Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer

Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer
They sent me here just to watch...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reserve Training for Active Forces

                          I first copyrighted this article in 1989, almost ten years before I had ever heard of Lateral Thinking, but this idea was the direct result of an arising provocation.  That provocation is that we should train our active forces like our reserves.  Taken at face value, this proposal should be rejected as ridiculous.  When used as a tool to get off of the main track of thinking, it produced what I believe to be a very workable and productive idea which I was able to implement selectively in the remainder of my active duty career.


Every year thousands of Marine reservists conduct approximately two weeks of active duty training.  In addition to being an essential part of their service obligation  such active duty periods are the focus of an entire year's training.  For several months prior to the active duty dates much shorter weekend training periods (drills) are conducted to bring the unit's skill level to a point where the two week training period can be maximized.  At this point, some of you have already classified this introduction and its author as the master of the obvious.  Of course this is how the reserve program works--one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer, but before we dismiss the entire reserve establishment as a manpower pool that trains so infrequently as to earn them the label "weekend warriors" we must first ask the singular question:  How much training can a unit get in one weekend?  When asked rhetorically only to dismiss the viability of employing reserve forces in a future conflict, we do not get an answer.  When this question is examined in detail; however, the best kept secret of the Marine Corps Reserve is revealed to the benefit of all leaders who recognize time as one of our most valuable training resources.  Training during a reserve drill weekend is the epitome of time management and as such should be incorporated into the training schedules of active duty forces.

A drill weekend for active forces?  Perhaps you think that weekly urinalysis screening for the author would be more appropriate.  Before we dismiss the idea altogether. let's look at what goes into such a weekend. Drill dates are normally promulgated by an annual training plan. This is mandated by the fact that our reserve Marines must find some livelihood to sustain them for the majority of the year and they must appease their employers with "advance notice."  By providing this notice to employers. we have also provided such notice to the Marines and their leaders.  What active duty unit can you think of that can tell you with a reasonable degree of certainty what training they will conduct 10 or 11 months from now.  By identifying training dates and the training objectives to        accompany them, unit leaders have ample time to focus their efforts upon making each drill weekend as productive as possible.  While an unannounced test of a reserve unit's mobilization readiness may alter this schedule or the objectives for a given drill, over 90 percent of the scheduled training will likely be conducted exactly as forecast.  This is not to dismiss the benefits of maintaining an operational tempo which often precludes such advanced, accurate planning.  The routine (if such a word can ever be used in an active duty unit) of successfully managing all of the administrative, operational, logistical, and house keeping functions required to keep a unit viable on a daily basis often produces the best training in command and staff operations which the Marine Corps has to offer.  The price of maintaining such an operational tempo is often the loss of focus.  This is where we can learn from our reserve establishment.
A "drill" does not simply materialize as a successful training evolution, and advance notice does not in itself constitute preparation. The keys to a successful drill are the advance identification of training objectives, advance preparation of all key personnel, and the advance preparation of all training areas.  It is the  reserve unit leaders and the unit's Inspector-Instructor Staff which share these self-imposed taskings.  A weapons shoot or live fire exercise, while it may look good on a training plan, is not a training objective.  Objectives must be more tangible.  They must be specific enough that they can be translated into unit missions.  A training objective for part of a drill weekend might be a platoon single envelopment of a known enemy position. Conditions further delineating this training objective, such as during hours of reduced visibility, in a contaminated environment, or with MILES gear can be added based upon what the commander wants to accomplish.  If it is not specifically stated by the commander or deduced by his junior leaders it is not a training objective.  If the training objective of the commander is to evaluate the issue and receipt of combat orders, the platoon single envelopment may only be a graphic aid to this evaluation. Specific objectives communicated well in advance of the training dates are all important.
Once objectives have been identified, preparation to conduct training begins.  While classroom instruction is the least desirable method of training, an assessment of the unit's skill level must be made to determine if any such instruction is mandated before application and evaluation phases may commence.  If "classes" must be included in the schedule, instructors should be identified simultaneously.  The concept that every Marine should be taught by his own leaders--especially at the NCO level--holds true for reserve training as well as for regular units. Such a concept nurtures the mutual respect required between an NCO and his Marines, mandates technical expertise on the part of the instructing NCO, and enhances camaraderie.  On certain occasions, however! it may be beneficial to deviate from this philosophy.  Certain training requirements which may be low on a commander's priority list may. be best taught by a single instructor, thus permitting other leaders to focus upon those training objectives with a higher priority.  Such a deviation should be a conscious decision, and not one of convenience.  In either case, the early identification of Instructors provides ample opportunity for quality training preparation.

Additional preparations required include the scheduling of ranges and training areas, ammunition, chow, transportation, march routes, air requests, and numerous other details which collectively are labeled training support.  It is in this area that reserve training is truly unique, and it is the Inspector-Instructor Staff which provides reserve training with this exceptional characteristic.  Let's say that one of the company training objectives for a drill weekend is rifle requalification.  Instinctively, we visualize a training support checklist which includes a known distance range, ammunition, ear plugs, pre-fire inspections, range regulations, safety officers, safety vehicles and the like.  We know that target assignments must be made, coaches assigned, line and pitt NCOs assigned and other elements not only of qualification, but of establishing every working part of such a detail. This is where the unique character of the Inspector-Instructor Staff comes fully into play.  The staff ask, in addition to reinforcing and evaluating the marksmanship skills of the company, are their other training objectives which the commander wants to accomplish during this evolution, to wit:  Does he want to train his officers and noncommissioned officers how to run the range?  If the answer is yes, then range OICs and range safety officers must be assigned from the reserve unit.  The officer in charge of the range then ensures that continuous coordination is made with all external agencies, that specific taskings are promulgated, and that the entirety of the detail is supervised.  Faced often with only a range facility aboard a reserve installation, he must construct the detail from the ground up.  Such decisions frequently result in exceptionally beneficial experience for young officers and NCOs.  The pitfall most commonly associated with this course of action is that if preparations are not sufficiently thorough, Marines are left waiting to train.  The alternative to this course of action is to leave the task of range preparation in the hands of the Inspector-Instructor Staff.  This should be done when the training of a reserve leader to prepare and supervise a firing range is not a command objective, when that leader's expertise is required elsewhere, or when it is the objective of the command to focus upon exclusive training objectives.  The beauty of training in the reserves is that the two objectives are not mutually exclusive.  A reserve officer could be assigned as the Officer in Charge of requalification, and provided the resources of the Inspector-Instructor Staff   He could devise and coordinate his plans for the execution of training while using the Inspector-Instructor Staff as a sounding board.  Discrepancies could be identified and corrected well in advance of the training date, the Inspector-Instructor Staff could execute the support functions and the entire leadership of the reserve unit could focus upon their training objectives. 

Other preparations necessary for leaders involve knowing the overall game plan.  If a platoon leader or squad leader knows that the focus of training for a weekend drill is unit live fire and movement, but does not know that there is only one range which will support this training and that only one squad can train on the range at a given time; he will not be able to plan the most efficient use of his time.  If he knows that four other squads will run through the range before it is his turn and no other training is directed while he waits; then he can plan his own training schedule:  Focusing on preparing for the squad fire and movement, rehearsing signals and SOPs, or practicing other battle skills which he believes need work.  In addition to identifying the overall training plan, advance notice of administrative requirements must be promulgated.  If a unit leader knows that he has three Marines who must verify their record of emergency data and that his unit is one of the last to draw weapons, he can complete these administrative requirements while the rest of the unit prepares to go to the field.  A detailed plan for all weekend activities--not just training--will permit the small unit leader to better organize his time and create his own training opportunities. Such a preparatory effort manifests itself in numerous concurrent training activities during the execution phase.  The fielding of the Battle Drill Guide has greatly consolidated many of the doctrinal references which formerly required hours of research in preparation for training.  Once momentum is established in the area of concurrent training, junior leaders adopt the philosophy that if they encounter ten unscheduled minutes, they will take one minute to plan training for the next nine. 

The third area which makes for a successful training weekend is the advanced preparation of training areas.  How many times have you been the victim of arriving at a training area only to find out that as much of your "field time" will be spent in preparing to execute the training as will be used in its actual execution~  If the training objective is to negotiate obstacles and booby traps, such training aids should be in place upon your arrival.  Extensive use of well informed advance parties can make this a reality.  If the focus of training is on trench clearing techniques, trenches should be prepared before the arrival of the unit to be trained.  The entire concept of training must not only be clear to the unit leaders, but to all members of the advance party who must effect the necessary training aids.  During an ambitious training weekend (anything less would be a criminal waste of precious time) several advance parties may be necessary.  During such a weekend, leadership and manpower assets may be overextended if not carefully planned.  If there are simply not enough Marines to accomplish advance party tasks concurrently, they must be planned in succession.  A recent drill weekend involved a requalification detail for those Marines in a rifle company that had not qualified during the fiscal year.  An advance party emplaced all communication assets, targets, and an ammunition distribution point in advance of the main body.  As this was individual training, and the training which would follow was unit training, those Marines already qualified were designated the supporting attack and assigned to pitt details, coaching details, and most importantly additional advance parties.  The other weekend training objectives included the throwing of practice and live hand grenades, platoon live fire and movement, call for fire exercises for NCOs, squad infiltration through obstacles and booby traps, chemical agent identification, and concurrent training for individual squads based upon an evaluation administered during the previous month.  While qualification firing took place on one range, communication assets and ammunition were staged on others, a terrain model was constructed for use with the pneumatic mortar training device, and a booby trap course was emplaced.  By the time the shooters had finished policing their brass, other training areas and ranges were ready to be used.  Such preparation produces a hit the deck running attitude among the Marines to be trained.  Imagine moving to a new duty station and finding all of your household effects already moved into your new quarters just the way you             want them.  While such an analogy may not sit well at the TMO office, such first class treatment of your target training group results in first rate training. 

Before we relegate these procedures to the "great for reserves, but it won't work here" file, let's examine just what it would take to effect a "drill weekend" for active forces and what the benefits would actually be.  The first step is to schedule the drill.  Have we ever stopped to consider how many potential training opportunities have been lost simply because a commander or training officer didn't take the time to put pen to paper and formalize the idea.  By incorporating such an event into the quarterly training bulletin or Training Exercise Employment Plan (TEEP) of a unit, that unit has taken the first and most important step in resolving to accomplish the training. 
The next step is to identify the training to be accomplished and the target training group.  If a company wants to train or evaluate its squads, then the majority of the training support personnel could be provided from the company and Platoon headquarters.  If the training planned is for a larger unit, then additional assistance may be required. One source of personnel for training support would be from another unit. Let's examine this concept in an infantry battalion.  One company is scheduled for a drill weekend in a given month while another company from the same battalion is designated as the supporting unit.  This is not really a new concept! we use it tactically on a routine basis.  The  supporting company would perform many of the same tasks which the Inspector-Instructor Staff performs for a reserve unit.  During a three month period, each rifle company would be scheduled once for a drill weekend and once in support of a drill weekend (see schematic).  Other schedules could be implemented to incorporate the weapons company and the Headquarters and Service company into such a plan.

The support company would provide aggressors, evaluators, controllers~ range officers. and other personnel required to create this optimal training environment.  This unit would emplace obstacles, stage ammunition and other tasks which would detract from the "drilling" unit's focus on training.  The support company would also replace Marines from the drilling unit on mess duty guard duty, or other duties which would not permit them to participate in the company's training.  Such coordination would require command emphasis at least one level above the drilling unit.  The overall intent of the support company would be to free the drilling unit from all collateral commitments.

The benefit of such efforts must be obvious.  That which is so frequently lost among extensive concurrent commitments can be regained-- a focus on training.  I am sure that every commander can account for where his Marines are when his unit goes to the field for training, but how many of them are actually accounted for instead of in the field training.  How much training time is lost to actual preparation while Marines wait?  With the drill approach, a weekend focused on nothing but training for the entire company could become a reality.

Such an approach could best be conducted for combat units, but I am sure that variants could be incorporated for combat support units or base support units as well.  A certain amount of training time would be lost to those assigned support missions, but this is a very fair trade for a commensurate amount of quality training time.  Those assigned the training support for another unit will also acquire an insight as to what is required to support their own training.

There are those who will dismiss this idea as too taxing on their already over-committed Marines.  Another weekend in the field?  How many commitments can we handle at once?  The fact that most units are committed to the point where they can barely train a fragment of their force is not contested; indeed, it is the point of this argument.  The drill weekend concept simply designates one unit as the point of main effort and permits that commander to train all of his Marines--to provide them quality training, unhampered by mess duty  guard duty, working parties, and the other routine commitments which compete for the time of his Marines.  Time off--liberty--is easy.  It can be effected piecemeal and equitably under the cognizance of concerned leaders.  Getting an entire unit free from collateral commitments on the other hand is a monumental task and requires the support, perhaps the direction, of senior commanders.  The commander who cannot find the time to compensate his Marines for this additional weekend of training is not commanding, he is simply reacting to unprioritized commitments.  The drill weekend for active forces is a viable course of action which permits a commander to conduct quality training for his entire unit in an environment of competing commitments. 

The last ditch ar~ument of those who would contend that such an approach would not work for active forces is directed at the Inspector-Instructor Staffs assigned to each reserve unit.  The contention that such staffs only task is to support such training is totally unfounded. Inspector-Instructor Staffs have an operational tempo comparable to any unit in the Marine Corps and such a tempo is maintained in as many functional areas as a battalion or regimental staff contends with little or no depth of personnel.  Perhaps there was a time in which a Marine on such duty could bag his limit during hunting season or significantly lower his golf handicap, but such is not the case today.  If an Inspector-Instructor Staff can create such an optimal training environment (which it can and does), then it can be done elsewhere. 

The term "weekend"  is only incidentally attached to the word drill   If a unit wanted to implement this approach during the middle of a week, it would certainly be feasible; however, the weekend approach may still provide more opportunities for a unit to acquire ranges and facilities aboard certain bases.  Regardless of the days selected, the concept remains the same.  Isolate the unit scheduled for training from all concurrent duties through the employment of a supporting unit.  Once this is accomplished, the quality of training is limited only by the imagination of that unit's leaders.

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