By General Peter W. Chiarelli
Cross-posted at the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center Blog
Good leaders understand that they cannot train on everything; therefore, they focus on training the most important tasks. Leaders do not accept substandard performance in order to complete all the tasks on the training schedule. Training a few tasks to standard is preferable to training more tasks below the standard.
Transformation is truly a never-ending journey. In the midst of fighting two wars, the Army has organizationally recreated itself within a modular formation and doctrinally ground itself in the capstone operational concept of Full Spectrum Operations.
Our combat leaders balance the probabilities of offense, defense, and stability tasks within a shifting landscape of nuanced transitions. Through the capturing and leveraging of experience they have learned how to orchestrate and dominate the human terrain much the way same way we orchestrate and dominate the physical terrain. They are savvy in manipulating all the elements of national power -- kinetic and non kinetic - and can recognize and act upon shifts in the strategic environment. They are versatile and agile. Those in Iraq in and Afghanistan today find their formations involved in combat operations for short, intense periods of time, but just as quickly can reorient across the spectrum of non-kinetic tasks to exploit created opportunities and keep the momentum.
It is an amazing transformation that has leveraged the experience of combat to compensate for the compressed periods of dwell afforded by the demands of the Nation and the finite resource of Army Forces. The Army's Force Generation model (ARFORGEN) becomes a different organizational fight at home. ARFORGEN at the unit level becomes a cyclical endeavor to orchestrate and synchronize the flow of people and equipment to a training strategy that gives our Soldiers and leaders the confidence in their capabilities, their equipment, and their leaders.
As those leaders develop a training strategy, the debate that established a C-METL and D-METL may have allowed the drift induced by eight years of war distract us from fundamentals that have always defined our excellence in mission focused training. Today, a precise understanding of the true nature of the Mission Essential Task - balanced against 'full spectrum operations' - is more important than ever. As General Marty Dempsey wrote in last month's Army Magazine: If we are true to our claim to be an expeditionary, campaign-quality, full spectrum force, then our METL is the constant and the conditions are the variable in our training and readiness reporting.
I cannot agree more. Our concept of a METL is the ultimate expression of commander's intent, and unfortunately the one resource we cannot buy more is time. FM 7-0 states clearly that training a few tasks to standard is preferable to training more tasks below the standard. Quality must override quantity. Though modern METLs are combinations of offense, defense and now stability, a balance must be achieved where leaders have enough time to train their formations to standard rather than to time.
To get the harmony in music each instrument must support the others. To get harmony in battle, each weapon must support the other. Team Play Wins.
--George Patton, 1941
The Gordian-like knot presented by complex operational environments over extended periods has unearthed an inevitable conclusion that must be recognized as we create unit training strategies. In a hybrid world our adversaries will always meet us where we are not both tactically and operationally. If you willingly accept this premise, then the ability to 'cut the knot' lies in creating organizational agility, or rather the ability to rapidly assess, adjust to, orchestrate and synchronize kinetic and non-kinetic effects across the operational environment. To paraphrase George Patton's remarks: 'To get harmony in the full spectrum operating environment, each warfighting function and each element of national power must support the other.
If the enemy is going to go where you are not, how can a leader say his force is ready if it is not trained to go where the enemy takes the fight? Col John Boyd knew this as he convinced the Air Force to create airframes with a higher thrust to weight ratio and taught pilots that winning meant anticipating and turning inside the enemy aircraft's abilities. It is simply impossible to plan and train for every possible scenario our Soldiers and their leaders may encounter within the complex reality of the contemporary operating environments. The simple evolution of adversary ways and means and the rapid exponential growth and leveraging of technology are all telling us something if we just listen.
In the late 80's as a young Major, I had the privilege of resourcing and providing oversight to the U.S. Army's Canadian Army Trophy (CAT) team. It was a truly revealing experience watching an Armor Company focus with an intensity and drive on a single task - Platoon Level Gunnery. They trained for a single battle run consisting of three defensive and two offensive engagements. A total of 32 main gun targets (with as few main gun rounds as possible but no more than 40), and 20 machine gun targets (with as few 7.62 rounds as possible but no more than 200) -- that's all they trained for. They did not qualify or even carry their individual weapons. They conducted no maneuver training. Their protective masks and GDP battle books stayed locked in storage. Through 18 months of complete mission focus the unit eclipsed the competition and took home the trophy.
I thought I had learned a lot as I watched the unit train, help resource, and come home victorious. Unbeknownst to me the most important lesson revealed itself later. With a little more than a month between the end of the CAT competition and an impending Combat Training Center rotation, the unit aggressively turned its focus and attention away from gunnery to mastering the tactical fundamentals they would need for the upcoming rotation. With the steady ease of a team well trained in a few collective tasks, the CAT team leveraged the organizational dynamics and short-hand they had developed over 18 months of intense gunnery training to adapt to the emerging operating environment - in this case the Combat Training Center at Hohenfels.
The CAT team flat-out dominated the rotation. It was there that I realized a few mission essential tasks - well trained - by far exceeded the need to train a whole lot of everything. The quality of a mission essential training approach created the base mechanics by which the unit could adapt to the changing environment.
'Team play wins' is the confidence of good organizational dynamics that lay on a bedrock of a few perfected mission essential battle tasks creating the agility to proactively react and dominate transitions in the operating environment. Units who focus on fewer full spectrum battle tasks (that matriculate into a prioritized set of collective and individual tasks) build the individual, collective and staff mechanics and dynamics needed to rapidly adjust and orchestrate within the complexity of contemporary operating environments achieving Patton's harmony.
We must refocus the 'why' behind in training, and then integrate the cutting edges of learning theory and technology to the block and tackle of building a unit to fight and win. It is not just the building of skill sets, but the human dimension of team mechanics and fundamentals that can adapt and orchestrate all the instruments of national power within the hybrid environments that demands full spectrum operations.
When the compression of time available between deployments begins to ease, the pressure to expand a commander's mission essential task lists will become apparent. But a mission focused re-evaluation of the anticipated operating environment, senior/junior leader dialogue and guidance, doctrine and orders should not result in more essential tasks, but a simple refinement tailored to the analysis and balanced to create unit agility and versatility.
As far back as 1963 General Bruce C. Clarke figured out in Guidelines for the Leader and the Commander that: There is not enough time for the commander to do everything. Each commander will have to determine wisely what is essential, and assign responsibilities for accomplishment. He should spend the remaining time on near-essentials. (Later, this quote would headline the chapter on METL development of the 1988 version of FM 25-101, Battle Focused Training, as a compendium to the FM 25-100, Training the Force.)
Leaders have to maintain the discipline to identify and eliminate nonessentials that steal time required for training essentials. Our Chief of Staff, General George Casey, has given us very definitive guidance: We need to leverage the combat experience of our Army and think about what that means as we develop our training plans. As young leaders do just that - leverage the experience in our mid-grade non-commissioned and commissioned officer corps as a risk mitigation strategy during this era of decreased dwell - senior leaders must counter the seemingly benign risk mitigation strategy of trying to cover every possible contingency with directed training tasks which only creates incredible turbulence at the unit level.
At the same time, we leaders cannot discount the value of an individual leader's education and broadening experiences to creating versatility. As a force that is persistently committed, it cannot in good conscious hold on to talent as a short term risk mitigation strategy in an era of persistent conflict. Instead, we must take a cumulative, longitudinally broader view towards building the bench of smart, talented leaders who will see problems through different lenses because they have had the time to reflect and expand on their experiences.
Commanders develop their organization's mission essential task list.
--FM 7-0, 2-3
Building unit agility and versatility comes from a focused approach to training. The uncertainty and volatility of fighting in a hybrid environment demands that our leaders and their units develop the capacity to 'shift from a known point'. The 'known point' becomes the mission focused attention to a few tasks identified by a commander as mission essential. The harmony we desire in our formations within full spectrum operations, and the ability to turn inside an adversary's decision cycle, is more a product of the quality of training rather than the quantity. As an expression of commander's intent, METL focused training creates teams that ultimately dominate the shifting complexity of modern wars.
General Peter W. Chiarelli is the Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.
SWJ Editors' Note: Be sure to check out the healthy conversation on this post in the comment section at the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center Blog.