In war, there are no second prizes. Commanders at all levels ought to recognise this. Wars are either won or lost. Winning is dependent on good training, good equipment, good strategies, good tactics, good battle drills, good command and control and above all, good planning.
But a good plan cannot be executed with poorly trained troops, regardless the type and quality of gadgets they are issued with. Nor can a bad plan be “fixed” with firepower.
Many armies seem to train and prepare exclusively for so-called peacetime missions. There are many reasons for this but the single most important reason is that those giving the instruction have no combat experience. With no real experience, troops are often not given the vital information they need to conduct their missions and more importantly, survive on the battlefield. To compensate for their lack of real situations, they mechanically follow a text book approach. That coupled to an inability to view training as the single most important preparation prior to combat, has led to a dramatic rise in casualties.
The problem with this approach to training is that when faced with real combat situations, many things begin to fall apart. Troops do not have the self-belief to cope with these difficult – and often terrifying – situations. They are not mentally prepared for what they are facing. They do not have the self-discipline to remain calm under fire. They are not sure if they can trust the soldier next to, or behind them to do what he should be doing. They have not been taught to adapt to rapidly changing situations.
Soldiers are not prepared for combat by mindless classroom work. Whereas the foundation of the soldier is discipline, his survival on the battlefield depends on good training, an ability to follow orders and to be flexible in his execution of orders. Good training allows soldiers to think…along the lines of the planned action.
Discipline is, regardless of what the detractors may say and think, vital for the survival of soldiers on the battlefield. It is this discipline that leads to unit pride, self-discipline and the strength of mind to cope with life-threatening situations. Good discipline also contributes enormously to unit cohesion. But discipline does not revolve around self-discipline alone. It includes fire discipline, equipment maintenance – without being told to do so, cleanliness and respect.
Parade ground work lays the foundation of military discipline. It teaches soldiers to react instinctively to orders. Likewise, physical training (PT) aids in the development of fitness and endurance. Both of these activities build character and push men to their limits. Men who have discovered that their limits are way beyond what they thought, suddenly develop a new-found pride in themselves. But when these activities are used solely for punishment and mindless time fillers, they lose their value and instead, breed resentment.
Cross-training of soldiers is equally important, not only to increase confidence but to allow men to operate and use different weapons and equipment. Cross-training adds to the flexibility of units and added flexibility creates new opportunities on the battlefield. We cannot expect every soldier to be a specialist diver, pilot, tank commander and so forth, but we can expect him to be the best prepared he can be for his role within the unit – and most importantly to be able to carry out his orders efficiently. Cross-training aids in this.
Are soldiers taught to use a map and compass when the GPS goes down? Can they replace a broken firing pin of an enemy assault rifle? Can they treat a serious wound? Can they improvise a diversion? Can they use most weapon systems within their own unit? Can they call in an airstrike or guide a helicopter into an LZ? Can they lay a hasty ambush at night? Can they…?
Commanders are keen to prepare “Lessons Learnt” after an operation but are those lessons learnt passed all the way down the hierarchy? Are they given to trainers who understand the importance and implication of those lessons? Can the trainers apply those lessons learnt to the advantage of their recruits?
Those who are tasked with training and preparing soldiers for combat often forget the great responsibility they have. When the trainers have no real experience, their training will be mediocre at best – especially when the instructor cannot answer the questions of recruits sensibly, instead claiming that it is “because we have always done it like that” or “because I say so”.
“Train hard, fight easy” is an old adage but without the correct instructors, discipline, confidence, tactical plans and mission predictions, it will never become a reality.
We only have one chance to do it right because there are no prizes for losers.