We need to unplug our soldiers
Friday, January 26, 2018
Technology is great. It has its purposes and its conveniences, but also its burdens.
Today's U.S. military is the most advanced fighting force in the world, capable of eliminating threats across the globe without even setting foot on the battlefield. However, that technology and advancement comes at a price — one that could prove fatal to our fighting men and women — electronic dependency.
In basic training, I learned to shoot an M16A1. It took some getting used to, but I eventually figured it out. Throughout my several decades of service, I was trained and qualified on a multitude of weapons from the M3 Grease Gun to the MP5.
These weapons all had one thing in common: no technology. They all had some sort of adjustable iron sight, but that was it.
I was first introduced to the M68 Aimpoint Red Dot Scope at Fort Benning in the early 2000s. Sure, it made things a little better for bad shooters, but I was never impressed. It was electronic and took batteries, which meant it could break down or go dead — iron sights never did.
Weapon simulators are a great way to assess issues and practice but should never replace true range time. These instruments are force multipliers, if you will, but they cannot and should not replace the fundamentals.
We cannot allow our fighting men and women to become dependent on technology and not train them on basic tasks such as marksmanship and land navigation. When I was the 1SG of an NCO Academy, land navigation failures were the bane of my position.
During my in-processing brief, I would ask the students how many had trained on land navigation prior to attendance. It would infuriate me to see so few hands raised because the primary function of an NCO is to lead and train these soldiers. In my opinion, their leadership failed them.
One student actually told me that her first line leader said, "Don't worry, the Academy cadre will train you before you go out on the course." Another asked, "Why do we do land navigation when we have GPS?"
These service men and women are not being prepared and trained, and that is a failure that affects many ranks. They have become so dependent on technology that they don't know how to function without it.
As a Battle Staff Course instructor, I had SSGs and SFCs who didn't know how to orient a map, convert GM angles or even use a protractor to plot a grid. The course used to require testing on map overlays, but they removed that part because so many were failing out. Yes, non-commissioned officers — many of them senior — were failing out of a course because of a lack of map-reading skills.
The culminating part of the course is a war game, and the students are required to battle track their units, the missions, incidents, etc. They have computers just as they would in an operations cell and a huge map that takes up an entire wall. They had to conduct shift-change briefs to the other half of the class, just as if they were running a TOC in combat.
During one such class, I allowed the class leaders to run their TOC as they saw fit and just stood by for oversight and guidance. When it came time for the shift change brief, I turned off all of the computers to simulate a power failure — which is common in some combat zones. They had no idea what to do because their entire battle tracking was on PowerPoint slides and not on the map.
Perhaps the Army removed the "I will strive to remain technically and tactically proficient" part of the NCO Creed, or maybe people just lost focus on what is truly important.
While the desire to maintain pace with technology is laudable, we cannot forget the basics. As an NCO, you have nothing but time to train your soldiers — that is your only mission. Every second that you are in front of them is an opportunity to train, so don't squander it.
You have an annual requirement to conduct a ruck march? Great! Do you know how many common soldier tasks you can train on in a three-, six- or 12-mile stretch? I can remember 15 off the top of my head.
Let's unplug our soldiers, get them away from computers and simulators and out in the dirt and woods. Train on the technology, but don't forget the basics.
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