, the Harlem Hellfighter who fought in World War I; Dr. Mary Walker, a Civil War surgeon and the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor; and Cpl. Tibor Rubin, the Holocaust survivor who later fought in Korea.

To read Medal of Honor: Daniel Inouye online or download a free copy, please visit www.ausa.org/inouye.  



Talent Management Key to Filling Future Specialized Multi Domain Operations Units for Army

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

POINT MUGU, Calif. — The Army is hunting for top talent to fill the ranks of specialized units for multi-domain operations, following the first one standing up last year in Washington state.

In 2019, a mixture of the Army’s space, cyber, and electronic warfare capabilities was activated as a cohesive unit called the Intelligence, Information, Cyber, Electronic Warfare, and Space Battalion — or simply I2CEWS.

The battalion has become “the centerpiece of the Multi-Domain Task Force,” Gen. John M. Murray, commander of U.S. Army Futures Command, said Tuesday during the Association of Old Crows virtual EMS Summit.

Located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, the battalion combines non-lethal Army capabilities with kinetic capabilities, such as missile defense. The I2CEWS operates in support of U.S. Army Pacific, and AFC has “plans to stand up more as we begin to experiment with this formation,” Murray said.

The Multi-Domain Task Force is a model of how the Army envisions joint-warfighting on future battlefields against near-peer competitors, like Russia and China. Before the Army activates additional formations, though, Murray said it will first need the right talent to fill the ranks.

“The No. 1 thing is finding talent, and I’m convinced we have some of that talent already in our ranks,” Murray said. “And we’re going to have to go into our recruiting pools to find some of that talent. The Army is already beginning to explore innovative ways in talent management.”

Some innovative talent management programs include the Assignment Interactive Module 2.0, or AIM 2.0. The information system is a way for officers to build detailed resumes and take part in a market-style hiring system for their next assignments as organizations post specific positions they are looking to fill.

Talent management will also be part of the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army, or IPPS-A, a web-based human resources system already adopted by the National Guard, that will soon integrate the Army’s personnel, pay and talent management functions into one secure web-based application.

Much like how traditional battlefields will change under the information age, the Army will also recruit talent differently. For example, Murray explained, “Thirty-eight years ago, when I was offered a four-year Army ROTC scholarship, they couldn’t care less what I majored in.

“So, I picked the easiest major I could find,” he admitted. But today “we’re offering [cadets] a six-year scholarship to come out with a degree the Army needs, and if they can’t meet our requirements, then they’re not going to join the Army.”

The Army has taken other steps to attract and keep cyber talent, such as hosting cyber hackathons, boosting pay and incentives, and direct commissioning.

But “the most attractive way to retain our cyber warriors is the thrill of the mission. To be honest, [cyber warriors] are doing things they could not do outside the Army without spending time in jail,” Murray said, regarding cyber warfare missions.

Cyber warriors direct and conduct integrated electronic warfare, information, and cyberspace actions. They are responsible for the aggressive defense of Army networks, data infrastructure, and cyber weapons systems.

For Murray, who is responsible for leading a team of more than 24,000 Soldiers and civilians in the Army’s modernization enterprise, helping shape the Army’s future force is personal.

The four-star talked about his eight grandchildren, especially one granddaughter who, he believes, will one day be “an infantry commander wearing airborne and Ranger tabs.” It’s her generation he’s working for, he said, not “old Soldiers like me.”

Murray wasn’t the only one with that mindset.

“I use some of the same equipment my father used, and my nephews are now flying some of the same equipment that I flew,” said Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood, director of hypersonics, directed energy, space, and rapid acquisition.

“We need our grandchildren to fly new and modernized equipment as we continue to go forward,” Thurgood added. “So to those of us that have aged a little bit in the process of our careers, it is personal, because we spent that time with our Soldiers, and we spent that time with our families.”

In the end, that’s really what AFC and “the whole team, to include our acquisition partners, brings to our Army, delivering solutions that our Soldiers need when they need it,” Murray said.

“This is about our kids and our grandkids that will defend this great nation going into the future,” he added. “That’s really what personalizes this mission for me, and that’s a heavy rucksack to carry.”

By Thomas Brading, Army News Service

Blast From The Past – What Kind of Leader Are You?

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

We’ve published this leadership model twice. The first time in 2012 and most recently, way back in 2015. It’s still worthy of debate.

In the mid-1800s a Prussian Field Marshal named Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke developed a means to evaluate his officers.

Smart & Lazy – I make them my Commanders because they make the right thing happen but find the easiest way to accomplish the mission.
Smart & Energetic – I make them my General Staff Officers because they make intelligent plans that make the right things happen.

Dumb & Lazy – There are menial tasks that require an officer to perform that they can accomplish and they follow orders without causing much harm.

Dumb & Energetic – These are dangerous and must be eliminated. They cause things to happen but the wrong things so cause trouble.

I’ve also seen this attributed to various German Army leaders beginning in the inter-war years and seems to convey prevailing thinking. It boils leadership down into its simplest form and measures the leader on two axes. Intelligence (competence) and industriousness or lack thereof.

As Chief of the Army High Command, the Anti-Nazi Gen Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord oversaw the composition of the German manual on military unit command (Truppenführung), dated 17 October 1933. In it, he proposed a classification scheme for military leaders.

‘I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.’

Remember, in the German model, the most promising go to the General Staff for grooming. In the American model, the best and brightest take command. Considering that, do you think it’s still a viable model?

Two Armies

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

I’d like to have two armies: one for display with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, staffs, distinguished and doddering Generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their General’s bowel movements or their Colonel’s piles, an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country. The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage uniforms, who would not be put on display, but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That’s the army in which I should like to fight.

Jean Lartéguy
Author of “The Centurions”

I served in both of the armies described by French Author and former Soldier Jean Lartéguy. I can assure you that even the army of enthusiastic young professionals is sometimes infiltrated by the show army. It usually happens during the peace, when the good idea fairy comes up with something to occupy the troops’ time. But sometimes, it’s just a guy who shouldn’t be in charge.

I know some of you are seeing challenges out there right now. Power through it; hard men outlast poor leadership.