Gen. Stephen Townsend took over Training and Doctrine Command in March and there was little time to rest.
The command is at the center of basically every major initiative designed to retain troops in the ranks and bring in new soldiers at a higher pace than has been expected in more than a decade. All of this while the command also is refining and deploying the first major overhaul of Army warfighting doctrine in four decades, while also shifting from nearly two decades of counterinsurgency conflict to prepping for a fight against near-peer adversaries.
The four-star sat down with Army Times recently to provide insight into how the Army aims to meet these goals.
Q: Last year your predecessor unveiled Multi-Domain Battle, a concept that would revolutionize how the Army jointly fights a new kind of warfare. What’s happening now with that concept and what’s coming?
First, MDB got a name change to Multi-Domain Operations. That was, in part, a recognition of the joint nature of the operations and a focus by the National Defense Strategy not only on direct conflict, but also putting an emphasis on the period before and after conflict, including competition. That’s not battle, that’s pre-battle.
The central idea, the problem we’re trying to solve, is layered enemy standoff. A lot of anti-access, area denial. That suggests missiles and fires. That’s part of it, but it’s more than that. It’s diplomatic standoff, informational standoff, economic standoff and military standoff. When you think of [anti-access, area denial], you think of strategic missiles, you don’t think of little green men in Ukraine, diplomatic efforts, cyber.
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Q: How does that translate to the view of warfare, especially that pre-combat stage? What does that mean for young captains and noncommissioned officers on the tactical side?
Our potential adversaries can impact us here in the homeland and as we try to deploy. Since 1943, we haven’t been contested in our mobilization or strategic deployment. In the future, that won’t be the case. It’ll be like 1942. We’ll have to win the Battle of the Atlantic before we can deploy. We conduct Multi-Domain Operations to try and prevail in competition.
Deterring armed conflict and defeating adversaries begins in pre-conflict. If we’re not successful in deterring, we want to be well positioned to rapidly and continuously integrate all domains at a rate that the adversary won’t be able to compete with, and then we return to competition on favorable terms. I think the young folks, they get this more instinctively than I do. They understand cyber and space domains. They’re very attuned to that. We believe there’s going to be multi-domain formations in all echelons.
Q: Recent numbers show that the Army didn’t meet its accessions goals for this past fiscal year. What are some ways in which you plan to meet those goals moving forward?
Some of the reasons for that include a strong economy and low unemployment. Also, the recruiting force had taken cuts in previous years.
We set a goal of accessions higher than any year since 2008. And we had more accessions this past year than in any year since 2008, though we didn’t meet the goal. We also raised the quality standards. We could draw 4 percent of those accessions from Category IV recruits, but the secretary of the Army directed we draw no more than 2 percent from that category.
We have conducted a holistic review of accessions that has identified our traditional recruiting strongholds, mostly in the Southeast, the Deep South and the Midwest. We have relied on those areas to compensate for lack of success in other areas of the country. The demographics of our nation show population growth at higher rates in other areas. We can no longer rely on our traditional strongholds to offset our performance in other parts of the country.
We’re going to hold in those areas where we’ve always been successful and we’re going to surge in those areas in FY19 where we’ve been challenged. We’ve identified 22 cities, growing population centers across the country where we’re going to focus. We’re going to fill out the ranks of our recruiters and reinvigorate Army marketing efforts. Also, accessions were somewhat scattered across the Army. A new reorganization is going to use TRADOC to synchronize recruiting.
Q: Recent changes in basic training, one station unit training and advanced individual training are going to require more drill sergeants — the same quality NCOs you will need to build the recruiter ranks. Where will you find the manpower to meet those needs and the operational needs?
Some of the rub points are with these efforts to reinvigorate resources in the generating force, to rebalance the generating force and the operating force. There are two critical ranks — the squad leader, drill sergeant and recruiter are staff sergeants, and the captain in the officer ranks.
We’re okay on captains. The Army’s going to have to focus on staff sergeants. We’re going to have to grow the ranks of our staff sergeants. In the last few years, we have not promoted to the rank of sergeant at the rate we needed to. We’ll have to grow more sergeants and staff sergeants.
We rely on the judgment of the company- and battalion-level leadership. That’s where sergeants are created. I think that’s right, and I wouldn’t change that.
Q: There’s a lot going on with training across the force. How does TRADOC and its subordinate commands balance the cognitive load, the training time to have soldiers learn a wide variety of objectives but also have mastery of essential skills?
Every year, TRADOC reviews all the soldier tasks, basic, advanced, warrior tasks and battle drills. We look at the length of the courses and get feedback from the field, from the training base, drill sergeants, first sergeants, company commanders.
For example, we stopped doing map and compass training and focused on GPS. Sure enough, the field was complaining that no one knows how to use a map and compass. We focused on optics for marksmanship, and the field later said they need to shoot iron sights as well.
It’s a constant process we’re always trying to tweak. You only have so much time. If you’re not going to extend the course, you’re going to have to pick and choose. Every now and then, as with the recent pilot infantry OSUT program, you get to add time. We had options. We could add a lot more training and new tasks or not add any new tasks and only focus on repetitions. We decided on a middle approach. We added about three more weeks of tasks in the eight new weeks, but we used the rest of that time to do more repetitions.
For example, we gave first aid training before, but did not qualify soldiers as combat lifesavers. Now, they leave OSUT qualified. We did qualifications on the rifle and grenade, but only did familiarization with the squad automatic weapon and machine gun. Now, the infantry soldier arrives at their unit fully qualified on all weapons in the infantry platoon.
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.