Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Days Before VCRs, Chapter Two

Focus On Meaningful Training

I am not sure, in spite of my immense talent, that I can adequately describe the poor state of training that existed in the Marine Corps in the late seventies and early eighties. The coherent, dovetailed, focused and realistic training that is commonplace today was merely a vision for most competent commanders and company officers. Training was unit driven, unfocused, not coherent between like type units, and most required training…rifle range, NBC, essential subject training, was haphazard or non-existent.

My first assignment, in my first squadron, as a Second Lieutenant was as the assistant NATOPS officer. Essentially I was a glorified clerk, responsible for keeping the aircrew training properly recorded and notifying aircrew of upcoming requirements, such as; aircraft exams, flight physicals, Instrument Ground School, physiology training and swim refresher. My office was located within the S-3 shop, so I was able to observe first hand the additional training problems within the squadron.

Here is what I personally found when I began to go over the records, AFTER the squadron had failed an FMFPAC re-inspection of their NATOPS (flight standardization) program…over half of the aircrew should have been grounded for lack of certified physiological training; over half did not have on hand a current open or closed book NATOPS exam; virtually no one had a current emergency procedures exam; a third had not been to instrument ground school in over a year; about one in ten did not have a current flight physical; no one had an up to date aircraft training manual; and there was no method for tracking changes; no one had current and certified aircraft egress training; and I was about the only dufus who had been to Survival Escape Resistance and Evasion (SERE) school…because they assigned me their quota before I even showed up to the squadron. Literally, every infraction should have resulted in an individual grounding. In spite of this, the commanding officer was not relieved, but you can certainly understand why the squadron had had nine Class A mishaps in the previous 12 months…sheer luck we didn’t kill anybody during that period.

We were not atypical as far as training deficiencies. Less than half of the Marines had been to the rifle range, there had been no NBC skills training. Officers went to the pistol range kicking and screaming. If you went on leave you got assigned the “bad deal” training quota of the week such as Cold Weather Leadership, SERE, or Deep Water Survival Training. It was a mess.

Aviation units were not alone. Company and Battalion Commanders complained of deficient Training and Readiness Manuals, training schedules and events that were unrelated to requirements in the T&R Manual, lack of training ammunition to support “required “ training activities, no continuity between squad level activities and larger unit training requirements, Combined Arms Exercises that did not completely integrate the ground and aviation elements, lack of individual training opportunities for Marines, and lack of a focal point for training activities.

What changed?

Fundamentally, training objectives became more focused, and “requirements” become supported. Specifically, battalion and squadron level training began to focus on the basic skills required to do their mission. Simultaneously, the Corps began to resource and support higher-level training. Consequently, there became a momentum within the training environment that took hold, and eventually raised readiness baselines to record levels…levels that have obviously increased since, and have resulted in the great successes over the past two years.


First and foremost I would have to credit the Program of Instruction refinements at The Basic School, the Infantry Officer Course, Recruit Training, and School of Infantry. While I was an instructor at TBS in the mid-eighties, the POI was constantly being refined, but the focus was on deeper development of the basics and a move away from trying to teach Lieutenants “everything.” This focus on the fundamentals was also taking place in the other basic training arenas. I believe we began to produce better entry level Marines, whether officers or enlisted.

Professional development became a priority. Attendance at appropriate level schools became a requirement…to the chagrin of many. Completion of non-resident courses became mandatory, and the equivalent to resident attendance. Marine Corps Institute courses became required for promotion and where a discriminator amongst meritorious promotion boards. Simply, we became a more professionally trained force. Little of this was happening in 1980…

Refinements in the Training and Readiness Manuals for fleet unit training were also key. Prior to these refinements there were many disconnects between training requirements, resources, training opportunities, and range availability. On the aviation side, it was discovered that there weren’t enough flight hours available to keep everyone “combat capable.” By continually refining the requirements, moving some training flights to the simulator, and combining learning objectives across a variety of flights, units were able to ensure that wisely spent training hours, were translated into readiness. On the ground side, ammunition allotments began to fit requirements, unit training was refined to meet focused objectives among like units, ranges were built and developed to support specific objectives, and units were held accountable to meet individual training levels, so that higher level training opportunities were not wasted. I am sure these “refinements” are so much a part of the everyday routine, that it is hard to imagine the days when these disconnects produced gaping holes in readiness.

The professional application and evolution of the Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation System helped validate the results. We were found “not combat ready” for my first deployment to WestPac aboard the USS Midway, but that was not a factor. As long as we were “carrier qualled” we were going. Throughout the eighties, the evaluation part of the readiness piece was properly integrated into the training cycle at a point where correction and recovery could occur prior to deployment. The teeth that MCCRES developed over time, gave the higher unit commanders the quality piece that was previously missing.

Marine Corps Lessons Learned (MCLLs) system helped eliminate redundant training mistakes, allowing units to maximize their training opportunities by avoiding commonly made and debilitating errors. Units preparing for Combined Arms Exercises (CAXs), for example, were required to review the MCLLs from the previous CAXs. This simple information exchange kept units from repeating mistakes that negatively impacted training opportunities, such as range scheduling errors, transportation errors, and even tactical errors. This strategy allowed units to continually move ahead in training, eventually allowing for more advanced training opportunities.

Finally, I think the refinements of the TBS “Three Day War” and the development of the Crucible at the Recruit Depots have gone a long way at exposing the Lieutenants and enlisted Marines to the arduous nature of ground combat. These exercises are the necessary “graduation” piece that imparts the realities of combat to these entry level Marines. It is extremely difficult in the fleet to string together the series of events that is required to produce this level of combat simulation, so this type of challenging training is hard to replicate, and exposure to these conditions prior to actual combat is a must.

Plainly, those charged with training the Corps throughout the eighties and nineties did a tremendous job. I also credit many of the battalion and squadron commanders who fought to correct the multitude of disconnects that existed between the objectives, the plan and the resources. I promise, it was worse than I have described, and through shear will, Marines of all types pulled and pushed the Corps to the high level of readiness it now sustains.

Chapter Three, The Shopping Mall, or How I Learned to Buy What I Need


Anonymous said...

1. Yow! Fast follow up on #1.
2. I can attest to what you say about training.
3. My unit rotated back from Okinawa in '81 and had had no field training for six months. One range visit, and I practiced fire team and squad formations at Hansen between the barracks -hoping the communist demonstrators outside the fence wouldn't spot us and raise hell.
4. At Pendleton, was called on the carpet by the BN CO because my company had used 70% of the ammo allocation. Going to the range was a nightmarish admin shuffle that I mastered with the help of a good company gunny. No one else even tried -so we used the rest of it, too.
5. New BN CO arrived with MCCRESS book for Infantry Battalion. He had written most of it and was determined to implement it. None of the other units had it, to the best of my knowledge.
6. Spent the best part of six months in the boonies fumbling through the 3 inch thick manual so I could communicate the the BN CO and S-3. I didn't and doubt anyone else did get or effectively use those standards at that time.
7. I could go on about how very awful we were, but that's what comes to mind. 8. I pushed harder than most of my peers -had a USA tour earlier on and some knowledge on the subject of earning your pay the hard way as a motivator.
9. Am in a business where I see a lot of military -Quantico and the Navy Annex are close by. I've discussed this with a number of young Marines who obviously thought I was full of s**t. Things couldn't have been that bad. Yeah.
10. At that time, the quality of an infantry battalion was pretty much determined by its CO. Had 3 mediocre BN CO's during that tour: served in a mediocre unit. Saw a couple of hot units -they were lifted up by the boss. Most were like mine. The standards were supposed to be a bit higher at Lejuene for whatever reason.
11. Oh yes -at the time classroom training requirements for infantry units added up to about 20 hours a week. How did we accomplish this, spend 2 1/2 days in the field and release the troops by 11 AM on Friday? Gundecking, that's how.
12. Could go on and on -have said too much already. Consider this strong concurrence. You are a far more talented writer and I thank you for dredging up those particular bad memories.

Major Mike said...

JW, Thanks for adding some horsepower to by take. I agree, most who serve today wouldn't recognize the Corps of the eighties...I am glad we all helped fix it as we went along, and I am glad, in some ways, it is SO fixed that they wouldn't recognize it. I still give the troops out there today all the credit for leveraging it for all that is is worth...that is the true payoff. Thanks, keep stopping by.

Walt said...

Hmmmm. Maybe we should turn over public schools to the USMC.

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