Peace Time: October 28, 2002

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The U.S. 10th Mountain division encountered an ancient curse when they went into action in Afghanistan. Many of the troops found that they had not spent enough time on marksmanship and squad level drills. Peacetime soldiers tend to pick up a lot of extra jobs, or simply scheduling screw ups that are fixed by just eliminating some things (like marksmanship and squad level drills). A favorite additional duty is various sensitivity and multiculturalism training. And there's the usual "borrowing" of troops for some senior officers pet project (base beautification) or an emergency (natural disasters or the current war on terror.) Over the past few years there's also been a shortage of M-16 ammunition, which made it easy to cut back on marksmanship training. Of course, the 10th Mountain troops who were sent to Afghanistan were, on paper, adequately trained. But now, back from the combat zone, the troops are saying, "screw the paperwork, we came up short in some areas." Marksmanship training also includes heavier machine-gun, mortars and shoulder fired rockets. Training a lot of troops to use these weapons more expertly takes money (hundreds of millions of dollars) and training time. The money may be easier to get than the time, because commanders are going to have to change the way they schedule their units. This is especially true if you increase the training for small unit (squad and platoon) battle drills. This takes more time than marksmanship training. Sometimes, the two types of training are combined in "live fire exercises." Most commanders like to avoid these activities, as letting your troops train with live ammunition often results in dead or wounded troops and that, in the current "zero tolerance" atmosphere, can be fatal to a career. This despite the fact that any soldier who's been in combat, or simply read up on the history of combat training, knows that this kind of training actually saves lives in wartime. But officers spend most of their careers out of combat situations. Losing a few guys in combat is less lethal to their career than having one guy die in a live fire exercise. It ain't easy being a soldier.

 


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