Infantry: Basic Gets Back To Basics

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March 19, 2010: Basic training isn't what it used to be. The U.S. Army, as is customary in wartime, has heavily modified its basic training. As part of that trend, two years ago, it was increased from nine to ten weeks. After tracking the performance of the 10 week trainees, the army found that the additional week was well worth it.

The extra time was not just being used to enable trainees to learn their basic military skills better. Commanders and NCOs in combat zones have been complaining that many newly recruited combat support troops reach them not-quite-ready for combat. The problem, it turned out, was lessons being learned, but not pounded home so they would still be there when the new soldier reached the combat zone.

This led to a lot of other changes. There was far more emphasis placed on firing weapons, and doing the kinds of things you actually do in combat. For example, the army cut back on the long distance running, and instead got the troops used to sprinting short distances carrying all the weight (over 25 kg/55 pounds) of weapons and combat gear. Troops were also shown the best way to pull, or carry, a wounded buddy out of harm's way. Actually doing this a few times makes the trainee aware that they can do it, and how hard it is. Sure beats going through that for the first time while you are under fire.

There is increased emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, but based on what troops actually encounter in combat. To this end, the army has developed a special form of close combat it calls "combatives." The army has even made it into a competitive sport.

There is also renewed emphasis on making sure that, during Basic Training, the civilian recruits get that necessary mental adjustment needed to deal with stress and combat. Basic tends to get watered down in peacetime, mainly for political reasons. Too many (or just any) injuries during training can get the media and politicians demand that the problem go away. During the 1990s, there was a major flap over the problems female trainees had keeping up with males. It wasn't fair. It was made "fair," but that began to change after September 11, 2001. By now, everyone is getting pretty strenuous Basic, but that will change one peacetime returns.

There is also a growing trend for new recruits (and young people in general) not being in good physical shape (fat and weak). An extra week in basic helped out there as well. But many combat veterans still believe that the combat support troops, especially those running convoys, or otherwise outside the wire (working outside base camps) just have not had sufficient training in combat basics.

Once soldiers graduate from basic, they go on to specialized training, which can last from a few weeks, to a year, depending on their military job. If they are going to Iraq or Afghanistan, they usually get some combat training before they leave the United States, or before they arrive in bandit country.

The additional basic training week is, in theory, to instill basic combat skills early on. These skills are expanded using an additional week or so of additional combat training for some combat support troops before they hit the combat zone. The additional training is also meant to improve the discipline and general military effectiveness of new troops. During the 1990s, basic training was watered down quite a bit, and that resulted in new recruits coming into their first units still acting a lot like civilians. The army has been trying to rectify that ever since.

 

 


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