WASHINGTON — Corps and division commanders need to clear battlefield and training obstacles for brigades and battalions, something that hasn’t been the norm for decades, according to the head of Army Forces Command.
Gen. Andrew Poppas spoke with Army Times at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference Monday about how the service is coordinating the lowest- to highest-level echelon units to converge on a future battlespace. “You have the division, corps and theater that have to set the conditions for the success at that fight,” Poppas said. “And we didn’t have to do that for the last 20 years.”
But the Army isn’t starting from scratch. Poppas noted that in the mid-1990s, the service saw the division as the unit of action, and formations did multi-echelon training.
Poppas admits that commanders can’t provide more time than what soldiers get now when they head to a training center or on deployment. But they can conduct more relevant, lower-echelon training at the small-unit level at home station. And higher-level staff commands can better coordinate with units in training for large-scale combat.
The Army is bringing on cyber, satellite and space capabilities as well as a variety of new weapons systems as it aims to prepare for a potential fight with advanced adversaries. Company, battalion and brigade commanders have access to these tools, but not directly.
“You articulate what effects you want to have,” Poppas said. “A lot of those capabilities are outside the range of lower-echelon units, battalion or even brigade.”
In planning, those commanders need to tell higher-echelon leaders that they need certain assets and how they need them to accomplish the mission.
At the same time, division and corps commanders need to anticipate when and where brigade commanders might need assistance. That gives division- or corps-level headquarters a reason to stress test their own protocols. They can put division tactical operations centers in the field with the units, or simulate multiple manned and virtual units simultaneously at home station.
And there are options to keep those command centers linked with units “in the box” at a combat training center, such as the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, California, Poppas said.
Division commanders can get the mass of input from brigades running through their training crucible, and simulate other brigades so the center’s staff can get a feel for what it will take to run multiple brigades in a multifront, simultaneous fight.
A key, sometimes overlooked piece of all this puzzle is ensuring units work through real-world challenges such as broken equipment or maintenance delays.
“The formation’s got to be in the field if it’s going to fight,” Poppas said. “That’s about endurance: How are you going to maintain a formation over time?”
Poppas pointed to work that Army Materiel Command performs to identify shortages in maintainers for key equipment. Command members then look to get the expertise and materials needed to keep tank or other maintenance- and resource-heavy units in the mix.
The Army kicked off a new program in recent years that aligned units with modernization efforts and combatant command requirements. The Regionally Aligned Readiness and Modernization Model program paired Army units with geographic locations while also lining them up to receive new equipment.
For active units, they have about an eight-month phase of modernization and training before being back in the deployment chute, according to a 2021 Army statement.
Poppas sees family involvement as key to attaining and retaining readiness for units. He wants units to take more time to have families meet each other and the leadership in a unit; that way, he argues, families better understand what their soldier is doing and the context behind the demands they face.
Engaged leadership is also key, he added. The four-star wants sergeants, lieutenants and captains out at morning physical fitness training. He wants them to see how their soldiers are performing and what they need to do their job better.
Some of what unit leaders will need to do in accomplishing readiness is to spend more time on readiness-centered work and less time on administrative tasks that can consume a schedule. “If you’re a leader, get out of the office, don’t worry about filling out the charts; get with the force and train,” Poppas said.
Training guidance will tell them the frequency, their training path and the resources they’ll have to do those tasks.
“The paperwork will take care of itself,” Poppas said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.