General overhauling training aims for combat-ready troops

ccrumbo@thestate.comJanuary 28, 2010 

Army basic training needs to get back to basics.

That's the word from Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who's in charge of overhauling Army training.

"We need to make sure that what we're training is a good soldier we can hand over to their first unit and make sure they're ready for combat," Hertling, deputy commanding general for initial military training, said Wednesday during a visit at Fort Jackson.

Before the war on terror began in 2001, U.S. troops trained to fight a large, mechanized force like the Russian army in the woods and mountains of eastern Europe.

But in recent years basic training has undergone a number of changes as the Army adapts to an enemy in Afghanistan and Iraq that lives among the general population and travels by pickup and donkey cart.

To prepare soldiers for today's battlefield, a number of tasks have been added to the 10-week training program and a few have been removed, said Hertling, a former tank commander.

Soldiers are taught a number of skills, but don't have the time to master all of them, said Hertling, who's assigned to the Army's Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va.

"We were teaching soldiers too much stuff," said Hertling, a veteran of Desert Storm and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The result was a "task paralysis" and loss of focus.

One task Hertling wants to do away with is bayonet training.

In today's wars, there's no reason for soldiers to learn how to fix bayonets to their rifles and disembowel an enemy combatant, Hertling said. Besides, bayonets don't fit rifles soldiers carry today, he added.

Hertling, though, conceded that bayonet training is deeply ingrained in the Army culture.

"Some of these ideas would make old infantrymen turn over in their graves," Hertling said.

Hertling also wants combatives or hand-to-hand fighting to de-emphasize grappling or basic wrestling moves. Instead, soldiers need to learn to fight with their hands and use anything they can grab - whether it is a knife or stick - as a weapon, he added.

Recruits need to learn how to use their hands, the St. Louis native said. "A greater majority of recruits have never been in a fistfight," he added.

Fort Jackson is the largest of the Army's five basic training centers. About 40,000 or half of all soldiers and 80 percent of the women entering the Army each year are trained at the Columbia post.

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