Tag Archives: ARMY TRAINING

Movement to Contact

One of the key battlefield tasks is avoiding being surprised by the enemy. The way to do that is to maintain contact with him. If contact is lost, it should be reestablished as soon as practical.

The way to do this is known as Movement to Contact. As the video explains, this is an offensive task. In effect, it’s something like a hasty attack, except you don’t really know where you’ll be conducting the attack.

Mind you, careful analysis of the terrain, and a fair appreciation of the enemy order of battle can often give you a pretty good idea where contact is likely. 

A doctrinal  here- to fix an enemy is to place sufficient fires upon him as to preclude him from either disengaging, or maneuvering.

While the video is geared toward the Combined Arms Battalion, Movement to Contact is a mission that can be conducted by light forces as well. Indeed, even Attack Aviation does it. The tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) differ somewhat, but the fundamentals are the same.

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Spartan Pegasus- Airborne Ops in the Great White North

Of my basic training platoon at Ft. Benning, maybe half of us received orders overseas. About half of those went to Germany. The rest of us were split fairly evenly between Hawaii (where I went) and Alaska.

I remember laughing at one fellow receiving orders to Alaska, and was a tad surprised to learn he was delighted with the orders. Me? I don’t do well with cold. But some folks do.

Since World War II, the US Army has mantained a significant presence in Alaska. Among the nice things about it, there is plenty of space for training. Of course, the weather and terrain means that the units there are somewhat uniquely equipped.

I’m guessing the troops are from 3-509PIR, but I don’t know that for sure. The funny looking little vehicle in the heavy drop is an M973 Small Unit Support Vehicle, basically a BV206.

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The Battle Against Booze

Carl Forsling has a piece in Task & Purpose lamenting the unrelenting war on booze in the services.

Every so often after work, I stop by the officers’ club at my base to see what’s going on. Without fail, unless I go to meet up with specific people or there’s a special event, the place is deader than Elvis. I’ll wave at the bartender and awkwardly look around as if I’m looking for someone, then make a quick about face.

With few exceptions, this is the way most military clubs are. They do a decent lunch business. Some enlisted clubs bring in decent numbers with pool and sports television, but none are eagerly anticipated social venues at the end of a long week. On some bases, there’s so little business that all the clubs have been combined to make what must be the most awkward social scenario possible.

So what? There are a million other places to buy beer. Why should the military club be sacred?

Josephus Daniels banned booze on US Navy ships in 1916. With a few very rare exceptions that holds true today. And General Order Number One for US troops deployed to Afghanistan, and before that, in Iraq, prohibited the possession and consumption of alcohol. And for the most part, I’m fairly OK with that.

Of course, contrast that the the US  ration in World War II, which, while honored more in the breach than actually being adhered to, called for two bottles of 3.2 beer per man per day, at least when not in combat.

By the time I joined in the mid 1980s, the services were already cracking down on DUIs and problem drinkers in the ranks. Any time you have a population of young people, especially young men, you’ll have a percentage that are simply bound to become alcoholics.

My first duty station was Hawaii. The drinking age when I arrived was 18. I was 19. But Hawaii raised its drinking age to 21, with no grandfather clause. There were a handful of establishments downtown that pretty much ignored the law and served under 21. And at then Wheeler AFB next door to my base, the NCO club was open to E-4 and above, and the base commander had established 18 as the drinking age.* Not surprisingly, my compatriots and I went to Wheeler fairly often. And while technically the drinking age on my post was 21, our chain of command never raised an eyebrow at troops actually in the barracks drinking underage, so long as they weren’t disruptive or otherwise disciplinary problems, or showing up for duty drunk. Think of it as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for alcohol.

When I was in Germany, of course, the drinking age was 16 or so. At any rate, if you were old enough to be in the Army, you were old enough to drink, legally. There were annoying restrictions on the amount of alcohol you could have in the barracks. One greatly annoying restriction was that most commanders prohibited the possession of hard alcohol in the barracks. Which, I prefer whiskey to beer, and always have. And right there on my ration card was an allowance for up to five bottles of hootch per month!

And when we went to Grafenwoerhr for  gunnery, most nights, we’d return to our cantonment huts in time for dinner. After dinner, the mess hall would sell good German beer, up to two bottles per man, with proceeds going to the unit Morale, Welfare and Recreation fund.

That’s to say nothing of the once vibrant Officer’s Open Mess (O’Club) at NAS Whidbey where I grew up. To say the junior officers there might have had a bit of fun on the bar would be an understatement.

But today, the Carrie Nation neo-prohibitionists have won. The mere thought of allowing, much less providing, alcohol at a command sponsored event makes some commanders tremble in fear. If your unit has a unfortunate string of alcohol related incidents, your chances of promotion and future command are in doubt. As Forsling notes:

…a few guys crapped their pants and now the whole military wears diapers.

To flash back to my first unit, in Hawaii, every Friday afternoon, after the close of business, and having been released for the day, my First Sergeant would sit on the back lanai with a case of beer on ice in a cooler. We were welcome to walk up, grab a can, and shoot the breeze, listening like eager pups to the old dog tell tales of Vietnam. Doctrine Man has a great post on mentoring over a cup of coffee. This was mentoring over a beer. More than just war stories were told. The love of the service, tales of good leadership and bad, hints for life and other wisdom was shared in an environment that, while military courtesy was still strictly observed, was far more relaxed than during the duty day. I probably learned more on the back lanai over a can of Budweiser than I ever did from any NCO Professional Development breakout session

 

*State drinking age laws technically don’t apply on federal installations. Instead, post commanders issue a punitive policy. Almost universally that policy limits the drinking age to that of the locality where the post is located, but I have seen exceptions.

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XBoX and the Obstacle Breach

One of the most difficult tasks an armored force can face is breaching an obstacle.

Obstacles on the mechanized battlefield typically consist of an anti-tank ditch, concertina wire, and one or more minefields. Obstacles themselves aren’t expected to stop a force. Instead, they are intended to delay a force.* That imposed delay tends to leave the attacker bunched up, and vulnerable to the defenders fires, both direct and indirect.

Not surprisingly, the US Army has published quite a bit of doctrine on just how to breach such an obstacle. Also not surprisingly, for many years every brigade that went through the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin performed at least one obstacle breach mission, and usually more than one.

The problem is, it is hard to learn the complexities of a mounted breach just by reading a book, and it’s expensive as heck to get the entire brigade (or BCT today) out in the field to practice.

The Army way of learning is often described as crawl/walk/run. Crawl might be standing in a field with the manual in your hands and simply walking through the steps of a task on a very reduced scale. Walk then becomes doing it on a full scale, mounted, but at a leisurely pace, and against no opposition. Run, of course, would be the full up, full scale, full speed exercise.

The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command has established a small cell to produce training video.  The graphics are produced on a variant of XBoX games, and are used to recreate various battles or training tasks. And one of them is the Obstacle Breach.

Obviously, a 2o minute video won’t replace actually reading the manuals and then going out and practicing. But it does give a decent visualization of what the discussion is about. As a supplement to to the various training aids available, it can help ensure that time and resources are not wasted in later stages of training.

H/T to :

 

 

*Actually, they are also often intended to turn a force (as in seek another avenue of movement), or channelize them on terrain of the defenders choice.

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Make. A. Damn. Decision.

BJ Armstrong has, among other writings, a nice little piece on Admiral William Sims over at USNI Blog, which includes this wonderful snippet:

Sims had the ability, essential to a naval officer, of making decisions and making them quickly if necessary. He expected the same of those under him. There are several versions of a story which illustrates this characteristic. The captain of a destroyer on his way from Newport to Charleston sent this dispatch to Sims, whose flagship was anchored in Chesapeake Bay. “My starboard engine is disabled, shall I continue to Charleston under one engine or put in to Lynnhaven Roads and effect repairs?” Promptly came the answer from Sims, “Yes.” The puzzled skipper sent another dispatch saying he did not understand and repeated his original query. This time, equally promptly came the reply, “No.” I once intercepted a message from Sims to one of his destroyer captains tersely instructing the officer, “Don’t ask questions, act.”

One of the most difficult things to instill in a leader is decisiveness. Much is written about the need for leaders to inspire teams, and establish goals and build consensus and whatnot. And those are indeed facets of leadership. But one key task a leader must execute is to simply make a decision.

Make. A. Damn. Decision.

That’s not to say that decisions should be made rashly. As in so much else, the Army has a process to support decision making, named, rather unimaginatively The Military Decision Making Process.

Copy/Pasta from Wiki:

  1. Receipt of Mission
  2. Mission Analysis
  3. Course of action (COA) Development
  4. COA Analysis (aka Wargaming)
  5. COA Comparison
  6. COA Approval
  7. Orders Production

That seems simple enough. You receive a mission from your higher headquarters, figure out what it is exactly you are to accomplish, and kick around different possible ways to accomplish the mission. Decide which plan to go with, then put the word out to everyone how to go about it.

Ah… if only…

One of the possible traps of MDMP may be familiar to many outside the military- paralysis by analysis. It’s very easy for staffs and commanders to focus on the Process part of MDMP and forget the whole point is the Decision part.

Another problem is, some people are simply afraid to commit themselves to a course of action. Every decision has consequences, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Indeed, usually there are both good and bad consequences to making a decision. There is always a desire to gain one more piece of information, examine one more possible course of action. And so, they fail to decide. Which is a decision all its own.

Which brings us to this:

“By the spring of 2014, the ISIS captors, we’re told, felt so confident in their situation that there was very little visible security around the hostages. And by May, eight Western hostages were held together in one location,” Herridge said.

Via Ace.

There may well have been issues that argued against attempting a rescue of Ms. Mueller and the other hostages. Hostage rescue attempts are very high risk under the best of circumstances. But, at least in hindsight, the risks certainly are less than the near certainty of execution at the hands of Islamic fiends. One finds it difficult, especially in light of the dithering shown by Obama in authorizing the raid on the Bin Laden compound, to believe that Obama made a rational decision to not attempt a rescue, but instead simply made the default decision to do nothing.

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Hypothetical Exercise- A Modern Mobilization Army

Over on twitter, Nathan Finney, aka The Barefoot Strategist, posed this question:

An interesting one. How would you go about doing so?

For the purposes of this little exercise, let’s posit that this is over and above an activated and federalized Guard and Reserve component.  Wiki tells us there’s just over half a million active duty Soldiers right now, with another slightly more than half a million Guard and Reserve troops, yielding a total force of about 1.1 million right now. Given that the US Army fielded roughly 8 million in World War II with only half the national population, finding another million or two warm bodies would seem to be rather easy.

But would it be?

The current military aged male population (for my purposes here I’ve rather arbitrarily selected 18-30 years) is very roughly around 30 million. Roughly 75% of that population is disqualified under current enlistment standards, either due to weight or other health issues, criminal history, or lack of education. That gives us a current population of qualified males of about 7.5 million to recruit from. Given the struggle to recruit 80,000-100,000 of this population annually, I do not think it realistic to achieve the additional numbers purely through voluntary recruitment. That leaves either conscription, or a gross lowering of the standards for enlistment. It should be noted that the standards for selective service in World War II, particularly in the last 18 months of the war, were far, far lower than today’s standards for enlistment. Many who went on to perform distinguished service in World War II would today be laughed out of the recruiter’s office.

There exists today virtually no real political support for conscription. Of course, there is no political support for such a massive expansion of the Army, either, so for the purposes of our exercise, I posit that the political support for enlarging the Army can also be seen as supporting a draft.

Another obvious pool of manpower reserves is the Individual Ready Reserves- those service members who have completed their initial obligation for active duty, or regular drills with a reserve compenent, but have not yet been completely discharged form the service. Every initial enlistment in the Army is for a term of eight years, with the first three or four typically served on active duty, and the remaining five or four in the IRR. Persons in the IRR don’t perform military duties, nor do they receive pay and allowances. But they are by law subject to recall. While some IRR troops were subjected to recall for Desert Storm, and a handful for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the last major recall of IRR troops was in the early stages of the 1950-1953 Korean War. I’ve mentioned that the Army recruits roughly 80,000-100,000 people a year. That means roughly the same number leave it annually. The greatest number of these are soldiers whose initial obligation is complete, and decline to reenlist. Of this cohort, some will not be suitable for recall. So let’s just go with a working WAG* of 50,000 over the last 5 years available for recall. That gives us a bump of a quarter million, easing the needed numbers via draft or recruiting. Theoretically, these troops have already been trained, but in reality, even after a very short break in service, the training required to again make them effective soldiers is little different than that needed to train a new recruit.

Speaking of training the troops, the existing Army training pipeline would likely prove incapable of surging production throughput to anywhere near the numbers needed. The initial training of Army troops is generally grouped by functional areas. Infantry and Armor go through training at Ft. Benning, Artillery at Ft. Sill, and support and service support soldiers go to basic training at Ft. Jackson or Ft. Leonard Woods, and then on to their specialized training at the branch school responsible for their career field, such as the Transportation Corps school at Ft. Eustis, Virginia. Further, one of the advantages of having high quality recruits with fairly long terms of enlistment (which means a fairly long term of training results in a decent return on investment) is that you need fewer military occupational specialties. You can spend the time and money to train a fire control repair technician to fix the electronics on both an Abrams, and a Bradley. But if you desperately need to raise an Army quickly, you are almost forced to limit the breadth of any one  job’s training. You’d likely have to split that fire control technician into two specialties, one for Abrams, and one for Bradleys. That means the tooth to tail ratio of our expanded army will suffer somewhat. Still, speed is of the essence, and the old rule of fast/good/cheap applies. Pick any two. In this case, it would be fast/good.

Still, the institutional schoolhouses of the Army simply cannot absorb that large an influx of new soldiers. Some skills simply must be taught at the schoolhouse (say, much of the aviation maintenance field) but a greater portion can be taught in other ways.

In World War II, much of the occupational skill training for soldiers was done in the units mobilized for the war. And here our current Army has an advantage over our forebears of 1940-1943.  The Army of 1940 faced an expansion of eventually some 2400%. There simply wasn’t a large enough trained cadre of people. Finney’s proposed expansion, however, is significantly more modest. The obvious way to leverage the existing troop formations is to use them as the cadre, the nucleus of new units. For instance, each current Brigade Combat Team might be tasked to form an entire division, with each subordinate battalion transforming itself into a BCT (or rather, forming an additional two battalions to flesh out other BCTs activated). Essentially, everybody gets bumped a paygrade. This would likely result in some decline in the quality of leadership, but that would be almost inevitable in any expansion on the scale proposed.

Another challenge for our notional expansion is simply equipping the force. As a practical matter, some things cannot be expanded in such a short time. Two years is simply not long enough to ramp up production of things like helicopters, let alone train the aircrew for them. Other major weapon systems would also face shortages. The Army has a goodly number of M1 Abrams and M2/M3 Bradleys in reserve, but not as many as might be needed. Trucks of all types would be in critical supply. That could be augmented with some civilian procurement for many roles, but the authorized equipment for many units would likely have to be changed.

The minutia of equipage, uniforms, boots, packs, and such, should not be an overwhelming obstacle, but ramping up production and maintaining quality will likely be a challenge. Producing enough rifles might be a challenge, at least in the short term.  Equipping the force with modern radios would similarly be a challenge in at least the short term.

Finally, merely finding the space to house and train this notional expanded force would be a great challenge. The US has shed much of the vast amounts of training space it acquired in World War II. Reacquiring it would be next to impossible. For one thing, many of those spaces have become developed. Ironically, even though the proposed expansion is a good deal smaller than the size of the Army in World War II, the battlespace a reasonably equipped force today needs to train is vastly greater. More space is required to effectively train a mechanized battalion today than might be needed for an entire World War II division’s maneuver elements.

So, could the US vastly expand from it’s current Army of half a million soldiers to two million soldiers in the space of two years? Probably. But it would yield a force of greatly diminished quality.** Further, absent an existential, immediate threat to the country, there is simply no political support for such an expansion.

 

*Wild Assed Guess

**Though quantity has a quality all its own.

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Updates on Company Level Feeding

For some reason, I’m obsessed with small unit rations and feeding. Mostly because I spent so much time eating the first generation MREs and not getting more than one or two hot meals in the field for weeks at a time.

Anyway, the current standard for small unit feeding is the KCLFF, or Kitchen, Company Level, Field Feeding.

But the Army is replacing this with the Assault Kitchen. First, take out whomever named it and beat them to death. The kitchen is not leading the charge.

Second, there are some pros and some cons to this “upgrade.”

First, the pros:

  • Much improved burner unit.
  • Smaller logistical footprint.
  • Heat on the move capability
  • Space for both AK and roughly four days rations on Humvee and trailer.
  • Easy to operate and maintain.
  • Ability to feed two hot meals per day.

Now the drawbacks.

  • Only suitable for heating UGR-H&S (Unitized Group Rations- Heat & Serve)
  • Not capable of preparing UGR-A and UGR-B (basically, fresh foods, and canned meals with some shelf stable items).
  • While KCLFF is rated for only one hot meal per day, it too can prepare two UGR-H&S daily under most circumstances.
  • Did I mention Assault Kitchen was a really stupid name?

UGR-H&S isn’t a bad feeding system, for the short term. But the inability to provide cooked fresh hot meals such as the UGR-A is a serious handicap if the supported company will be isolated for extended periods, such as deployed in a Combat Outpost in Afghanistan.

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