Friday, February 25, 2011

A Rant on Infantry Training

There is a huge difference in the way we train our soldiers and the way armies which actually fight wars in the modern day (or probably in the past as well) train their soldiers. The average soldier in our army is very sure that he (or Singapore for that matter) will not be involved in any large-scale conventional warfare in the near future – no conflict involving himself or those he knows anyway. The same cannot be said of armies who live ‘on the edge’ so to speak. Although commanders explain to him the purpose and application of the training, and although he himself may understand in theory, he is not willing to put effort into the training commiserating with the important function it ultimately serves – to save his life. Even commanders are tacitly willing to lower training standards because of this, or otherwise accept less than what their soldiers are capable of. There is no life-threatening purpose to spur higher training standards. Even the safety culture may be perceived to encourage this – the message is sent out: it is not worth injuring or killing oneself in the course of training over these two years, even if it means lowering training standards; one’s own life ahead of these two years is more important than the army’s developing its fullest capability to fight especially in terms of psychological preparation. This tacitly implies that not risking our life is more important than developing full combat potential – it is difficult to preach both at the same time, yet we do. When we imagine all the possible ways in which soldiers can be trained to more fully realize what it means to fight in a war, the idea that “safety culture without compromising training standards” probably rings hollow deep within us. The soldier’s purpose is to be prepared to sacrifice his life (or more accurately, make his enemy sacrifice their lives) to achieve his nation’s purposes, much like soldier ants in the natural world; the most sacrifices many of our soldiers make is to work overtime or not book-out. More angst is given to these sorts of sacrifices more than the sort of sacrifices soldiers really make when the bullets fly.
I will comment on urban operations training as I feel more confident in my apprehension of it in general. The first thing soldiers are taught are the basic drills: room-clearing, window-clearing and all variations of it; team-level, section-level, with or without grenade. There is nothing wrong in practicing drills; it is a good thing in fact, to train the reflexes and subconscious of soldiers. The training cannot stop there however, and it is the onus on unit commanders to engineer ways to develop the proficiency of soldiers further than what the textbook teaches; doing that will increase survivability. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little active emphasis on this. To be a good combatant, especially in UO, one must receive training of the mind, whether formal or informal. It is said that UO requires high levels of initiative and flexibility at the small unit level; very true. At the higher levels, officers also require good command and control in the urban environment but I shan’t touch on that so much since I’m a spec; I’m not so qualified to talk about it authoritatively.
What does it mean to train the mind? It means so many things. For example, if a grenade appears in front of a soldier at a stairwell, how does he react? There are many things he could do; 1) be stunned and die, 2) shout ‘Grenade!’ and amble down the stairs with his comrades, 3) yell at the top of his lungs ‘GRENADE’ and dive down the stairs, 4) throw the grenade somewhere away from the team, 5) throw the grenade back in the direction of the enemy 6) jump on top of the grenade and sacrifice himself to save his fellow soldiers. What determines which option a soldier will take? His mind. The soldier’s mind apprehends, or fails to apprehend the variety of options available to him (badly trained soldiers usually fail to apprehend all options except 1). To say that the quality of a soldier’s mind is dependent on the amount and quality of experience he has had is correct. I feel that it will not do to educate a soldier’s mind with theoretical slides trying to detail every single possibility in UO, nor will it be very effective to exhort soldiers to do ‘A’ when presented with ‘B’. This is because it does not breed creativity, but rather fixes the soldiers on formulaic scenarios, which is not what we want to achieve in training effective urban fighters. The best way, in my opinion, to train soldiers’ minds, is to strip the game down to its bare minimum. Yes, it is a ‘game’ so to speak; a deadly one. The barest minimum is: our side must win and the enemy must lose. No other outcome is acceptable. Often the extensions of this basic objective are: 1) Lose as few soldiers as possible, 1A) Evacuate friendly wounded as fast as possible, 2) Kill as many enemies as possible, 3) Achieve our mission objectives as fast as possible, 4) Conserve ammunition as much as possible, 5) Survive; so on and so forth. Once soldiers truly grasp this fundamental objective, as well as the fact that survival (but above that, victory) depends on it, they will start to feel purpose, and therefore motivation, and therefore be more receptive to training, if not show more initiative during it. Furthermore, once they grasp this and realize the near-infinite ways of winning and losing in the UO game, they will start to become smarter. The next thing soldiers need to know after the fundamental objective of the game is understood, is the tools they have at their disposal to achieve it. Weapons, equipment, environment, actions, comrades, the enemy’s own perception, one’s own body are tools to achieve victory. Again, as with the case of the grenade, it is the soldier’s mind which apprehends or fails to apprehend the variety of tools he has available. Once soldiers become proficient at using their tools to beat the game; that is when they have become good UO fighters. All these are really not very complicated ideas, yet we tend to lose sight of them very often for some reason.


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