FORT BENNING, Ga. --- The pilot class for the 22-week One-Station Unit Training for Infantry Soldiers graduated today on Inouye Field at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia.
The pilot program resulted in significantly fewer Soldiers leaving the class, at graduation less than 6 percent attrition compared to 10 to 12 percent for the 14-week Infantry OSUT.
During OSUT, recruits stay in the same unit through Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training, and this pilot, which began July 13, expanded Infantry-specific training to bolster readiness, lethality and proficiency before Soldiers arrive at their first duty station. The pilot program accomplished this by expanding weapons training, increasing vehicle-platform familiarization and combatives training, adding a 40-hour combat-lifesaver course, increasing land navigation and adding combat water survivability test.
At the graduation, Retired Master Sgt. Leroy A. Petry - recipient of the Medal of Honor, former member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and a graduate of the 14-week Infantry OSUT training - served as the distinguished speaker.
"The extra time and effort that was demanded (of) you may have been difficult, but I look at you as the lucky ones for doing the 22-week course," he said during his remarks. "You have a better starting point than anyone before you, including myself. The skills that (you) learned in the heat and the dirt and the mud and the woods and the cold and the tireless nights and the early mornings and the physical training and weapons training were ... to prepare you to be your best, to be resilient, to be more successful."
The pilot OSUT is, according to Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, "the first step toward achieving the vision of the Army of 2028." The Army Vision, published earlier this year, puts forth that the Army 10 years from now "will be ready to deploy, fight, and win decisively against any adversary, anytime [sic] and anywhere, in a joint, multi-domain, high-intensity conflict, while simultaneously deterring others and maintaining its ability to conduct irregular warfare." The capabilities the Army is developing to achieve this are "centered on exceptional Leaders and Soldiers of unmatched lethality."
Soldier Lethality is one of the Army's six modernization priorities, which were developed to prepare the Army for a war with peer or near-peer competitors.
During a press conference at Fort Benning earlier this year, Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper, who was an Infantry officer at the beginning of his military career, said Soldier Lethality was the priority "closest to my heart." He outlined some of the other innovations besides the new OSUT that are likely to contribute Soldier Lethality.
"So we have in the works right now, for example, enhanced night vision goggles," said Esper. "We are building - prototyping - a new weapon, which is far more powerful, has greater range and greater accuracy than the current M4, if you will. We are also looking at advances in protective equipment for our Soldiers.
Col. Dave Voorhies, commander of 198th Infantry Brigade, which conducts Infantry OSUT, said their brigade's part in advancing Soldier Lethality has less to do with innovations and more to do with establishing firmer fundamentals: marksmanship, physical training, land navigation, the ability to medicate, combat lifesaver skills, combat water survival, Soldier discipline and more.
"If we do our jobs appropriately, if we professionally mold these kids into Infantrymen, they'll be able to out-PT their team leader, outshoot their squad leader," Voorhies said. "They're going to be as good if not better than their combat lifesavers, maybe as good to help medics out. They're going to be qualified on the machine gun, maybe two, so there's fungibility where you put them in your battle roster. They're going to be the ones certified in combatives ... It's what you expect out of those that close with and destroy the enemy."
Although much of future warfighting involves integrating new technologies into mission execution, Voorhies said some of the training was a deliberate step away from that.
"We're so tied to cellphone technology and digital technology - and our enemies know that - that we've got to be experts at the basics," he said. "Experts at the basics means knowing what you're doing without technology - you know, map and compass - and they loved it!"
The 22-week training cycle, in addition to being novel for the trainees, was also new for the instructors and leaders of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment, and Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, whose mission is "to transform civilians into disciplined INFANTRYMEN."
Much of the instructors' stated task was to increase sets and repetitions for the trainees "so that they'd be more proficient," said Lt. Col. Stephen Bourdon, commander of 2-58th.
"We didn't really focus on fancy new tasks, it was just more sets and repetitions, including more night tasks that we hadn't done before, to make them more proficient on stuff that we were already doing," Bourdon said. "And at the same time, even though it's not written in the POI, what both battalions tried to get after is ... can we get the lightbulb switched on early by having them here for more time, doing more concurrent training? Doing more sets and repetitions, can we make them more adaptive Soldiers and think a little bit on their own and for themselves earlier and (be) more self-led. And basically it would amplify their learning curve on all those tasks if we could accomplish that early. That was an intangible we tried to get after earlier."
"Not only are they doing it in a classroom environment, now they're doing it in a field environment and getting more comfortable when the conditions change," said Lt. Col. Frank Adkinson, commander of 2-19th. "They're applying it where Infantrymen actually apply it. So they're going to go to a squad and not only be comfortable executing a task but executing that task in a varied environment."
Adkinson said one of the other goals they tried to accomplish that was not written in the POI was to increase the trainees' confidence in their abilities.
"It wasn't really an end-state goal," he said of confidence. "And that goes a long way, and that feeds on itself in every area. So if a guy's confident on physical fitness, that's applicable to other areas. If he's comfortable shooting at night ... he's going to go into a squad feeling fairly comfortable."
Many of the adjustments to the training were made during the training as the instructors discovered which parts of the schedule worked well and which needed adjusting.
"Everyone talks about how our numbers are so great," said Master Sgt. Frank Burkhard, first sergeant of B Company, 2-58th. "There was a lot of friction; this did not come easy. There were a lot of things that we didn't foresee that we kind of had to adjust. So you take the little trials that we went through and you fix them. There was a good four-week span where I think both companies pretty stressed out."
"What we started with at 22 weeks is a different 22 weeks than we ended with," said Voorhies. "We restructured and we resequenced where there is some white space, there is some plan-prepare-execute time and some time back for the drill sergeants."
Part of ensuring a successful course meant preparing the instructors for a longer sustainment. One drill instructor called the 22 weeks "a marathon and not a sprint."
"It is a long time, 22 weeks, but if you actually plan it properly, if you do the prior coordination and plan your weeks, your days ... you can probably find some efficiencies in there," said Bourdon. "For instance, the combat lifesaver week, the committee teaches that, our guys don't. They just have to provide a few drills to make sure our guys don't go haywire in that thing. So there's an opportunity there for drill sergeants maybe to get some time off, take care of some personal stuff."
Anecdotally, the trainers saw improvements from the 14- to the 22-week trainee. Capt. Brandon Butler, commander of B Co., 2-58th, said a lot of how a Soldier improves is up to the Soldier, but the motivated Soldier has more opportunity to become better.
"I think the biggest impact that I saw was in the good guy, highly motivated, aptitude's there," he said. "Those guys kept going with it because they could absorb everything that was thrown at them. So, at this point, the guys who are platoon guys, acting platoon sergeants or (platoon leaders) within their platoons, they're at a much higher level because of the cook time they've had."
"Going from a 14-week cycle to a 22-week cycle, I definitely see more mature trainees as opposed to a 14-week trainees," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Miller, E Co., 2-19th. "I see more professional men now in that suit."
Sgt. 1st Class Frank Nauta, drill sergeant for B Co., 2-58th, pointed to an assessment of basic skills that with the 14-week OSUT was done with just 16 trainees from each company. During the 22-week extended OSUT, they were able to get all the trainees through the assessment, and 100 percent passed.
"The numbers show," said Nauta. "We have a 100-percent go rate for individual land navigation at a basic training level, I think that speaks volumes about what we're trying to accomplish."
Some of the trainees felt there added benefit to having a 22-week OSUT. Spc. John Walker from Houston was the distinguished honor graduate of B Co. 2-58th.
"At the end of week 14, the social dynamic of the groups and then my own leadership skills weren't as developed as they are right now," he said. "It really was about week 14 or 15 when I really started to hit my stride. That extra eight weeks made a massive difference in how I behave as a Soldier."
"I had somewhat written off basic training before coming here, thinking it was just a small step on a longer journey," said Spc. Ethan Garrity from Geneva, Illinois, who scored highest in physical training for B Co., 2-58th. "But the challenges that were presented here, dealing with the different levels of maturity and a completely different environment from anything else I'm used to, I think it was great preparation."
"Not only do we want them to shoot well and be in better shape, but we want them to be better disciplined," said Voorhies. "And that's better discipline from knowing what common courtesies are required of privates to noncommissioned officers and officers, but to also taking initiative with themselves."
According to the company-level leadership, many of the trainees left reception and processing not knowing they were to take part of the 22-week course. Spc. John Strezo from Burlington, Massachusetts, the honor graduate of E Co., 2-19th, felt the extra time presented an opportunity.
"Six months is such a long time, but you can accomplish a lot in six months," he said. "There were a lot of tasks we learned that aren't supposed to be the purpose of what you're learning, but you learn them in addition. If you take those things away from it, it's going to help you hugely down the road."
Other graduates of the 22-week OSUT recommended Infantry trainees to "be patient" and to "take it day by day." Pvt. Cody Lenoir from Spanaway, Washington, is going to the Ranger Assessment Program. He recommended trainees who are to take part in upcoming 22-week cycles to dig deeper.
"The drill sergeants about what they teach - landnav, urban operations - there is always someone who cares about it," said Lenoir. "Learn a bunch of different perspectives. There are a million different ways to do things besides doctrine, and it would never hurt to dig deeper and see what you can do to improve yourself."
Following the Infantry OSUT pilot, an evaluation will take place. The 198th Infantry Brigade will conduct after-action review, both internal and external, informal and formal, and will brief to the U.S. Army Infantry School leadership, to the Maneuver Center of Excellence leadership, and ultimately up to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command on what resources are required and more.
The newly trained Soldiers, besides for being evaluated during their training by the Directorate of Training and Doctrine at Fort Benning and the Army Research Institute, will also be evaluated wherever their next duty station is 90 days after graduating. Voorhies said ultimately the Infantry Soldier, as a combat platform unto themself, is evaluated by U.S. Army Forces Command.
"They need to grade our product," he said. "Is the differential between what you've been giving us at 14 weeks and what we see at 22 weeks great enough to merit the investment of resources? I personally think it is. But I'm not them, and they're going to have to tell us."
After an evaluation, the 22-week Infantry OSUT is scheduled to begin in October 2019. All Infantry OSUT instruction will become 22 weeks by October 2020. To accommodate this change, 198th Inf. Bde. is scheduled to grow by three battalions between February 2019 and September 2020.
"This model will only work if we're manned appropriately and resourced appropriately," said Voorhies.
He said if they don't get the personnel required - drill instructors, support staff - the 22-week program may not meet the needs of the Army.
"You're going to have NCOs, drill sergeants that are burned out, that are ineffective," he said. "You're going to have a breakdown in discipline. And we will not meet end state for the United States Army."
Voorhies emphasized the importance of the training, especially to the American public.
"Their sons and daughters is a sacred trust between us and the parents of America," he said. "So they have a vested interest in making sure their sons and daughters are the most ready."
The U.S. Army Armor School and U.S. Army Engineer School are also analyzing their curricula to change their own OSUT programs to advance Soldiers within their own occupational specialties.
To learn more about the 22-week Infantry OSUT or Soldier Lethality, visit "STAND-TO" in the "Related Links" section.
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