Saturday, November 18, 2006

Thoughts on Training

Let me say that for the most part, Maj Egland is right on in his prescriptions but I want to address a couple of the points he made. I am an intelligence officer, and in my current job, I draft the standards which are used to create the learning objectives for training, so I know a little bit about Maj Egland’s points #2 and #5. For #2, Maj Egland has diagnosed the wrong problem with training and proposed an inadequate solution to the problem that actually does exist. Maj Egland decries “Cold War era” checklists, and repetitive training to standards but then proposes rebuilding training requirements. What he leaves unsaid is that the rebuilt training requirements will come down to the units in the form of checklists that are written by those who have recently returned from combat. Checklists are not the problem, I think that it is what is contained in the checklists that Maj Egland objects to.

As a standards writer, I hear all the time from the operating forces that training does not meet the conditions under which Marines are expected to operate and that what is being taught is not the best response to stimulus in combat. I listen respectfully, because they have the latest and greatest gouge about what is going on in the War. But what those recently returning from the War must remember is that their experiences are essentially anecdotal and must be weighed against those of other Marines’ (and other soldiers’) experiences to develop a coherent picture of what is happening, and how training should respond. For example, when we were trying to create training for how a convoy should best respond to an improvised explosive device (IED) attack, we had “lessons learned” documents and subject matter experts (SME's) who were all emphatic that the proper response in that situation was to stop in place and deploy; drive the vehicles into a herringbone formation and deploy; drive through the kill zone without speeding all the while returning fire; floor it though the kill zone without returning fire; and other variations of these. The pressure on the standard writers, curriculum developers and trainers was immense because everyone was demanding counter IED training immediately. The then-current training was inadequate and was getting Marines killed. The frustrating fact is that all the various ideas for improving training must be considered, especially when they come from experienced, well intentioned Marines with a sincere interest in doing the best possible thing for Marines and the Marine Corps. The truth about training is that just because some officer thinks that training should be one way does not mean the entire Marine Corps (or Army) concurs. That process of gaining consensus or at least majority approval takes time but can be expedited when there is the will and resources to do so.

But once the SMEs agree on the training standards, and the operating forces have a chance to approve them, the standards are published so that the units can begin training to them, and so, yes, checklists can be created to determine whether the units are performing the tasks required.

Now, reading between the lines, Maj Egland may actually be advocating more free play type exercises that can be subjectively evaluated so that junior enlisted and officers can respond to unexpected situations. Admittedly, that would be the best way to train, but the reality is that such exercises take time to set up and are extremely “resource and manpower intensive.” With the current pace of deployments and the number of Marines and soldiers who must be trained in the burgeoning number of tasks in which they must be proficient, there just is not the luxury to provide as much free-play training as we would like. Hence, the dreaded checklists. If we had more Marines available to construct and conduct training events, we could conduct better training. But given the zero sum game when it comes to personnel available to the schoolhouses and the operating forces, the Army and the Marine Corps has to make the hard choices when it comes to delivering training.

As to point #5, Maj Egland is correct that more intelligence sharing and analysis is better than less. The limiting factor in reporting actionable intelligence up the chain is the fact that so much of the effort involved in questioning bad guys and potential sources of intelligence is the ridiculous amount of paperwork that must accompany each detainee or report that is sent to the rear. The problem actually starts at the top of the chain of command. The current buzz word for intelligence collection is “tactical questioning.” The Department of Defense has mandated that all the services train to and execute tactical questioning so that Marines and soldiers at the front line ask the right questions to elicit actionable intelligence in order to immediately press the fight. It sounds great, but if you look at the actual directive that came down from DOD, Number 3115.09 DoD Intelligence Interrogations, Detainee Debriefings, and Tactical Questioning, ¾ of it is concerned with respecting the rights of detainees and ensuring questioning follows applicable laws for those questioned! How much consideration is due to terrorists or foreign nationals in a war zone? It is a ridiculous document, but all the requirements contained in it complicate and lengthen questioning training. Additionally, Theater commanders have directed that questioning and detaining of suspects must conform to Iraqi law, and be under the review of Iraqi magistrates. So, a lot of man-hours that would otherwise be used to hunt and kill terrorists or doing link analysis on small bit of intelligence, is instead wasted with completing chain of custody documents and compiling multiple witness statements in order to ensure that detained bad guys are not sprung on technicalities. Ironically, even with all the time and effort given over to satisfy Iraqi requirements at the expense of intelligence analysis, the vast majority of detained Iraqis are released without prejudice. This colossal waste of time detracts from the intelligence mission to the detriment of the overall mission.