Small Wars Journal

Transition to a Total Army Training Plan

Sat, 08/29/2015 - 1:32pm

Transition to a Total Army Training Plan

Charles J. Beirne

“We will recruit and retain the best talent while developing leaders committed to an ethical and expert profession of arms.”1

-National Security Strategy, Feb 2015


The United States is in a period of vast restructuring and fiscal reform.  The Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 has forced the Department of Defense (DOD) to impose severe cuts within several categories of its financial disposition.  With the sequester in effect, there must be a shift in the Army to transition to a Total Army training plan in order to synchronize its efforts and formulate synergy.  The Army must change the way it thinks about the institutional training base through the following initiatives:  first, transition to a total Army training plan; second, find the right balance of training approaches; third, reduce the brick- and mortar-based educational facilities; and fourth, expand Soldier and leader expertise beyond tactical topics.  These remedies are critical to ensure trained and ready leaders are able to succeed in future joint military operations. 

Transition to a Total Army Training Plan

The Army must change the way it thinks about the institutional training base by transitioning to a total Army training plan.  It is imperative that the Army transition to a Total Army training plan that standardizes the instruction process across the active component (AC), Army National Guard (ARNG), and U.S. Army Reserve (USAR).  Having a multitude of training methods for singular courses is a luxury the Army cannot afford.  Restructuring basic combat training (BCT) as well as professional military education (PME) accomplishes this new concept.  Additionally, seeking to implement a joint school system will create additional cost savings.    

The current BCT system operates within the paradigm of a ten-week training plan.  In this construct, raw recruits must complete all orientation training before transition into the job.  In looking at BCT, candidates can complete administrative and basic knowledge tasks during their initial orientation at the armed forces career centers, or through on-the-job training.  Developing a robust distance-learning program, decentralizing issue and administrative processes, and eliminating elements such as drill and ceremony would whittle down the ten-week paradigm.  Condensing the process into a four-week course would allow USAR Soldiers on annual training (AT) to cover down on the blocks of instruction. 

Getting Soldiers integrated into their new units and having a senior sponsor program would better serve the Army as a whole.  The senior sponsor program would be similar to what is already in place, but one in which a junior Soldier would be linked up with a senior non-commissioned officer (NCO).  Through this process, the current results would be in effect only with a shorter course and thus a more cost-effective course.  Having Soldiers in school for the additional time period has a diminishing return by delaying their return to their unit. 

Mentioned in several strategic documents, the creation of a professional corps of officers is paramount to achieving objectives and the overall end state in future engagements.  To accomplish this, a standardized AC/RC school system needs implementation.  Currently, multiple options are available within the PME system.  For example, captains attending a typical career course on the AC side have a resident school they attend for a length of approximately four months, dependent upon their branch.  The RC has the same course over multiple increments, usually with two increments of two weeks as a resident student, and at least one distance-learning phase in order to receive course completion.

In a fiscally constrained environment, the Army cannot afford to parcel funds to AC Soldiers for additional temporary duty (TDY) expenses, as well as take time away from their actual assignment.  The solution to the problem is to have one course option for AC/RC alike.  This reduces the amount of time away from the job and accomplishes the same level of proficiency required to accomplish the assigned tasks.  Utilizing RC instructors also mitigates cost, in that the class cadre rotates through in assigned increments to assure course coverage.  The Army Program Guidance Memorandum (APGM) states that the Army should, “better allocate resources so that we can achieve the highest readiness levels possible within our given funding levels.”2  Reducing time away from the operational force (OF), the RC can leverage its generating force (GF) spaces to provide a cost-effective solution for a fiscally constrained AC force of the future.

The Total Army could also leverage sister service school’s for BCT to PME at the highest levels to save money, broaden the knowledge base, and facilitate joint operations.  Each of the sister services has similar mission sets that make standardized training logical and viable.  Army Soldiers and leaders could piggy-back on sister service on-line training, schools, and even on-the-job training through exchange programs. 

Find the Right Balance of Training Approaches

The Army must change the way it thinks about the institutional training base by finding the right balance of training approaches.  Schools are not the only area to create cost savings in conjunction with a fully trained force of the future.  Eliminating the Cadet Leadership Courses, integration of the RC with the AC during institutional training, and contracting out foreign military advisors will bring a more concentrated focus for forces.  Having the right balance and approach to training in conjunction with a reassessment of current policy would be a victory for the military.     

Every summer, cadets from across a multitude of colleges and universities gravitate to Fort Knox, KY for the Leadership Development Assessment Course.  It is the biggest training event within the Army and quite inefficient in its process.  The overall objective is to have a fully qualified future officer prepared to enter their individual Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) upon graduation.  In essence, it is no more than a summer camp in which cadets experience their own flavor of BCT.  The solution is to allow cadets to develop through the Cadet Leadership Training Program and decentralize the process.  Already in effect, sending cadets to the closest installation to their home of record would achieve the savings the Army truly needs. 

Units conduct collective training at the combat training centers (CTC) in order to allow Soldiers to show their level of expertise within an organizational construct.  It is paramount to synergize AC CTC with RC AT.  The Force 2025 and Beyond EXORD states that “ensuring that future Army forces are prepared to win in a complex world requires a focused, sustained, and collaborative effort across the institutional Army, the operating force, the joint community, industry, academia, and other inter-organizational and multinational partners.”3  Adapting training schedules at a strategic level, ensuring a crosswalk between CTC and AT rotations, would additionally abide by the EXORD in that the Total Army is exercising its ability to be expeditionary and adaptive.

In its efforts to shape the force, the Army transformed the majority of service support and logistics units to the RC.  The rapid rate of knowledge gained from a CTC rotation would be invaluable and provide working estimates of performance levels that will allow senior leaders a more accurate understanding of proficiency as a Total Army.  RC units have an ability to make this process work within a two-week time frame of an AT period due to the BCA and current fiscal situation.  With a limited number of BCTs deploying to the CTCs, the RC easily has the ability to incorporate logistic units into the process.  Identifying the organization in advance to meet the needs of the rotation is vital to the success of this strategy.  Realizing the unlikelihood of reversing the BCA, Senior leadership must adopt a Total Army stance in all of its planning considerations.

Reduce Brick and Mortar Educational Facilities

The Army must change the way it thinks about the institutional training base by reducing the brick- and mortar-based educational facilities.  Reduction, or even elimination, of the brick and mortar schools at installations is the final solution to achieve remarkable cost savings.  Already, the Army has numerous on-line training programs, but it must fight to reduce mandatory requirements that afford little value to Soldiers.  Effective measures of performance (MOP) must be in place before launching such software packages to ensure efficacy.          

Most accredited colleges and universities have assembled distance learning on-line software to afford students the ability to take courses at their leisure.  The Army has implemented some on-line instruction in PME, but not to the degree needed.  Using the distance learning methodology of the collegiate level during a Soldiers duty day prevents unnecessary TDY.  Creating a flexible schedule with core hours of obligation will minimize overloading individual Soldiers.  In the end, if managed properly, distance learning will make a more efficient process all the while keeping the current objective.   

The Army must review its numerous mandatory training requirements and overall distractors.  Pushed to the lowest levels with little thought on applicability to the Soldier, some mandatory training events are redundant or irrelevant.  Taken year after year, they have multiplied over time and do little to motivate Soldiers.  The result is Soldiers and units having decreased readiness.  It is repetitive to the point that it is ineffective as a method to ensure comprehension of a given subject. 

Terminal learning objectives must adapt in order to meet training requirements.  Creating a simplified process in a time-constrained organization is of the utmost concern.  “In the rush by higher headquarters to incorporate ev­ery good idea into training, the total number of train­ing days required by all mandatory training directives literally exceeds the number of training days available to company commanders.”4  Eliminating unnecessary distractors and getting Soldiers back to warfighting functions is the proper solution to the problem.

In defining success of the training program, the Army must create a new set of MOPs.  Ensuring the right balance within a particular program to afford a Soldier proper training is key.  Having a mix of on-line examinations coupled with assignments issued and reviewed by qualified instructors will mitigate the risk of having an untrained force.  Forming a faculty with the ability to implement the program will permit success.

Expand Expertise Beyond the Tactical Scope

The Army must change the way it thinks about the institutional training base through expanding Soldier and leader expertise beyond the tactical scope.  The recently published National Military Strategy (NMS) calls for “innovative leader development across the All-Volunteer Force — officer, enlisted, and civilian — through a combination of training, education, broad experience, and opportunity.”5  The Total Army must support this call by blending physical and virtual experiences, simulating contested environments and operations in denied or degraded conditions, selecting and incentivizing faculty, rewarding critical thought, promoting the most innovative minds, and facilitating continuous and demanding education that inspires new ideas and identifies better ways to accomplish the mission.  Total Army leaders, like joint leaders, must be trained and educated to understand the operational environment, apply the military instrument of power, anticipate uncertainty, lead change, translate intent, make ethical decisions, think critically and strategically, and apply joint warfighting principles and concepts to Army operations.

The recently published Army Vision (AV), part of The Army Plan (TAP), introduced the term, “expert,” as a characteristic that highlights the essential qualities of ready Army forces for the future.

“Expert.  The Army of 2025’s agility must be complemented by expertise in areas vital to its global mission.  The challenges of the future require the Army to be a highly skilled organization, possessing a deep understanding of a broad range of military, regional, and civil topics.  To succeed, we must develop and leverage the unique capabilities possessed by our Soldiers, civilians, and contractor workforce.”6

Expertise applies to Soldiers and organizations alike.  First, the Vision requires expert Soldiers who can perform their mission, warfight, apply technological tools, make military judgments and real-time tactical and strategic decisions, understand interpersonal dynamics, appreciate organizational psychology, be able to negotiate, possess language and cultural skills, and have socially broadening experiences behind their belts.

Second, the Vision requires expert organizations, headquarters, and whole units that have mastered political-military affairs, institutional strategy, regions, languages, countries, and cultures learned through Regionally Aligned Forces and interdependency with the ARNG’s and USAR’s unique civilian-acquired skill sets and augmentation.

To achieve the expertise described in the Army Vision, the Army will have to expand its training content from tactical, to strategic, to politico-military affairs from the earliest stage of a Soldier’s and leader’s career.  Simply put, future Total Army training and qualification will not be able to stop at training and testing military occupational skill (MOS) or mission essential task list (METL) proficiency; instead, it will have to take our Soldiers and leaders broader and deeper.


Mandatory training, separate CTC/AT missions, decentralized AC/RC schools at a multitude of locations, and tactical training are no longer the most effective or efficient approach to Total Army training.  The evolution of these systems occurred over time with multiple inputs from a wide scope of experienced leadership.  Tearing apart these institutions will cause a tremendous amount of turmoil and anxiety, but with great benefit and payoff.  In the end, a balanced approach and a realization of the fiscal reality of the BCA will better shape the Army of the future.

Four proposed solutions to implementing change are:  first, transition to a Total Army training plan; second, find the right balance of training approaches; third, reduce the brick- and mortar-based educational facilities; and fourth, expand Soldier and leader expertise beyond the tactical scope.  These types of radical changes will likely cause consternation among leaders and Soldiers alike; however, the status quo is not an option.

End Notes

  1. Obama, Barack.  National Security Strategy, 2015.
  2. McHugh, John M.  Army Program Guidance Memorandum. Washington, DC:  U.S. Department of Defense, March 2015.
  3. Army Management Action Group.  HQDA EXORD 231-14 Force 2025 and Beyond.  Washington, DC:  U.S. Department of Defense, April 2015.
  4. Wong, Leonard.  Stifling Innovation: Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders Today.  Carlisle, PA:  Strategic Studies Institute, April 2002.
  5. Dempsey, Martin E.  The National Military Strategy of the United States of America  2015:  The United States Military’s Contribution To National Security, June 2015.
  6. McHugh, John M. and Raymond Odierno.  The Army Vision:  Strategic Advantage in a Complex World, 2015.


About the Author(s)

Major Charles J. Beirne, U.S. Army Reserve, is a Force Management Officer and Organizational Integrator at U.S. Army Reserve Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  He received a B.A. from Virginia Military Institute, a M.A. from Park University, and is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.  Previous to his current assignment, he served as an Assistant Professor of Military Science within U.S. Army Cadet Command, and has served in various command and staff positions in the continental United States and abroad.