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Soldiers go through basic training. (ARMY)
Some big changes are just over the horizon for soldiers in basic training. Topping the list is physical fitness, followed by marksmanship and ethics training.
The architect of change is Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the first commander of Initial Military Training, a new command created to manage the training of soldiers and officers from their first day in the Army until their first unit assignment.
Hertling doesn't have a full staff yet, but he's already got his sights set on re-evaluating the Army Physical Fitness Test, standardizing marksmanship, cutting back warrior tasks and drills and formalizing the teaching of Army values — for starters.
Hertling, who wrote a monograph at the School of Advanced Military Studies in 1988 on physical fitness and how it relates to battlefield performance, is still as passionate about the issue today. He said he hopes to reinvigorate physical fitness in the Army and find ways to help soldiers get fit for physically demanding missions like the one in Afghanistan.
"On that monograph I claim that we ought to go to an occupational physical training test like the Russians do because that's what armies do. I don't know if we'll go that far or not, but it's easy to administer the three-event PT test now. It's also probably the worst test for physical capabilities that you can imagine," he said.
He said he plans to look at how the operational Army trains and tests, and how new recruits are trained, which requires pushing them to achieve new heights without causing injury.
"Frankly, we're seeing a downward trend in physical capability of our [new] soldiers. It's a significant problem," Hertling said. "So, it's not an Army problem, it's a societal problem."
The next target for change is shooting.
"I'm going to tackle standardization of rifle marksmanship because we've got a bunch of people doing it a bunch of different ways," Hertling told Army Times during the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army in early October.
Hertling has tasked Fort Benning, Ga., commander Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter to work out a basic rifle marksmanship program with both iron sights and close-combat optics. And, he said, it won't be for everyone.
"Not all soldiers are equal in this. I don't need to be giving someone who's going to be a supply clerk the same training that an infantryman needs," Hertling said. "I do not want every soldier knocking down doors and doing cordon and searches [in basic] because they don't do it [in theater]. There is basic rifle marksmanship, advanced rifle marksmanship and there's close-quarters marksmanship. We have to determine who should get what."
Hertling, whose last deployment was as commander of Multi-National Division-North, said he is also planning to tackle the Army's 32 warrior tasks and 11 drills, a list of core soldier competencies developed in response to early missteps during operations in Iraq.
The attack on the 507th Maintenance Company in March 2003, which resulted in the deaths of nine soldiers and the abduction of several others, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch, prompted development of the list, and basic training was overhauled for all soldiers with a new focus on tactical events.
Hertling thinks the list is too long and the number of hours to teach them too short.
"I think we train some things in basic training that are not basic skills. We're training advanced and collective skills that should be part of the first unit of assignment," he said. "Those skills that Jessica Lynch didn't have are taught in basic training, they just weren't reinforced when she got to her first unit."
Ethics and values
One of the most complicated issues Hertling plans to address is how Army values are taught to a population of new soldiers who come from different walks of life.
"When I ask drill sergeants how they teach respect, loyalty, integrity, selfless service, personal courage, they say they put together war stories or give examples. That's good, but I'm not sure it's a formalized training method," he said. "I want to standardize that."
Recognizing that young people coming into the Army are technologically savvy and learn differently because of it, Hertling plans to look at alternate methods of teaching Army values that could involve gaming or introductory vignettes on the different values.
He is consulting with the Army's two drill sergeants of the year and with the West Point Center for the Professional Military Ethic to help develop the concepts.