Revamped Training has National Guard Fit to Fight

Revamped training has Guard fit to fight (Baltimore Sun)

Dusty and sunburned like his troops, Brig. Gen. Stewart Rodeheaver came to this sprawling desert training base to prepare for a year’s duty in Iraq — and finally put to rest a 15-year-old slight. In the fall of 1990, Rodeheaver and fellow soldiers of the 48th Infantry Brigade, a Georgia-based National Guard unit, arrived at the Mojave Desert proving ground to gear up for war with Saddam Hussein’s forces. But after weeks of exercises, the Army said the unit had poor leadership, could not maintain its vehicles and was unable to mount large-scale offensives. “After 60 days, it still wasn’t ready,” Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the top commander in the Persian Gulf War, wrote in his autobiography. On the day, weeks later, when the “Lightning Brigade” was finally declared fit for duty, the war ended.

This time around, said Rodeheaver, a 52-year-old Georgia Power Co. general manager, “we are going to make sure we are vindicated.” The Army can’t afford to prove Rodeheaver — or his brigade — wrong. Half of the combat troops in this Iraq war are members of the National Guard.

To make sure they are fit to fight, the Army has revamped its training to better prepare the part-time soldiers for the field and to teach them what to expect once they get there. The lessons are designed to be so real that the government has hired Iraqi-Americans to play roles ranging from insurgents to local officials and Al-Jazeera journalists. Before National Guard units are sent off to places such as “Forward Operating Base Detroit” — a collection of tents, armor and Humvees in the Mojave encircled in razor wire and designed to replicate an American outpost — they are required to undergo training in the basics of combat. The 48th spent more than two months at Fort Stewart, Ga., honing its skills in everything from marksmanship and first aid training to responding to sniper attacks.

While this is a welcome development, indeed, it rather belies the Total Army fiction that the brass has fostered for years. If it takes several months to get a unit ready to deploy for combat, the difference between the active force and its reserve backups is chasmic. This is hardly surprising. Soldiers that train full time should be more prepared than those who train a few days a year. But we need to quit perpetrating the myth that all troops are created equal.

I would note, too, that this difference would be even more pronounced for former draftees who trained for a year and then went back to civilian life. If it takes two months to get those with at least some regular training up to speed, it would seem likely that it would take even longer to get the cobwebs off the reluctant conscripts. Considering that we can train a private from scratch in less time than that. . . .

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.