Army shifts manda­tory train­ing back to com­bat

Trans­gen­der troops, drugs now op­tional

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CARLO MUÑOZ

Fight­ing will now take prece­dence over deal­ing with tran­si­tion­ing trans­gen­der troops, drug abuse and other is­sues as the Army seeks to over­haul its train­ing reg­i­men to hone its sol­diers’ bat­tle­field skills.

In a se­ries of ser­vicewide mem­o­ran­dums ap­proved by Army Sec­re­tary Mark Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Mil­ley and ob­tained by The Washington Times, ser­vice lead­ers are mak­ing op­tional pre­vi­ously manda­tory train­ing on is­sues such as trans­gen­der tran­si­tion and drug abuse. The move, Army lead­ers ar­gue, is de­signed to re­lieve stress on the over­bur­dened troop train­ing reg­i­men and re­fo­cus on sol­diers’ abil­ity to fight in com­bat.

“The Army’s reg­u­la­tions and poli­cies that deal with train­ing were pretty set­tled, and there were not a lot of de­trac­tors to it. … It was all the other [train­ing] re­quire­ments that we levied on our­selves, or we had levied from other places” that led to the in­creas­ingly cum­ber­some ap­proach to com­bat readi­ness, said Col. John O’Grady, chief of the Army’s col­lec­tive train­ing di­vi­sion.

Those man­dated train­ing re­quire­ments “served as bar­ri­ers to max­i­miz­ing time … to build readi­ness and lethal­ity” within com­bat units, he said in an in­ter­view. Aside from end­ing manda­tory train­ing pro­grams on trans­gen­der troops and drug abuse, cour­ses on me­dia aware­ness and hu­man traf­fick­ing have been elim­i­nated from the manda­tory cur­ricu­lum, the ser­vice mem­o­ran­dums state.

Army of­fi­cials are cod­i­fy­ing the new march­ing or­ders into ser­vicewide train­ing guide­lines and doc­trine, which will bring the Army more in line with the Pen­tagon’s new Na­tional De­fense Strat­egy, Col. O’Grady said.

The strat­egy, which was one of De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis’ ear­li­est pol­icy ini­tia­tives, shifted away from the Ge­orge W. Bush and Obama-era strate­gies dom­i­nated by bat­tling extremist groups in­clud­ing al Qaeda, the Tal­iban and Is­lamic State, and putting the pri­or­ity on chal­leng­ing tra­di­tional na­tion-state ri­vals such as China and Rus­sia. It also placed a greater em­pha­sis on in­creas­ing lethal­ity in con­ven­tional com­bat op­er­a­tions.

Along with scal­ing back non­com­bat train­ing man­dates, ser­vice lead­ers are also ex­tend­ing the time sol­diers spend in in­fantry train­ing. Sol­diers grad­u­at­ing from the nine-week ba­sic train­ing course will now spend an ad­di­tional two months in “ad­vanced in­di­vid­ual train­ing” be­fore head­ing to their first duty sta­tions.

New sol­diers cur­rently spend about six weeks in ad­vanced in­di­vid­ual train­ing be­fore de­ploy­ing. Cour­ses based at Fort Ben­ning, Ge­or­gia — dubbed “Home of the In­fantry” — will be the first to im­ple­ment ex­tended train­ing, Mil­i­tary.com re­ported.

Other pre­vi­ously re­quired train­ing reg­i­mens — cov­er­ing is­sues such as pre­de­ploy­ment cul­tural aware­ness skills, com­bat sur­vival and eva­sion, and deal­ing with im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices — will now be car­ried out at the dis­cre­tion of unit com­man­ders.

Em­pow­er­ing com­man­ders

Push­ing com­mand-level de­ci­sion­mak­ing pro­cesses down to unit-level of­fi­cers has been a trend for U.S. forces since Mr. Trump took of­fice.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s ap­proval of a Pen­tagon plan last year to al­low se­nior U.S. and coali­tion com­man­ders in Iraq and Syria to del­e­gate com­mand of Amer­i­can air power down to the tac­ti­cal level was widely wel­comed by many mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, who chafed at times from the close scru­tiny of bat­tle­field de­ci­sions un­der Pres­i­dent Obama. The new Army train­ing doc­trine re­flects a sim­i­lar spirit of def­er­ence, Col. O’Grady said.

“One of the things this did is re­in­force to com­man­ders out in the field that you have the au­thor­ity and re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure your units are as highly trained as hu­manly pos­si­ble” to carry out com­bat op­er­a­tions.

Elim­i­nat­ing manda­tory train­ing for trans­gen­der troops wades into the on­go­ing pol­icy de­bate be­tween the White House and fed­eral courts over trans­gen­der troops in the ranks. Judge Mar­sha Pech­man of the U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Western Dis­trict of Washington this month be­came the lat­est judge to block Mr. Trump’s ban on trans­gen­der troops in the mil­i­tary.

Army of­fi­cials say the de­ci­sion to elim­i­nate manda­tory train­ing for trans­gen­der troops was not made for ide­o­log­i­cal rea­sons, but be­cause the ef­fort had al­ready run its course.

“Trans­gen­der train­ing is com­plete across the To­tal Army,” one of the ser­vice mem­o­ran­dums states.

The ini­tial push for manda­tory train­ing on trans­gen­der troops was to ed­u­cate older of­fi­cers and se­nior non­com­mis­sioned of­fi­cers un­fa­mil­iar or un­com­fort­able with trans­gen­der troops, an Army of­fi­cial said. Younger, ju­nior of­fi­cers and newly en­listed sol­diers do not re­quire the same level of ed­u­ca­tion on trans­gen­der is­sues.

But crit­ics say Army lead­ers are do­ing a dis­ser­vice to trans­gen­der sol­diers and their units by can­cel­ing the manda­tory train­ing.

Army lead­ers en­gaged in a vig­or­ous de­bate “balanc­ing pros and cons and pri­or­i­tiz­ing what you ex­pect” from the new train­ing poli­cies, par­tic­u­larly fo­cused on trans­gen­der and other so­cial is­sues, Col. O’Grady said.

While any de­ci­sion was bound to spark de­bate, “I would of­fer [Mr. Esper] is prob­a­bly pretty savvy on all of those de­ci­sions,” he added.

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