How core training of US soldiers has changed to reflect challenge of insurgency?
May 3, 2007 6:49 AM   Subscribe

For GIs & military folk: Are soldiers these days (post-Haditha) trained (not lectured -- trained) on how to respond to suicide bomb attacks w/out freaking out and slaughtering civilians?

I'm wondering to what extent, if any, basic training and other core training regimes have changed to reflect the new realities on the ground -- particularly the psychological challenge of keeping cool in a situation where hot metal is flying at you and you don't know where the enemy is. If it has, how exactly do you train for something like that?
posted by It ain't over yet to Law & Government (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
heard on NPR a couple of days ago. There's a dedicated counterinsurgency academy in Camp Taji that has been training officers (it's actually now a compulsory training course for any commissioned officer entering combat duty in Iraq), though it doesn't seem to have reached down to the non-com levels.

also more info at WaPo

The American military has a 'storied' history of getting into hellarious failures in its early battles (Manassas, Kasserine Pass, etc.) but then absorbing lessons from its mistakes and becoming better and more efficient (while also using its prodigious logistics capacity as a crutch). The difference, in Iraq and with insurgency, though, is that your opponents are equally flexible and adaptable. Previous American military campaigns exploit the regimented doctrines that tended to hobble European and Asian militaries.
posted by bl1nk at 8:10 AM on May 3, 2007

I am not in the military, but I have heavily involved in research on training and interactive education, and, as part of that, recently observed Marines training for duty in a simulated Iraqi town populated by role-playing "residents".

I can say that there is a large emphasis on counter-insurgency tactics in heavily civilian areas - how to search houses, how to set up and run a roadblock, how to communicate with civilians in both of these cases - and what to do when these things go wrong and you are attacked. I watched the instructors simulate IEDs and snipers, and generally make situations as stressful as possible.

There is also a huge stress on rules of engagement. Basically, the rules state that soldiers are allowed shoot when threatened, so there is a lot of training to try to make sure the Marines remain as calm as possible in stressful situations. The Marines I spoke with cared a lot about trying to avoid accidents or civilian casualties, to the extent that I was impressed by the degree to which they worried about these things. But it was clear that the chaos of the situation make knowing who is a friend and enemy difficult (Iraqis are allowed to own AK-47s, for example). But yeah, overall, I would say that there is a lot of training along these lines.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:13 AM on May 3, 2007

I've never been in the military but I can imagine that training is one thing, and real life is another

I haven't either, but I believe the purpose of training, and training, and training again and again over and over is so that your reflexive, instinctive reaction to a situation is to fall back on your training without thinking about it.

This has also been a criticism of Blackwater and other for-hire soldier groups. Even though their employees are all ex-military (Blackwater uses a lot of ex-Navy seals), they don't maintain the training ad nauseum regimen that the military imposes. The criticism is that without that constant training, they lose their sharpness and edge. Furthermore, they are likely to rely on training that is out of date.

If I can find this criticism again, I'll link it.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:20 AM on May 3, 2007

Here is a good article on the training I observed that also mentions specifically that concern over Haditha has been incorporated into Marine training..
posted by blahblahblah at 8:26 AM on May 3, 2007

I'm currently active duty-Army (two years left to go, hooray!).

Army basic training is almost entirely changed from what it was a couple years ago, with a much more intense emphasis on modern tasks. Out went the pugil-sticks, in went the MOUT training. So, to answer your question in a broad sense, the military is changing and trying to adapt.

Before I try to narrow my answer, I'll not that I'm not combat-arms. I'm not infantry or armor or cavalry, and although my MOS is commonly used along with the combat-arms folks, my unit doesn't fill that function. So I haven't gone through pre-deployment training with an infantry company or anything.

My training was sort of truncated. I went through basic, AIT, reported to my first unit and was deployed to Afghanistan within three months (just got back fairly recently). Additionally, my battalion was stood up six months before it deployed, and as an entirely new unit, it didn't have the time or resources for the stints at JRTC or NTC that most active duty units get before they deploy. So, what I got was a series of classes and powerpoint presentations on the rules of engagement for that theater. And I did go on a convoy out of a FOB 4 miles from Pakistan, did some guard duty at a FOB in the Pich river valley, and so on.


What I can tell you is this:

1. Direction as to what to do if/when you're attacked by a VBIED or similar is quite clear, even when like me you get a minimum of preparation.
2. Most of the hardcore combat-arms guys got extensive training from one of the big training centers, including crowds of Iraqis paid to chant angrily in Arabic and hurl rocks and generally make it difficult to, say, find the sniper that just took down your team leader.
3. The trainers have, most of them, been there. I spent a few months at yet another FOB, home to a platoon of infantry from Europe's big pre-deployment training center, the name of which I forget. These guys spent most of their time as OPFOR for units about to deploy, and part of the reason they were deployed was to give them real-world experience.
4. However, how do you train for the sight of your best friend getting killed? How do you train to select targets and fire accurately through the mixture of blood, dust, and tears in your eyes? At the above-mentioned FOB, one of the guys on my team was a 19 year-old kid. Our contribution to FOB defense was not in the form of shooting back; when we did get attacked he kept nervously charging his weapon; i.e.: pulling the charging handle, ejecting the round in the chamber (if any) and loading and locking a new one from the magazine. By the time the attackers had been killed or driven off, he'd accumulated a small pile of unfired rounds at his feet.

So, how do you train? You know the ROE. You go through scenarios as close to the real thing as is possible. You do what you can to prepare yourself in your own way and hope it all holds together.
posted by kavasa at 9:26 AM on May 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

IANAS, but I am a journalist and as it happens I spent Tuesday running around in the mud at Ft. Riley with the 1st Infantry's military transition teams (a.k.a. MiTTs, small groups that are embedded with Afghan and Iraqi armies) which were performing exercises with about 70 Afghan army and Afghan police that happened to be visiting the base.

According to the briefing I got from one of the colonels on base, a huge component of the MiTTs training is exactly what you're wondering about. I don't know if it's changed since haditha per se but I'm staring a print-out of a powerpoint slide that shows a huge list of the warrior skills training is devoted to reactionary drills. How to react when you make contact w/ the enemy, how to react when you're ambushed, IEDs, indirect fire, near or far etc.

Further, a huge component of the training related to this is on the "soft skills" side of things. Combat Stress and Suicide Prevention, mentoring, teambuilding etc. There's a pretty significant effort to train soldiers to keep their reactions in check on the battlefield and to keep them from going nuts off the battlefield. How effective it is, I can't really say. But it would seem that any failure to prevent the next Haditha isn't for lack of trying.
posted by Heminator at 9:42 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all. Extremely helpful.

A further question: the wiki page one Ft. Polk sez: "The JRTC is one of the Army’s three “Dirt” Combat Training Centers resourced to train infantry brigade task forces and their subordinate elements in the Joint Contemporary Operational Environment."

I assume Ft. Irwin, in the Mojave, is another such training center. But what is the third? Anyone?
posted by It ain't over yet at 10:49 AM on May 3, 2007

It ain't over yet: I think it might be Ft. Riley but I'm not sure -- I know that Army public affairs told me that the training at Polk and Riley were very similar.
posted by Heminator at 11:34 AM on May 3, 2007

There was an interesting article in Wired about 6 months ago regarding role-playing and training for Iraq.
posted by fishfucker at 12:01 PM on May 3, 2007

The wired article seems to be about training at Fort Polk, fwiw.
posted by fishfucker at 12:02 PM on May 3, 2007

But what is the third?

I assume the third would be the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany. Along with NTC (Irwin) and JRTC (Polk), it's the third of the Army's Maneuver Combat Training Centers.

As Kavasa and Heminator said, in the last couple of years there's been a strong emphasis on updating training (both individual and unit) to deal with situations like reacting to VBIEDs and focusing on MOUT and counterinsurgency, to the extent where many are now concerned that the Army is losing its capability to undertake maneuver warfare and 'traditional' military operations (should the need arise).
posted by SenshiNeko at 3:18 PM on May 12, 2007

« Older South Beach eating and drinking?   |   Recomendations for qualitative data management Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.