Leadership: Play It Again, Sam


December 8, 2012: As fewer American combat brigades are required for service in Afghanistan, and none for Iraq, more of these units are being retrained for more conventional combat (against an enemy with similar weapons and tactics). This has come as a bit of a shock to commanders and NCOs, who have spent most of the last decade specializing in irregular combat against Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The shock these officers and NCOs received was real and it is all because of a breakthrough training system developed by the U.S. Army in the early 1980s. This all happened at the National Training Center (NTC), a 147,000 hectare (359,000 acre) facility in the Mohave Desert at Fort Irwin, California which was established in 1982. There the United States Army revolutionized the training of ground combat troops with the development of MILES (laser tag) equipment for infantry and armored vehicles and the use of MILES in a large, "wired" (to record all activities) combat training area. Other countries soon realized the importance of these innovations and some built their own NTC clones. NTC type training centers are usually built to enable a combat battalion or brigade to go through several weeks of very realistic combat exercises. This includes days of non-stop combat, just like the real thing.

NTC type training is not only very close to the experience troops get in actual combat but it also stresses commanders the same way actual combat does. This enables commanders to test themselves, and their subordinate commanders, before they get into a real fight. You can also use NTC type facilities to experiment with new tactics, in addition to keeping troops well trained in whatever the current tactics are. This includes counter-terror operations as well as what kind of novel combat tactics that might be encountered in the future.

One of the critical aspects of this type of training is the playback. Instructors can edit the electronic record of who did what when and show commanders and troops where they made mistakes. This feedback makes the troops much more effective in the future. This is particularly true of commanders and NCOs. After a decade of fighting Islamic terrorists it was made vividly clear that a new set of leadership tools and techniques were required to succeed at conventional warfare.




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