Training Is A Four-Letter Word

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While writing last week’s column about GI bunks, I mentioned that bunks occupy a lot of time and thought in the military mind.

True. Very true. But true for an odd reason — because at times it seems like everyone above the rank of private is hell-bent on keeping the troops in their boots and out of their bunks. I’m not kidding. There’s a mentality in some people that is just hard to believe: Train! Train! Train! It’s all some people think about. Even when the troops are honed to a fine edge, they want to keep on training them. With obvious results in the troops.

You know how people are. When they have worked long and hard, are proud of what they’ve accomplished, and are ready for a well-earned rest, you better give it to them. If you don’t, you’ll end up destroying what you were trying to create — a well-trained outfit, proud of itself, proud of the service and ready to go.

I’ve never understood that Train! Train! Train! mentality. I’ve run across it in the memoirs of few officers, but never in the memoirs of one who was worthy of the rank he held, and never in the memoirs of anyone who ever made a name for himself. My guess is that type of mind is self limiting. It makes you a poor leader. And the troops you command reflect who, and what, you are.

Mind you, now, nobody, and I mean nobody, has a problem with genuine military training — as long as a few things are true: It has a direct effect on the mission, it hasn’t been done to death, and it isn’t one of those “the troops ought to” things.

Let’s suppose, for example, the “mission” is something as fundamental as keeping yourself alive and healthy during combat. Nobody in his right mind is going to complain about that kind of training. Everyone is genuinely fond of staying alive. You don’t have to convince the troops to train for that.

Staying alive in combat can be as simple as knowing when to stay put and when to run. I’m not an expert on combat, never having had the pleasure, but back when I was a drill instructor, we taught a few combat basics. Suppose, for example, you’re hunkered down on a battlefield, you can hear a heavy machine gun rattling out there somewhere, and a spray of machine gun bullets puffs the dust 20 feet in front of your position. And then another spray of bullets kicks up a trail 20 feet behind you.

What do you do? Usually, the answer is “stay put.”

Okay. Again, suppose you’re hunkered down. Same battlefield. Same things going on, but this time a mortar shell lands 20 feet ahead of you. And then — just a few seconds later — another one bores in 20 feet behind you.

What do you do this time?

Well, there are no perfect answers in combat, but depending upon what’s going on, the size of the force opposing you, the type of engagement, the range of the mortars they’re firing, and so on, you should be thinking very hard about moving.

Why? Well, those folks over there may have you in sight, and may be ranging in on you. If that’s true, the next mortar shell might just drop right in your lap. You’ve all seen the movies....

“Okay, now place one two clicks higher.”

(Cut to exploding shell landing just behind enemy troops.)

“Good. Now drop back one click and fire for effect.”

No one in his right mind doesn’t want that kind of training. It’s as basic as “frontal fire to hold their heads down as we attack from the flank.” I have no doubt that’s been going on since “frontal fire” was a cloud of nasty rocks. And maybe a dead cat.

On the other hand....

Want to see a barracks full of GIs all groan at the same time? Just say three words. “Gas mask drill.”

Who the hey doesn’t know how and when to don a %$#@! gas mask? And what kind of clod wouldn’t learn it the first time?

But don’t ask some second john that question if he gets you assembled out in the hot sun and tells you, “Men. We’re going to go through some fundamentals today, some small but critical things that may stand between life and death for you on the battlefield, some things you may have reason to thank me for some day.”

Meanwhile, every man standing out there in the hot sun is thinking, “Yeah, Lieutenant. We’ll thank you all right. Soon as we get on the battlefield.

“I’m going to personally lift your tent flap and roll a fragmentation grenade under it.”

Trust me. When it comes to training, I’m an expert.

How come? Time for a confession. I was a training NCO for over half of my time in the Air Force. Theoretically, that should make me one of the “enemy” where the troops are concerned, but I just never swallowed the Train! Train! Train! attitude so many training NCOs have. I was a bit of a maverick, I suppose. Never forgot what it was like to waste time getting over-trained.

I remember one time when I traveled to a small, 200- or 300-man remote base to inspect their training program. The “training” guy out there had the burden of doing his regular job, plus seeing to it that the necessary training took place — and maintaining the training records on top of everything else.

I started my inspection by seeing if the job was getting done. It was. And done well! In truth, that told me all I needed to know. If the men are doing a good job they are obviously well trained. How the hey else could they do it? Osmosis? Miracles?

So I sat down with the local training guy and began going over his training records, showing him where he had mistakes and helping him correct the glitches right there on the spot. By the time we got done — took an hour, I guess — his training records were flawless. They had to be. At paper-pushing I was an expert.

He looked at me and said, “That’s it? That’s the inspection?”

“Yep,” I told him. “Your men are getting the job done, and I can see the younger ones are being trained. Anything you need?”

He frowned doubtfully. “Can you get us some new bunks?”

“Sure.”

See? When they trust you, they ask for something important.

And that’s no bunk

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