Army Basic Training Going Soft?
Marine Captain Josh Gibbs recently visited an Army basic training ceremony. He did not like what he saw.
After nine weeks of rigorous military training, those young men and women should have been molded into the type of professional soldier this country has come to expect. But I saw little to no military bearing during even the most routine of formations. I saw uniforms worn with almost no regard to regulations. I saw no pride in what should have been a life-changing event for these young adults.
I asked my friend to let me in on some of the good and bad points of Army basic training. Surprisingly, she had more negative comments about her recent experience than positive, and these were not complaints of early mornings or sore muscles. She told me about rampant theft in her squad bay. Despite the fact that her platoon was in its ninth week of training, she said it still struggled with the most basic of disciplines, such as not moving or speaking in formation. She told me how these infractions went either unpunished or were confronted with a soft hand rather than an iron fist. She said this truly felt like the “kinder, gentler Army” with less yelling and less overall stress.
Such coddling of enlistees does them a disservice and fails to prepare them for the harsh realities of combat. The major problem with the new low-stress basic training is that recruits seem to feel that they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do without fear of punishment.
Contrast this with leatherneck standards.
Marine Corps basic training instills an immediate obedience to orders through close-order drill and constant supervision. It is a process in which mistakes incur the verbal wrath of drill instructors, who serve to correct a recruit’s shortcomings. Over time, a recruit learns to obey orders without hesitation, and it is this Pavlovian response that allows us to be successful in battle. Decisions are made quickly, and orders are carried out without question.
To be fair, Gibbs was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and witnessing a group of female graduates. He may well have seen something quite different at Fort Benning, Fort Knox, or Fort Sill, homes, respectively, to the Infantry, Armor, and Field Artillery branches.
Gibbs ascribes most of these problems to the Army’s lowered recruiting standards and need to avoid washing out of substandard trainees in order to meet its goals. Those criticisms are legitimate, I think, but solving them requires more than simply getting tough.
The Marine Corps is comparatively tiny. It can easily meet its recruiting needs by targeting a small segment of the population that wants to measure up to its cultivated image as the toughest branch. Because it relies on the Navy for its service support, it is predominately male and combat arms oriented. Further, all its officers go through the same courses at Quantico together and all its enlistees go to Boot at Paris Island or San Diego, forging an esprit de corps and common bond.
The Marine model is simply not scalable to the Army, which needs too many soldiers in too many different skill areas. People join the Marine Corps to be Marines. While many come to love soldiering and make it a career, most join the Army to learn a skill and get money for an education.
During wartime, Marine recruiting is actually easier because those attracted to the Hoorah factor have all the more incentive. Conversely, the Army becomes less attractive, because those joining for career incentives are reasonably going to weigh the rigors of deployment and the chances of getting killed or wounded in their calculations. In an all-volunteer force, that means lower standards, unfortunately.