By Cheryl RodewigNovember 28, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Npv. 28, 2012) -- The way training is conducted on Fort Benning is continuously changing -- changes that are a result of feedback directly from the field, said Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence.
"There's a saying that war is the great auditor of all military organizations," McMaster said. "We've learned so much after 11 years of combat, and we're also making a grounded projection into the future, trying to anticipate the demands of future war, future armed conflict, and to make sure our Soldiers, our leaders and our units are prepared for those challenges."
McMaster said most of the changes under way now on Fort Benning are continuations of initiatives begun well before he took command in June.
"All of our priorities here are really aimed at one overall objective, which is to improve the combat effectiveness of the maneuver force," he said.
To do that, MCoE leadership is focusing on six areas: education and leader development, training, capabilities development, doctrine, combat development, and best practices for the health of the force.
EDUCATION AND LEADER DEVELOPMENT
"The No. 1 priority of all of these efforts is leader development and education because Soldiers will follow a good leader anywhere," McMaster said. "So it is the preparation of leaders for those responsibilities that is most important to all of us here at Fort Benning. Because we have very complex environments … we've had to replicate those conditions in training, and we've also had to develop a higher degree of competence in a broad range of skills with our instructors. So the way our instructors are trained and educated has changed dramatically."
McMaster said there is a continued emphasis on instructor certification, giving instructors college credit to reflect their proficiency in certain fields and making sure they are subject matter experts in the areas they teach.
"It's increasing the prestige of awards associated with the instructors, recognizing how important they are," he said.
Another initiative on the horizon is a maneuver leader self-study program, which takes a holistic look at leadership to grow and prepare Soldiers for their next duty assignment.
"This program will give maneuver leaders the opportunity to study the profession on their own," McMaster said. "It won't just be a reading list. It will be a description of how to conduct study of war and warfare and leadership and responsibilities as officers and noncommissioned officers across a career."
This matters, he said, because "the strength of our Army" comes down to lieutenants leading platoons and sergeants leading Soldiers.
"What our leaders have to be able to do is they have to be able to visualize the battle," the commanding general said. "They have to be able to see their forces in context of the terrain, the enemy, civilian populations, the multinational or indigenous forces they're operating with -- all these complicating factors -- and then be able to visualize that operation in a way that allows them to be able to do some planning. We need leaders to think ahead of where they are. We need leaders to be able to make decisions based on that thinking ahead … issue simple orders as they make those decisions and then also fight and report simultaneously so we maintain our situational understanding."
"We're going to continue to make our training more effective," McMaster said. "At Fort Benning, the content of our training is important, the skills we develop; but, our example and how we train is important because Soldiers and leaders carry that with them to the force. So we have to be the best at training in our Army."
That means an emphasis on outcome-based education, combined arms, fundamentals such as navigation and marksmanship, and consolidating lessons learned in training.
"Our basic rifle marksmanship, our advanced rifle marksmanship -- it's nothing like it was at the beginning of the war," McMaster said. "Our Soldiers are coming out of basic training and OSUT training here with a very high degree of confidence in their weapons and their ability to use their weapons with speed and precision in all conditions of combat."
Along with improvements made in existing training, new methods of instruction have been developed. Prime examples are the Advanced Situational Awareness Training course and the Adaptive Soldier Leader Training Environment (ASLTE) approach to training.
"War is unpredictable; war is confusing, so we replicate that in training," McMaster said, referring to ASAT and ASLTE. "We help Soldiers understand their environment better -- to be able to identify the presence of the extraordinary, the absence of the ordinary -- so they have an early warning of enemy activity."
"What we're doing now is looking at formations at the lowest level and beginning with our squads," McMaster said. "It's our squads who make contact with the enemy under oftentimes what are conditions of parity. We don't want a fair fight -- ever -- so how can we improve the combat capabilities internal to the squad?"
Answers include improving firepower, lightening Soldiers' loads to make them more agile and providing better optics, he said.
"Firefights with the U.S. Army should be very short and end very quickly in our favor," the general said. "This is an important aspect of the ground combat vehicle effort where we can deploy nine skilled, tough, courageous Infantrymen into a position of advantage with overwhelming firepower support."
This new focus on the squad reinforces the Army's approach to modernization -- which involved infusing larger formations with capabilities such as unmanned aerial vehicles, precision strike and improved optics -- "by turning it on its head," and "focus is bottom up," McMaster said.
The effort to improve the squad as a fighting force is currently being expanded, he said, and will carry over into effort from the platoon to the brigade level.
"Another change that's ongoing here is in the area of doctrine," McMaster said. "Our doctrine is being completely rewritten. What a huge opportunity that is. Our Army has just come out with our capstone doctrinal manuals under the Doctrine 2015 initiative. I think it is the best doctrine our Army has ever had."
The manuals focus on the essentials, he said, including leader development, mission command, training and how the Army fights as an army.
McMaster said that Fort Benning's doctrine revisions will emphasize the fundamentals of reconnaissance and security operations and how to develop and operate with indigenous security forces at the brigade level and below.
"We'll now refine those (manuals) and inform our doctrine writing from lessons from combat and projections into the future," McMaster said. "I am very excited -- as is our whole team -- about the opportunity to do that." The doctrine team at Fort Benning, under Colonel Dave Beachman, is working collaboratively with leaders across the Army.
While capability development focus on the squad as the foundation of the decisive force, analysis of other formations from platoon to brigade continues. Squad foundation of the decisive force demonstrates the potential not only of a bottom-up approach to Army modernization, but also the advantages of formation-based capability assessments and development efforts.
How the squad operates internally is important, McMaster said, "but what's maybe more important is how that squad fights as part of a team, how they access combined arms capabilities, how they communicate and they receive data so they know where their squad is in relation to other squads. (That) allows you to conduct fire and maneuver at a higher level. It allows other units to move into positions of advantage over the enemy."
When it comes to maintaining overmatch over the enemy, enhancing capabilities of brigades is imperative, McMaster said. An example is the ground combat vehicle. The Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) is required to preserve our advantage in mobility, deploy infantry squads under the most advantageous conditions and preserve our ability to conduct fire and maneuver to close with and defeat current and future enemy organizations.
Collaboration is also key, the general said.
"What's great about Fort Benning is … the way leaders across Fort Benning are sharing and borrowing ideas, continuously improving and innovating," he said. "We've learned a lot. What's critical is integrating all arms in the fight. That applies to leaders at all levels."
There is a continual evolution, McMaster said, toward making the MCoE a better organization by seeking out best practices and innovations.
"(Many) innovations have been in the area of the cognitive, psychological and really the moral and ethical preparation for combat," he said. "What's different about Iraq and Afghanistan from, I think, any of our other wartime experiences is that many of our Soldiers and many of our units are in environments of persistent danger over an extended period of time. So how do we equip our Soldiers, our leaders, our units to deal with combat stress over time -- and also to deal with the debilitating effects of combat trauma?"
One solution is the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program, which highlights physical, emotional, social and spiritual fitness as means of developing individual resilience.
So far, the initiative, including the Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program, has been a success, McMaster said -- "tremendous in terms of equipping Soldiers to cope with these difficult issues and these difficult environments."
Along with service members, Families and civilians are also part of the "best practices" outlook for Fort Benning.
"What we want to do here and I think what we've largely accomplished is to provide the best experience for our Soldiers and Families," McMaster said. "We want to make Fort Benning the place people want to come back to."
That means providing top-notch facilities, continuing to build on the strong relationship with the surrounding community and enhancing what already makes the installation "a great place to be," McMaster said.
"We want to maintain that, expand on that, and make Fort Benning the most rewarding, happy, fun experience we can make it for our Soldiers and Families," he said.