The U.S. Army Forces Command Foundational Training Approach is designed to ensure small units are staffed, equipped and trained to win at the point of contact. It is important that the Army master the fundamentals to achieve overmatch against any enemy. We at Forces Command see success with this approach; however, we continually assess and refine training, retrain when necessary and develop our company-level leaders, which will ensure victory at the point of contact.
Much like Forces Command (FORSCOM) generates readiness for any contingency, brigade and battalion commanders generate company-level readiness for large-scale combat operations and multidomain operations, to include meeting any other assigned mission requirements. It is brigade and battalion commanders—organizational commanders—who measure readiness and build lethal commanders and leaders at the company level.
Foundation of Readiness
The Army is people, and ready people are the foundation of Army readiness. Time and risk management are critical dependencies of Army senior leaders’ action plans to prioritize people and teams. Organizational commanders are outside the proverbial knife fight of direct leadership. Company-level leaders—direct leaders—require protected time to get to know their soldiers and build individual and collective readiness. Direct leaders require observation, coaching, training, risk assumption and development from experienced, objective organizational leaders. They produce highly trained, disciplined and fit squads, platoons and companies as the foundation of Army readiness.
Battalion and brigade commanders bridge the gap between operational objectives and tactical tasks for company-level units and below. The brigade staff has the experience and formal, professional military education to measure if task performance achieves standards. Whether preparing for a mission or maintaining readiness for large-scale combat operations and multidomain operations, brigade staff confirms that companies are doing things right through an external evaluation program. Organizational commanders have the competence, have demonstrated the commitment and have sufficient vision to assess whether platoons and companies are doing the right things.
When companies achieve the “sweet spot” of doing the right things well, battalion and brigade commanders report their readiness in Army metrics. Two of those metrics, the monthly unit status report and quarterly/semiannual training briefs, serve different but supporting purposes.
The unit status report demonstrates how well the unit used resources—time, money, people and equipment—as a predictor of potential. It affects all levels of objective decision-making, from potential deployment of the unit to the unit’s priority for the assignment of the next MOS critical to the success of the unit.
Subjectively, the quarterly/semiannual training briefs allow organizational commanders to measure the knowledge, skills and attributes of direct leaders and identify shortfalls to prioritize resources as a contract to achieve readiness.
That contract, the product of the quarterly/semiannual training briefs, is strengthened and reinforced iteratively. I believe the “special sauce” (borrowing from Lt. Gen. James Rainey, commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center) of the Army is the existence of leader attributes demonstrated through leader competencies from organizational commanders to direct leaders. Organizational commanders provide purpose, direction and motivation to win at the point of contact.
Building the Next Generation
There are three primary ways battalion and brigade commanders build the next generation of senior leaders while maintaining strength and overmatch at the company level and below.
First, battalion and brigade commanders counsel platoon leaders and company commanders to set expectations and provide purpose. Counseling allows organizational commanders to empower direct leaders to use their intellect and develop the way forward.
Second, battalion and brigade commanders observe company-level leaders to motivate and reinforce success directly. Observation demonstrates presence as well as builds vertical trust. Observation, although supported by technology, cannot be done behind a desk, through an app or from a text or radio transmission. Rather, organizational commanders must be present with their direct leaders to understand the struggle and, more importantly, discern growth/maturity or failure to overcome a challenge.
Third, battalion and brigade commanders engage in commander-to-leader/commander-to-commander dialogue, which embodies character in building empathy and discipline to achieve comprehensive success at the point of contact. Dialogue enables the organizational commander to understand the operational environment of the direct leader, while ensuring understanding of the importance of the mission set and associated constraints important to the direct leader. Together, the commanders and leaders at echelon will synchronize tasks and resources in time, space and purpose to win.
We develop, execute and assess training to ensure that if failure happens, it happens in the training environment. It is essential that organizational commanders set conditions, prioritize resources, underwrite initiative, assume risk, and measure and assess success in the training environment. Whether conducting home-station, multi-echelon training or fighting Geronimo or Blackhorse at our combat training centers, when a unit fails, it’s retrained until it achieves the standard.
We do not have the luxury to make the failure a note in the back of our green book to revisit under better conditions. Retraining creates the muscle memory—the repetitions and sets—necessary to empower our smallest tactical units to win at the point of contact.
Battalion and brigade commanders have a unique perspective, bridging the gap between the operational Army and tactical readiness, to understand and enforce the purpose of tailored readiness. Tailored readiness is not paying for an ounce of readiness more than is required for the mission at hand. A practical example of tailored readiness is eliminating the perception of gated training requirements for a brigade to attend a combat training center rotation. Our combat training centers are exceptionally agile and can dial up or dial down rotational events depending on the brigade’s road to readiness.
It is urban legend that gates exist for a brigade to conduct discreet events sequentially or in sum during its training ramp to a combat training center. The aspiration to achieve those events, coupled with small-unit deployments, new equipment fielding, modernization training and ad hoc defense support to civil authorities, leads to an untenable operational tempo.
Subsequently, senior leaders seek to reduce that tempo, not to coddle soldiers, but to increase the priority of the lethality of our smallest tactical units and provide expectation management to those soldiers and their families. The Army’s Regionally Aligned Readiness and Modernization Model creates a culture to balance readiness and modernization while understanding people are the No. 1 priority. A combat training center rotation is a training event to generate readiness, not just assess readiness.
Home-station training must be creative and comprehensive. When a platoon conducts a live-fire exercise, the company command post controls the operation while the battalion tactical command post resources and the brigade operations center assesses the performance and effectiveness of the training.
Due to reasons such as personnel turnover, new equipment fielding/training or support to a sister unit, the brigade and battalion may not have the time or resources to conduct separate field training exercises. They must then seek to exercise the staff and operations process while time and resources priority remains with squad, platoon and company readiness.
Tailored readiness demands battalion and brigade commanders develop critical readiness conditions for their subordinate units. For example, the critical readiness condition for the battalion task force on the road to the Operation Atlantic Resolve mission will look different than the critical readiness conditions for the infantry brigade combat team slated to assume the Immediate Response Force mission. Critical readiness conditions allow organizational commanders to counsel and achieve shared understanding with direct leaders. They provide the metrics for battalion and brigade commanders to observe, assess and measure readiness vertically.
Critical readiness conditions facilitate productive commander-to-commander dialogue to answer the questions of what was supposed to happen, what happened and what comes next. Finally, they are an agile product of the battalion and brigade commanders’ understanding of the operational environment and communicating that visualization down and in as well as up and out.
Call to Action
The soldiers in our squads, platoons and companies are always the first to make contact with the enemy. It is at that point they must decisively prevail. To do this, battalion and brigade command teams provide leadership, which includes assessment that ensures squads, platoons and companies can prevail at the point of contact. We balance readiness and modernization with a foremost understanding that people are our No. 1 priority. Battalion and brigade commanders must understand tailored readiness and develop critical readiness conditions to guide their direct leaders.
Assessment ensures our company-level units are training the right tasks the right way to build readiness to win at the point of contact. Reporting that readiness enables operational and strategic planning. Leading and counseling done with candor, when added to the character and commitment of company-level leaders, increases competence and courage to produce overmatch at the point of contact. Providing time, underwriting initiative, assuming risk and assessment are the battalion and brigade commanders’ reps and sets.
I’ll say it again: When our commanders at echelon commit to reps and sets, synchronization occurs and we prioritize people, our lowest echelons master the fundamentals, and we are prepared to win at the point of contact.
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Gen. Michael Garrett is commanding general of the U.S. Army Forces Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He has commanded at every level from company through component command, and led units in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before assuming command of FORSCOM on March 21, 2019, he served as commanding general of U.S. Army Central and Coalition Forces Land Component Command.