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Changes In Basic Training
Posted on Thursday, July 07 @ 17:28:02 EDT
FORT SILL, Okla. (TRADOC News Service, Feb. 5, 2004) -- Down a winding gravel road, behind a long, swinging iron gate, and surrounded by concertina wire and armed Soldiers on patrol, lies a small town nearly in shambles. Only handful of buildings are still functional. A makeshift hospital, school and restaurant help form a town square.

The smell of smoke fills the air. A child peddles fruit at the local market. The sound of pounding hammers gives way to the sudden popping of M-16 fire.

Wearing full battle-rattle, 23-year-old Pvt. Shawn Chan is a world away from his former job as a chef in downtown Manhattan.

He speaks excitedly, but his words are hushed. Talking too loudly could get him killed.

“Hey, what’s up?” he asks Pvt. Ean Beaty, who is taking cover behind a tree stump. “I heard you guys got attacked. Is everything cool?”

Beaty looks up and smiles. His frozen breath rises as he replies with the air of a seasoned combat veteran.

“Yeah, we got the job done,” he said.

“That’s what I like to hear,” said Chan. “Warriors!”

“Deployed” to Strikerville, Chan and Beaty have battled nearly all the elements of those Soldiers deployed to Iraq — mean weather, fatigue, hunger and an unseen enemy — all before graduating basic training.

“It is confusing. It is violent. It is ambiguous. And the Soldiers have to make more decisions,” said Col. James Palermo, the Field Artillery Training Center brigade commander. “It gives Soldiers the ability to immerse themselves in an environment they would not ordinarily have.”

Built here in the past three months, Strikerville is based on the training center’s newly implemented Warrior Ethos Phase I program of instruction for basic combat training here. Strikerville offers a two-day, urban training environment performing tasks that will be required of the basic trainees should they deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan when they reach their assigned units.

With the drill instructors acting as squad leaders, the Soldiers are taught many real-world combat tasks, such as inspecting vehicles, setting up controlled access points and reacting to snipers and unexploded ordnance.

Strikerville is in line with the brigade’s new battle cry of “rigor and realism” in its training and sums up the new mindset of the Warrior Ethos Phase I POI, implemented brigade-wide as new training cycles started in January.

With the new changes, Fort Sill is months ahead in implementing what Palermo envisions as the future of Army basic training.

The new POI is based on the Warrior Ethos emphasis Army-wide approved by the chief of staff of the Army last year. Palermo recently served as panel chief of Panel 5 on Training for Training and Doctrine Command's Initial Entry Training Task Force Review Panel at Fort Knox, Ky.

Palermo anticipates that Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, will approve Army-wide changes to BCT this year based on the panel’s recommendations, he said.

Palermo and his staff have been working on implementing Warrior Ethos Phase I into the existing BCT POI for the past seven months, he said.

Gathering data from e-mails from senior leadership, after-action reports and talking to Soldiers who have returned from the war, Palermo’s staff restructured the training to make it more “realistic and rigorous.”

Now BCT here is more “tactical” and better suited to prepare Soldiers for war, said Lt. Col. Brett Lewis, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery commander. His A Battery training unit was the first to pilot the new POI.

“Our old POI was peacetime-oriented for a peacetime Army. We now are an Army at war, and our BCT POI had to evolve to support that,” said Lewis. “The standards have not changed. The standards are same. What we have changed are the conditions under which we train.”

The changes are evident the first day of training. Instead of settling into barracks, trainees now spend their first night of BCT in the field. They eat MREs, learn how to pack their rucksack and assemble their gear, he said.

At the start of their training, the BCTs are thrown into a wartime scenario. They are briefed on their roles and, from that point, they are “tactical,” Lewis said.

“What we’re trying to teach them will help make them be able to contribute to their unit the first day (there) and to enhance their survivability skills,” said Lewis. “We are much more warrior-focused — mission-focused.”

The first day, trainees are issued mock M-16s made of hard rubber that have the look, feel and weight of an actual rifle. They learn quickly the responsibility of caring for and securing a weapon, said Lewis. Under the previous POI, a trainee wouldn’t have held a rifle until about the third week of training, and then only briefly for marksmanship training and drill-and-ceremony instruction.

Field time has quadrupled for trainees under the new program. The previous POI called for three days in the field. Now, trainees will rack up 12 days before they graduate basic training.

Before, the first three weeks of BCT was somewhat administrative with many classes, said Lewis. Now, classes have been moved to a field environment in a smaller group setting.

Also, trainees now use real rifles and bayonets on the bayonet assault course instead of rubber rifles with attached metal rods. The training center rebuilt its grenade assault course to make it more challenging for the trainees.

Just like Soldiers deployed worldwide, trainees spend considerable time wearing flak jackets. Trainees now qualify using their M-16s while wearing the armor-filled vests and wear them during some field training. “Sterile” field training exercises have been beefed up into tactical field problems that incorporate real-world tactics and tasks. Every training event is given a combat focus, Lewis said.

This week B Battery, 1st Battalion, 22nd Field Artillery, will spend 15 days in the field, learning to survive without the amenities of barracks life. They will live in tents, learn to wash their clothes and shower while in the field, conduct classes and physical training.

“They’re going to be living like they would be living in Iraq if they were in an austere environment,” said Palermo. “You can’t get the same level of intensity if you can just suck up a 72-hour field problem and you don’t have to change your underwear and your socks.”

Palermo said the extended field time aids the Warrior Ethos mindset and motivates Soldiers to learn. Moving the training to the field also provides more time to train, he said. And time is what Palermo needs to implement his planned Warrior Ethos Phase II in March. Phase II will incorporate about 15 more tasks into the training such as convoy operations, call for fire and troop-leading procedures — all mostly accomplished in the field.

“By moving the training to the field, you buy more training time,” Palermo said. “If you don’t have to get transportation back to garrison, stand in a mess hall line for an hour, buff the floors and get ready for an inspection tomorrow morning — if you’re just living in the field — you gain three to four hours per day.”

Palermo also said the brigade will conduct more training on the weekends. The brigade has restructured some training to become more efficient, and some events have been added to “piggyback” others, such as adding combat patrolling to the standard 15-kilometer roach march.

“The stress on the Soldier is going to be increased,” said Palermo. “That’s because that is the environment we are training them for. I would honestly say that we’ve done a great job of training up to now. But this is an example of where I think we can do a lot more — get the Soldiers a lot more ready.

“At the end of the pipeline, when they do graduate, (each) will certainly be a better Soldier. Now is the time to put them under the rigors of hungry and tired and chaos — not the first time they get to Baghdad,” he said.

Palermo said none of the changes have had a negative impact on the qualifying tasks required for graduation. Attrition rates, weapons-qualifications scores and physical-training scores have not declined, he said.

To take some of the pressure off the drill sergeants, the brigade has implemented programs to ensure time off, he said. Still, Palermo concedes the new training standards are tougher on the drill sergeants as well as the trainees. Still, they are working hard to make the training realistic, he said.

“They’re executing hard, and they’re trying hard to make it work. We’re still in the infancy of this. I think we will get a lot better as we mature, resource it a little bit better and learn to fit it all into the training weeks and months better,” Palermo said.

“I am really proud of the subordinate leadership," he said. "We have changed things quite a bit in the last 20 months. I am really proud of how they have really taken the ball and run with it. I’ve asked for more. They have given me more. That’s making a huge difference … is our willingness to execute rigorously when we might not have it all figured out.”

One of the tenants of the new training restructures the use of the “traditional” drill sergeant. In most combat-simulated situations, the drill sergeant’s role is now more like that of a squad leader.

“This is the way ahead for the Army — to have more drill sergeants acting as leaders vs. 'pushers,’” said Palermo. “This will give us a better-trained Soldier because they have that tremendous NCO who is training them and leading them through a difficult training event. Our NCOs will do great at showing the Soldiers what right looks like, which is sometimes not the case when you have a student leader.”

Palermo said the reality that most of the trainees will be deployed overseas within weeks of their graduation pushes the brigade staff.

“We owe our Soldiers every bit of training, familiarization and exposure to as many tasks as we possibly can," he said. "We owe it to our Army and our junior NCO leaders who are getting these Soldiers … and we absolutely owe it to the fathers and mothers who send us these kids to get these kids trained as much as we possibly can.”

In return, trainees have responded positively to the training, said Palermo.

At Strikerville, Chan said he wouldn’t have the training any other way.

“You’re trained like a Soldier from Day 1,” said Chan. “I’ve put in more than I thought I had."

The training has made Chan ready, he said.

“The warrior in me was dormant, and it was awakened by my drill sergeants. I will fight for my country,” he said.

Chan joined the Army, he said, because three of his friends and a cousin were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001.

“It was a horrible experience. If there was anything I could do, this was it,” he said.

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