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The U.S. Army's bottom-up training revolution

Donald Vandergriff
A retired U.S. Army Major, Don Vandergriff is a teacher, writer and lecturer who specializes in leadership education and training and the future of warfare.

In the past, the competency theory of learning dominated course curricula in the military and beyond, and signs of it continue today in leader development. This theory is a product of the old, industrial-age outlook that once, by necessity, governed the way our military approached preparing for war. Order and control are central to instruction programs based on this theory. During the time when we relied on a citizen army consisting of draftees, this assembly-line mentality made sense, but the disadvantage was that it emphasized output more than individual quality of the product.

Today, some leader-centric programs within the institutional Army still reflect this approach.
Leader development for the full range of 21st-century military operations must be based on quality, not quantity, at every grade level. The rule should be: Soldiers deserve and require trained leaders.

To achieve this goals, schools for soldiers must constantly put students in difficult, unexpected situations and then require them to decide and act under time pressure. Schooling must take students out of their comfort zones. Stress--mental and moral as well as physical--must be constant. War games, tactical decision games, map exercises, and free‑play field exercises must constitute the bulk of the curriculum. Drill and ceremonies and adherence to "task, condition, and standards" (task proficiency) in the name of process are not important except in a few cases.

Several courses and schools in the U.S. Army have begun to embrace outcome-based training as a doctrine, which evolved out of the efforts of Colonel Casey Haskins and his 198th Infantry Brigade at Fort Benning, Georgia, from 2006 to 2008 in the approach they took in developing new infantry Soldiers.

Colonel Haskins is currently implementing the newly adopted training regime in the U.S. Military Academy's Department of Military Instruction. Several other courses at Forts Knox, Benning, Huachuca, Jackson, Leonard Wood, and Sill are also putting the techniques to practice as attested by instructors in recently published Army journal articles.

Put simply, outcome based training looks for results and is best described as developmental training. It puts a burden of professionalism on the shoulders of the student while the instructor determines how they get results. This is much like mission orders or tactics where the "how" is left to those executing the mission with little or no oversight from higher authority.

Col. Haskins, the U.S. Army's Asymmetric Warfare Group and the Army's Training and Doctrine Command's Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) Forward kept saying that while some knowledge will come with experience, it is also a reflection of a capacity for judgment; that capacity was not sufficiently developed when the student attended schools.

When course design revolves around tasks and blocks of time to teach them, the developmental needs of the attributes students need were often lost or ignored. The focus of attention tended to be on an event and not on individuals whose development is the reason for the event.

After years of thorough study, they developed a practical solution. Col. Haskins and AWG developed Outcomes Based Training and Education (OBT&E), while ARCIC Forward developed a teaching methodology that merges well under the overarching principles of OBTE called the Adaptive Leader Methodology (ALM).

The OBT&E environment stresses effective decision-making and adaptability through experiential learning. In keeping with the outcomes-based approach to training, it focuses on the fundamental principles (the "why") and encourages experimentation and innovation.

Aspiring leaders are allowed to try, and sometimes fail, as they struggle to solve increasingly complex tactical problems. Each individual's strength of character is tested through a crucible of decision-making exercises and communication drills that require the students to brief and then defend their decisions against focused criticism from their peers and instructors.

Critically important to the institutionalization of adaptability, which will assist with recruiting and retaining good Soldiers, is superior (innovative) military education and training. Not only will the Army need to produce leaders who possess adaptability, but the institutions responsible for developing leaders must become adaptive as well, evolving as the future operating environment evolves.

Cultivation of adaptability requires a vast effort, from the top down as well as bottom up, and is so central to the future of the service that it applies to squad leaders as well as to the joint-force commander. Moving the Army toward a learning organization structure will bring the collective creativity of the Army to bear in solving problems at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war, as well as in problems that involve recruiting and training. The culture will become one that rewards leaders and Soldiers who act, and penalizes those who do not.

Today's Army culture needs to evolve so that the greater burden rests on all superior officers, who have to nurture--teach, trust, support, and correct--the student who now enters the force with the ability to adapt.

By Don Vandergriff

 |  January 21, 2010; 4:06 PM ET |  Category:  Leadership development Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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As an Army vet, the father of a King's Point (USMMA) graduate now USCG, I found your article interesting. My own experience (69-71)in basic, AIT & OCS taught me that the chain of command is the prime directive. It is also the weak link in developing leaders, as it punishes initiative in tactical situations. The Army was, may still be stuck in this mentality. The other branches tend to view things differently. An interesting book on the Coast Guard, Rescue Warriers, by David Helvarg, points out that the USCG values initiative in problem solving in the field and will tolerate what in MY army would have been a breach of the chain of command, possibly a punishable offense.Their experience has taught them that, perhaps because they must do more with fewer people, allowing the person on the ground (or water or wherever) to make decisions and supporting those decisions, results in a more through understanding of the "why"(the fundamental principles)all through the ranks. The corollary to the "soldiers deserve trained leaders" rule is: leaders must listen and learn from both ends of the chain. Moreover, the lessons must be taught and learned both in and out of the classroom.

My point,in short,is the Army would be wise to study how the Coast Guard does things and take some of their lessons to heart. It came to mind as something the Army is seeking to help develop leaders.

Posted by: sailor3 | January 26, 2010 3:48 PM

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