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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Trainees must graduate from Basic Combat Training ready to deploy, fight and win in combat with their first unit of assignment. However, leaders in the operational force have lost confidence in new soldiers coming out of Initial Entry Training. Leaders state new soldiers lack discipline, are unfit, have not been properly acculturated as soldiers and are lacking in the skill areas of marksmanship, medical and communications proficiency, and survival.

The most important trait leaders want from new soldiers, at a rate five times more than any other, is discipline. Leaders describe discipline in terms of work ethic, obedience, military bearing and courtesy. They report that too many new soldiers do not take ownership and pride in their work, question lawful orders, have a sense of entitlement and do not listen to instructions.

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Drill Sergeant Sgt. Andrea Webb assesses new recruits at Fort Sill, Okla.
(Credit: U.S. Army/Cindy McIntyre)

Additionally, over time, the strict module-based Basic Combat Training program of instruction (POI) allowed less important tasks to creep in, attempted to train tasks and drills at a higher collective level, and lacked redundancy and realism as trainees were pushed through each gate to get to the next module or phase.

Basic Combat Training (BCT) as the foundation to building a soldier was in need of an overhaul. Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command commander Gen. David Perkins, now retired, charged leaders in the Initial Entry Training enterprise to improve the quality of training in BCT and deliver soldiers to their first unit of assignment who attrit at a lower rate before the end of their first tour of duty. As such, the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training teamed with the U.S. Army Training Center at Fort Jackson, S.C., under the leadership and initiative of Maj . Gen. Pete Johnson, and embarked on a journey to revamp BCT (and the first three phases of One Station Unit Training) and transform civilian volunteers into soldiers who are disciplined, fit and combat-ready, and who increase readiness at their first unit of assignment.

New Approach

The old BCT module-based program of instruction allowed for a “check-the-block” mentality where each task was trained individually. Once a trainee passed the task test, they moved on to the next block of instruction and rarely, if ever, revisited that specific task or integrated it with other tasks in a field environment. The new BCT program of instruction allows for a process of task introduction, strengthens skills in each task through repetition, integrates each task with other tasks in field environments and internalizes each task by presenting them to the trainees in different conditions throughout each phase.

The new BCT POI uses performance optimization techniques in a crawl, walk, run methodology by slowly building rigor and progressively introducing tougher conditions. Training redundancies that did not focus on the basics of shoot, move, communicate and survive/protect were stripped from the previous POI. In turn, the new POI properly builds muscle memory, teaches trainees how to care for their bodies and develop grit, and challenges them to achieve a new level every week. The end result is confident soldiers who achieve greater heights than they or their instructors and drill sergeants thought possible. During pilot runs at Fort Jackson, leaders and trainees found that when standards are raised and properly implemented, trainees overcome barriers and rise to the occasion to meet the new and higher standard.

Discipline, Esprit, Acculturation

Drill and ceremony is a foundational aspect to basic discipline and unit cohesion. While the opportunity cost of drill and ceremony versus training on the basics is high, we needed to strike a better balance as it had nearly vanished from BCT. To better emphasize drill and ceremony while optimizing training time, drill sergeants are chartered to conduct it with every movement between training events, to and from the dining facility, barracks, etc. Drill and ceremony competitions for guidon streamers will incentivize performance, promote teamwork and build unit esprit. Additionally, early introduction of the M4 rifle into drill and ceremony will build weapon awareness and discipline.

To immediately introduce and maintain a focus on discipline with trainees, we reordered training events in weeks 1–3. Any training that did not reinforce discipline was shifted later in BCT so discipline-reinforced training would buttress the importance of this trait and acculturate trainees as to the importance of discipline as a soldier. 

The old BCT program of instruction did not standardize teaching Army history and the importance of being a soldier. The reinforcement of this was left up to the whims of instructors, drill sergeants and commanders. To standardize this across BCT, we partnered with the U.S. Army Center of Military History to create historical vignettes of the most important battles in the Army’s history. During each week and phase, trainees are introduced to short vignettes about the wars the Army has fought, including campaign streamers and significant battles.

Trainees are taken on a chronological history of the Army, and learn battle highlights and the actions of valorous soldiers who personify Army Values and the Soldier’s Creed. Trainees are taken on a journey that begins with the perseverance of half-starved soldiers at Valley Forge when their leader, Gen. George Washington, shared their hardships, to the Battle for Baghdad when Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith heroically fought the enemy and laid down his life while saving fellow soldiers. Smith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism.

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U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Gilbert Dillard Jr., a senior drill sergeant with the 13th Infantry Regiment, instructs a recruit at Fort Jackson, S.C.
(Credit: U.S. Army Reserve/Spc. Jeremiah Woods)

Lastly, to continually reinforce the trainee’s commitment to their team, the new BCT POI includes evaluated competitions at the individual, squad, platoon and company levels for physical fitness, inspections, combatives and pugil stick competitions.

Physical Fitness

The standard to pass the Army Physical Fitness Test is 180 points with a minimum of 60 points in each of three events. Yet the minimum standard to graduate BCT is 150 points with 50 points in each event. If we set the bar low, that is the standard we should expect. We can and must do better, and we have confidence in our drill sergeants and trainees that they can achieve the Army standard.

To align with the Army standard for every soldier, the new BCT POI raises the physical fitness test standard to 60 points in each event for the 180 minimum in order to graduate.

To meet this new fitness requirement and align with emerging doctrine in the new Holistic Health and Fitness system, the new BCT fitness POI establishes a supplemental physical readiness training program for trainees who cannot meet the Army standard. The program also emphasizes injury prevention, performance optimization and recovery.

Additionally, the new BCT POI increases combatives training from 22 to 33 hours to align with the Army’s basic combatives course. Combatives is proven to increase fitness, self-confidence and the ability to attack and defend in close-quarters combat. As a way to reward great performance, each trainee will have the opportunity to become basic combatives certified if they demonstrate competency in this skill.

Task Proficiency

To improve trainee weapons proficiency and marksmanship, the Center for Initial Military Training and the Army Training Center at Fort Jackson collaborated with Army Marksmanship Unit experts at Fort Benning, Ga., to develop better basic marksmanship training based on fundamentals, improved training techniques and increased repetition. The new BCT POI reintroduces iron sight qualification before optics qualification. This change ensures trainees understand how to effectively operate their weapon under all conditions and have confidence if technology fails. Both qualifications are an important graduation standard.

The addition of a buddy team fire and movement course in the new BCT POI reinforces what trainees learned at the buddy team live-fire exercise. Employing target feedback during the buddy team live-fire and movement exercise adds realism, increases a trainee’s confidence in their ability to hit where they aim, ensures they properly cover and conceal themselves, and reinforces the concept of providing cover for their buddy.

The new BCT program of instruction changes land navigation training by taking it out of a sterile lane environment and inserting it into tactical field training environments. All trainees still learn the basics of operating a lensatic compass, use of a protractor, map reading and dead reckoning, but they now must apply it during evaluated operations. The pitfalls of over-reliance on technology are taught and trainees must demonstrate their land navigation ability during field training exercises (FTXs) to graduate.

This same philosophy applies to hand grenade training. Soldiers will continue to learn all technical and tactical aspects of the hand grenade and throw two live hand grenades to gain confidence and feel the effects of employment. Training migrates from a sterile, nontactical, multitoss lane environment and moves to full employment of training grenades while conducting tactical operations during field training exercises.

Lifesaving and first aid skills improve with the integration of the U.S. Army Medical Command Tactical Combat Casualty Care training into the new POI. This training methodology addresses casualty care training in tactical scenarios during the FTXs. It teaches trainees the importance of treating a casualty at the point of injury, preventing additional casualties, and completing the mission while treating and evacuating casualties.

The new POI doubles communications training time and focuses on voice communications, nine-line medevac reports and enemy spot reports. The training time increase provides greater familiarization and proficiency with communications equipment.

Field Training Exercises

The new POI emphasizes more realistic and grueling tactical FTXs named the Hammer, Anvil and Forge. These FTXs are no longer standalone events and now serve as transition points between phases of Basic Combat Training. While integrating all the tasks mentioned previously, they serve to build a trainee’s pride and resiliency while testing their grit.

The first FTX, the Hammer, emphasizes basic fieldcraft and field survival. Elements of patrolling and security are introduced along with the first opportunity to conduct trained tasks under field conditions. The second FTX, the Anvil, increases skill in patrolling, provides reinforcement of dismounted land navigation and integrates both with other field skills. Trainees learn how to combine their individual skills as part of a team to solve simple field problems. The third FTX, the Forge, is a grueling, continuous FTX that lasts 81 hours and requires nearly 45 miles of dismounted movement while conducting assembly area operations, a resupply mission, mass casualty exercise, night infiltration, live-fire battle march and shoot, ethical dilemma, assault and obstacle courses, and a combatives competition.

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Basic Combat Training troops do physical training at Fort Jackson.
(Credit: U.S. Army Reserve/Staff Sgt. Cooper T. Cash)

The Forge is a personal and team gut check for the trainees and serves as a defining moment that prepares them for combat. Emotional, physical and mental stress is slowly increased throughout the FTX. Trainees are immersed into a peer leadership environment where they must have an agile and adaptive mindset and perform critical basic combat tasks in a challenging, complex environment. Every challenge is linked through historical vignettes to the Army story, the Soldier’s Creed and Army Values. The Forge concludes with the Soldier Induction Ceremony to welcome the trainees into the profession of arms where they officially earn the right to call themselves a U.S. Army soldier. They don the black beret, affix their Army patch and rank, and earn their Soldier for Life certificate and National Defense Service Medal.

By making it through the Forge, these new soldiers are forged in steel and stand ready to deploy to combat with their first unit of assignment while the ghosts of their forefathers from Valley Forge look over them with pride.