Attrition: Basic Training Revolution

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July 17, 2006: The "Basic Lite" training experiment appears to have worked. Starting three years ago, U.S. Army basic training centers changed their procedures, and devoted more time and effort to keeping recruits who did not appear able to handle the physical, mental and psychological stresses of military life. The first experiments managed to reduce the losses during the first six months of service from 18 percent, to 11 percent.
The theory behind all this was that by easing up on the "stress test" aspects of basic (sergeants constantly shouting at you to do things, or else), the recruits will get acclimated to military life, and stress, gradually. This results in fewer recruits dropping out (for physical, psychological or performance reasons). But it was not certain how well the "basic lite" recruits were prepared to deal with the stresses of operating in a combat zone. As it turned out, the new approach did work, because eventually the recruits learned how to cope with the stress, and those unable to handle it, were sent away. Everyone just got the more stressful aspect of their training later, rather than sooner.
The army has taken advantage of the fact that there is a war on. Troops are all volunteers, and come to basic knowing that they could be in a combat zone within the year. The drill sergeants know they have the attention of the recruits, and give them their combat equipment (including rifles) within days of arrival, provide more combat oriented training, and keep them out in the field a lot more than before the war. In basic, troops now operate pretty much like they are in a combat zone, from the very beginning of their training. Since most of the training staff have been "in the sandbox" (Iraq), the recruits know they are getting the real deal.
The main problem, as always, is still with the combat support troops. That's nearly 90 percent of the troops, and they appreciate getting Iraq-specific training, even in basic. So far, the graduates of "basic lite" have gone off to Iraq and Afghanistan, performed well, and come back no worse for the wear than anyone else (especially those who went through the old style basic). Now that all army basic is conducted using the new methods, the first-six-month losses are down to 7.6 percent.

 


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