Academic journal article Military Review

The Changing National Training Center

Academic journal article Military Review

The Changing National Training Center

Article excerpt

SINCE THE FIRST Army battalions rolled through Fort Irwin in California's high Mojave Desert in October 1981, the National Training Center (NTC) has helped lead a revolution in training that fundamentally transformed our Army's culture toward greater emphasis on warfighting proficiency in tactical units. Many credit the competencies fostered at the NTC for having played a key role in our Army's success in Operation Desert Shield/Storm as well as in the initial phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

While the NTC was a driving force in the Army's first revolution in training, the demands of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) have required a fundamental reassessment of the character and nature of training at the NTC. Candid assessments by leaders involved in subsequent phases of OIF have suggested the combat training centers (CTCs) could gain a greater operational payoff by focusing training on the changing skill sets needed for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Change at the NTC

During the last 30 months, the NTC has experienced a period of profound and almost continuous change. While the specifics of change vary from rotation to rotation, the larger trend is toward refining the training experience based on feedback from the operational force. Changes at the NTC have focused on a number of key features associated with the GWOT and its campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Replication of the current operational environment has created an intellectual framework that allows leaders to exercise potential solutions to current problem sets, to build teams, and to gain experience in an environment with human terrain similar to what they will experience in theater. This entire process has created an environment in which leader development is energized.

The change in NTC training is manifested in the following important ways:

* Training at the NTC now places more emphasis on full-spectrum combat operations, especially counterinsurgency (COIN) training involving both kinetic and nonkinetic means. Cultural awareness training is a central feature of all phases of the rotation.

* While the NTC is ideally suited to prepare units for combat in a desert environment, increased emphasis on operations in urban and complex terrain has been essential in preparing units for combat in the GWOT.

* The NTC is doing more than ever before to help units integrate new technologies into their operations before they deploy to combat. The NTC is now playing a leading role in using technological innovations to train units to defeat insurgent use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

* With the growing significance of small-unit actions, the NTC has redoubled efforts to increase the rigor and fidelity of training at the small-unit level.

* Finally, the NTC is placing significantly greater emphasis on the use of joint enablers made available to tactical echelons involved in combat missions with operational and strategic consequences.

Pillars of NTC Training

The key elements of the NTC experience have not changed. But, the challenge for NTC leaders has been to increase focus on the key aspects of the new operational environment while transitioning and maintaining the best of the traditional NTC culture, specifically--

* Customer-focused training. Unit self-assessment remains a vital element of training doctrine. As senior trainers, division commanders continue to establish unit training objectives and approve scenario design. No two NTC rotations are alike because no two units have identical training needs.

* Stressing units to their organizational limits. Units learn best when pushed to the threshold of failure. The NTC continues to push units to their limits, continuously raising the threat, modifying conditions, and maintaining standards of performance to expose weaknesses in key systems and functions. While the systems we stress today are different from those of the past, the pressure a unit feels must be both real and challenging. …

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