Building Combat-Ready Teams
To: Company Commanders
From: Company Commanders
Training is our lifeblood. Only when we've sweat and bled and pushed our teams beyond their limits in training will they be exceptional in combat.
Have you ever experienced a world-class training event that you and your team planned and executed? Now is a crucial time for us to take stock of what we know about great training and reflect on the lessons of combat. In the process, we can envision what is required to plan and execute the kind of training our units need to be exceptional in future combat. You are invited to join this conversation of company commanders describing their best training experiences and think about what it takes to conduct your own world-class training.
As an infantry company commander, I participated in a great combined-arms "Gunsmoke" exercise at Fort Carson [Colo.]. The purpose of this multi-echelon training was to evaluate and certify squad leaders and above in the employment and integration of air assets, mortars, artillery and machine guns. Because we had a limited number of rounds for each weapon system, we built strict engagement criteria into the scenario and included a requirement to maintain a certain number of rounds for final protective fires. As the CO, I issued an OPORD to my PLs, who then occupied the defensive position. Platoon leadership had to develop engagement areas and employ their M240B machine-gun teams so they were integrated into the indirect-fire plan. I was responsible for coordinating and pushing assets to the PLs while "deconflicting" airspace for attack aviation and painting the picture for the battalion commander. Besides managing my organic rifle company assets (e.g., machine guns and 60 mm mortars) and aviation assets, I had to balance battalion 120 mm mortars, 105 mm artillery pieces in direct-fire mode, and 155 mm howitzers in direct support.
Once the enemy attack on our position began, every leader in my formation was stressed. My PLs communicated with me, and we decided which assets to use based on the enemy situation, engagement criteria, asset availability and round counts.
Everyone in my company came out of this exercise realizing how challenging it is to maintain situational awareness of something as simple as the number of rounds you have on hand while you are trying to fight the enemy. It really helped us tighten up our SOPs for communication and leader responsibilities during the fight.
World-class training doesn't have to be all about live fire, shoot houses and air assaults. Even routine training events can be world-class. For instance, I cast a physical fitness vision for my company that challenged them to be able to move tactically for six to eight miles at 8,000 feet above sea level under full combat load with an 80-pound ruck, and then fight the enemy. To reinforce this vision, I developed regular commander-led PT events. My goals were to make the events feel different from normal PT and focus on teambuilding and assessment. For one event, I coordinated with my battalion and the local government in Vicenza, Italy, to conduct PT on a Friday morning at a public lake near the post. On the day of the event, the company formed up in full kit with their rucks to conduct four laps around the lake (about 10 miles). The first two laps were done with rucks, the third lap was done wearing full kit minus ruck, and the final lap was done in Army combat uniforms. It was a "race by fire team," and each team had to complete the mission together. Battalion and company leadership came down and embedded with the fire teams, which energized the guys to push themselves a little harder and try to smoke the "old men." Afterwards, we had music, food and drinks by the lake. I gave the troopers the rest of the day off so they could start their weekend early. I know it was world-class because Soldiers were talking about it for months afterwards. …