A Focus on Training?

By Capt. Ryan Jennings.  He is the Commander of Battery B, 1/129th Field Artillery and Administrative Officer for the 1/129th.  He has served 12 years with the Artillery Battalion including three state emergency duty missions and one deployment to Afghanistan.

The National Guard has continued to evolve since its inception.  The mission has remained the same as the organization evolves to ensure completion of the mission.  Currently the Missouri National Guard is an operational force that is well trained, well equipped, and well manned.  The biggest change I have noticed during my short career is how the Guard trains.  Below I listed a few training methods of the Guard with positives and negatives.  Good, bad, or indifferent; let me know how you feel about the different forms of training.

Online training—Over the past 10 years, the amount of online training has increased exponentially.  The benefits of online training include that it is readily available to everyone and cheap to conduct.  It’s available in many forms to meet the training requirement.  It is also easy to track since it provides certificates.  With the benefits comes equally as many negatives.  I believe that Soldiers fail to retain information due to the learning format.  Many Soldiers view it as check-the-block training and rush through presentations to complete and retain relatively little knowledge.  Online training does not conform to individual Soldiers’ learning techniques.  Despite the many drawbacks, I don’t foresee it going away.

Competitive Events—Competitive events work great at honing the skills of a unit’s top performer.  The techniques Soldiers learn while competing are great at enhancing combat skills.  Competitive events work well as a retention tool since Soldiers feel pride in what they achieve.  The training also teaches the Soldiers to perform under presser, which is difficult to replicate in other forms.  The challenges with competitive events include ensuring units utilize Soldiers from the events as subject matter experts.   The Soldier’s ability to train his new skills is critical in compounding the benefits of the events.  Other challenges include that only a select few Soldiers compete and receive the full benefit.  My hope is that funding shortfalls will not limit these great training opportunities.

Army Schools—Army schools provide a baseline of information that ensures standardizations across the organization.   The schools establish the cornerstone of knowledge each Soldier requires to perform his job whether it is MOSQ, NCOES or functional training.  This training enhances the force by ensuring each Soldier has at least the basic concept required to complete his tasks.

Collective Training—Collective training provides challenging training to all levels of a unit.  It is driven by the unit’s mission and focuses on standardized Army tasks.  The benefit is that unit leadership can focus on weaknesses.  Since the Soldier’s leader conducts the training, it is personalized to best meet the Soldier’s needs.   Leaders experience is applied to the training to better prepare Soldiers to complete the mission.  A unit’s ability to effectively conduct collective training ensures unit readiness.  Soldiers learn far more from collective training because they can make mistakes.  Everyone learns more from making a mistake and then working to fix it.  Individual Soldiers learn more effective ways to accomplish the mission because they are working together.   An additional benefit of collective training is that Soldiers apply training from the other training methods in hands-on scenarios.  The Soldier uses his section’s equipment to perform actual missions.  The stress and realism a Soldier receives in the training is very difficult to replicate in the other methods which contributes to a greater learning factor.  A challenge with collective training is the number of Soldiers and funding required conducting it.  It also requires more training time for the unit to plan.  While these factors are significant challenges, the benefits are immeasurable in a Soldier’s development.

I’m sure that I have left out many valid points so please share your ideas and thoughts.

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3 thoughts on “A Focus on Training?

  1. CPT Jennings, great input.

    A couple points:

    DL: I share your reservations but I fear there is no slowing this train. When we start doing online weapons qualifications I will really start worrying…

    I believe DL training CAN be good training, but it has to be set-up and managed very well. I just completed ILE-CC and did phases 1 and 2 via DL, and I actually thought it was a good course. The presentation was engaging and the assignments (you actually have to turn in products, papers, etc.) were challenging. However, nearly all of my DL experiences prior to ILE were horrible and “check the block”, including the CCC.

    Besides quality, the big issue with DL is making people work for no pay. All of us, especially leaders, understand that as professionals we will be asked to do work outside of drill/AT. Got it. But the ever increasing volume of DL is pushing these expectations beyond reasonable. I believe I am approaching 500+ hours of DL, and that is only for PME. This is all on personal time, unpaid, while AD gets to go TDY or PCS for months on end for their education. Also, until a few weeks ago, I had received ZERO retirement points for these hours. I am using my own frustrating experience to get credit as a model to streamline the process for our troops to get points for DL. Right now it is nearly impossible. The policy is there, but the process is not. There is much work to be done on this front.

    Competitive Events: I agree on all points. Having competed for the first time this year, I saw firsthand the benefits. We need to get more widespread participation and ensure units are using these SMEs for individual and unit training. I believe as mobilizations trail off, we need these kinds of training opportunities to stay cutting edge, avoid dulling our Warrior’s edge, and negate the capabilities back slide.

    -MAJ H

  2. Gentlemen,
    Great topic. MAJ H, I’m glad you brought up the policy that’s in place and the struggles/frustrations that go with it. I wanted to mention the ways we can entice our Soldiers to accomplish the copious amounts of online training they are assigned but I think you hit it on the head.
    I’d like to bring up a rather broad area though, I’ll just call it “Outside the Box Training.” As the MONG is comprised of several different branches, this can fit in many different facets. Basically I am looking to Commanders and Trainers alike to come up with creative ways to accomplish progressive, relevant training (and I’ve seen it happening).
    1st, no branch in the Army works alone and the goal is to train as you fight. So more integrated training. Of course we have statewide emergency response training events, but I think we, as an organization, can benefit from more frequent collaborative training events with smaller units as well. That is, a few Companies, from separate Battalions getting together for training events. For example, rather than a Combat Arms unit requesting supporting individuals or equipment (say 4-6 medics) from a Combat Support/Service Support unit, instead let’s get trainers working together to get the Support Units out there with those they support.
    2nd. The Guard also has the mission to support the community, so I would like to see more integration with that community.

    Disclaimer: I’m not saying this isn’t happening, by any means. I am just trying to draw some attention to it and would like to discuss it. What are your thoughts or some experiences with these ideas?

    -CPT I

  3. CPT I,

    I completely agree with you that Combined Arms Exercises provide outstanding training to simulate real world operations and that nothing better prepares a unit for full spectrum operations. Coordinating training between units maximizes staff operations and validates unit mission readiness. I believe that its use has been minimized recently due to a shift in training focus.

    The fact that the training focus has shifted to Individual Soldier Readiness (ISR) may account as the main restricting factor for not conducting Combined Arms exercises. Units’ primary effort is to ensure that Soldiers are ready to deploy. This means Soldiers attend MOSQ, NCOES/OES, functional training and medical appointments in lieu of Annual Training periods. This affects the unit by enabling them to only take around 70% of their unit to AT. If a unit supports a sister unit for AT then it further pulls resources from them and impacts their collective training. Another aspect to consider is that the current training focus is on squad level and below. Combined exercises generally focus on unit or higher training. I would hypothesize that the focus on training is a significant reason that this method of training is used less.

    To enable the combined arms exercise, unit commands would need to coordinate during development of Yearly Training Briefs. The prior planning is required to ensure mandatory training is conducted and training focus for the exercises supports each unit’s METL. If this coordination is done then it could prove a better use of resources by combining efforts. For example if an infantry unit and a medic unit consolidated for an exercise, the infantry could train and evaluate battle drills and the medics could conduct the combat lifesaver certification. In this case all training would be conducted by experts in each field. The key to making it happen would be prior planning and coordination of training time and resources. Additional consideration would have to be given to the site to ensure it can support the activities.

    I believe that you are correct that integration of efforts would enhance unit mission readiness. I have had very positive experiences when units train together and share expertise. As formations become more mission ready, I would anticipate the increased use of Combined Arms Exercises.

    Respectfully,

    CPT Jennings

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