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Thread: US Army recruit training: WTF is going on?!?

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    US Army recruit training: WTF is going on?!?

    I am stunned into a speechless stuppor:


    Marching Orders
    To Keep Recruits,
    Boot Camp Gets
    A Gentle Revamp
    Army Offers More Support,
    Sleep, Second Helpings;
    Drill Sergeants' Worries
    'It Would Look So Much Nicer'
    By GREG JAFFE
    February 15, 2006; Page A1

    FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- New recruits used to be welcomed to boot camp here with the "shark attack." For decades, drill sergeants in wide-brim hats would swarm around the fresh-off-the-bus privates, shouting orders. Some rattled recruits would make mistakes. A few would cry.

    Today, the Army is opting for a quieter approach. "I told my drill sergeants to stop the nonsense," says Col. Edward Daly, whose basic-training brigade graduates about 11,000 soldiers a year. Last fall, Col. Daly began meeting with all new recruits shortly after they arrive at boot camp to thank them. "We sincerely appreciate the fact that you swore an oath and got on a bus and did it in a time of war," he recently told an incoming class. "That's a big, big deal." He usually is accompanied by two male and two female soldiers, who can answer questions the recruits may have.
    [Edward Daly]

    "The idea is to get rid of the anxiety and worry," Col. Daly says.

    The new welcome is a window on the big changes sweeping boot camp, the Army's nine-week basic training. For most of its existence, boot camp was a place where drill sergeants would weed out the weak and turn psychologically soft civilians into hardened soldiers. But the Army, fighting through one of its biggest recruiting droughts, now is shifting tactics. Boot camp -- that iconic American experience -- may never be the same.

    Once-feared drill sergeants have been ordered to yell less and mentor more. "Before, our drill sergeants' attitude was 'you better meet my standard or else.' Now it's 'I am going to do all I can to assist you in meeting the Army standard,' " says Command Sgt. Maj. William McDaniel, the senior enlisted soldier here.

    New privates are getting more sleep and personal time. Even the way soldiers eat has changed. Drill sergeants long ordered overweight soldiers to stay away from soda and desserts. Today, soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood fill out a survey about their boot-camp experience that asks, among other questions, if they liked the food, whether they were "allowed to eat everything on the menu, including dessert," and whether there was enough for seconds.

    Recruits still must meet the same basic standards and pass the same tests for physical fitness and marksmanship to graduate, say Army officials. But more variable criteria that in the past might get a recruit expelled -- such as whether a drill sergeant thinks a recruit has the discipline and moral values to be a soldier -- have been jettisoned. "Now it doesn't matter what the drill sergeant thinks. We work off of the written standard," says Capt. Christopher Meng, who oversees a company of 11 drill sergeants and about 200 recruits at the base.

    The new approach is helping the Army graduate more of its recruits. Last month, only 23 recruits failed to make the cut at Fort Leonard Wood's largest basic-training brigade, compared with 183 in January 2004. Army-wide, about 11% of recruits currently flunk out in their first six months of training, down from 18% last May.

    Full Potential

    Senior Army officials say attrition has fallen because the new techniques are helping more soldiers reach their full potential. "This generation responds to a more positive leadership approach. They want to serve and they want people to show respect for that decision," says Maj. Gen. Randal Castro, the commanding general at Fort Leonard Wood. Smarter training also is preventing injuries, Army doctors say.
    [Christopher Meng]

    Some drill sergeants worry that the "kinder and gentler approach" -- as drill sergeants have dubbed the changes -- is producing softer soldiers. "If the privates can't handle the stress of a drill sergeant yelling at them, how will they handle the stress of bullets flying over their head?" asked Staff Sgt. Clayton Nagel as he watched his recruits file past him in the Fort Leonard Wood dining hall. "War is stressful. I think we overcorrected."

    The Army's decision to overhaul basic training came last spring. The service was having a hard time bringing in new recruits. It ultimately missed its 2005 recruiting goals for active-duty troops by 7,000 soldiers, or 8%, and National Guard soldiers by 13,000 or 20%.

    Meanwhile, boot-camp attrition was climbing. New soldiers brought in to replace those who were tossed out weren't much better. "We realized that the further you go into the barrel, the lower the quality," says Col. Kevin Shwedo, a senior officer in the Army's Training and Doctrine Command in Virginia.

    A team of 20 officers from the Army's training command was formed to figure out how the service could help more soldiers survive the first six months. They consulted sociologists and psychiatrists and even flew in MTV's senior vice president of strategy and planning, in search of fresh ideas for motivating today's youth.

    The changes, put in place this fall at all five of the Army's basic-training camps, are apparent the moment recruits step off the bus at Fort Leonard Wood. On a chilly Tuesday in January, about 200 new recruits in white Army sweat suits filed into a big auditorium on the base for one of Col. Daly's welcome-to-the-Army talks. Staff Sgt. Mike Gilmore grabbed a microphone and told the recruits what was going to happen: "The brigade commander is going to talk to you. He is a colonel. He is way up here. You are way down here," Sgt. Gilmore explained.

    He then coached the recruits on how to spring to attention when Col. Daly entered the room. "When I say 'attention,' you stand up. That's it. You don't say nothing. You do it quietly as possible."

    "Attention!" Sgt. Gilmore ordered. The recruits rose slowly and unevenly.

    "Could we all just stand up together?" Sgt. Gilmore said, sounding more let down than angry. "It would look so much nicer."

    A few minutes later, Col. Daly, a Special Forces soldier who served in Afghanistan and was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in the U.S. invasion of Panama, strode into the room. He told the recruits to take a deep breath and a swig from their canteens. "There is no problem that you might have that in last 230 years the Army hasn't already heard," he said.

    The recruits then got 40 minutes to fire questions at the four privates accompanying Col. Daly. One recruit asked if any of the privates had failed the Army's physical-fitness test. (Two struggled with it but eventually passed.) Others wanted to know how often they got to talk on the phone (once a week), how long they got for showers (five minutes) and how many hours of sleep they got a night (8 hours). A few asked if they had any regrets about enlisting. All four said no.

    Too Easy

    After the session, Pvt. Angela Holmquest, one of the privates brought in to answer questions, said she worried that basic training had become too easy. "The drill sergeants tell us we are in the low-stress Army. I'd rather be in the old Army. When we need to lock it up and work together as a team we can. But we should be more disciplined than we are," she said.
    [Graphics]

    In recent months, the Army has told drill sergeants to back off the recruits in the dining halls as well. A few months ago, sergeants would hover over new recruits, rushing them through meals, quizzing them about Army regulations and chastising them for minor infractions like carrying their drinking glass with one hand instead of two.

    The dining hall still is far from relaxing. But drill sergeants no longer shout at recruits. They aren't allowed to order overweight privates to skip dessert. At first, some drill sergeants refused to embrace the new directive. "There was a lot of balking on the dessert rule," says Capt. Meng, who oversees 11 drill sergeants. "I have had to say, 'Don't even mention it.' "

    The Army also has cut the amount of running troops do in boot camp by more than 60% in the past three years. "A lot of these kids have never done P.E. or sports. We were injuring too many by running too much," says Col. Greg Jolissaint, an Army physician with the command that sets baseline standards for boot camp.

    Instead of running, privates do more calisthenics and stretching. They also are spending more time learning the basic combat tasks they will need in Iraq or Afghanistan, such as how to spot a roadside bomb. Last month, Sgt. First Class Kevin Staddie, who spent a year in Iraq, was teaching soldiers how to move through a city under enemy fire. Suddenly he called a halt to the exercise. A private who was slithering on his belly lost his only canteen. Sgt. Staddie asked the private if he knew the temperature in Baghdad in August.

    "It is 115 degrees," the sergeant said in an even voice. "Will you give me a solemn promise that you'll do a better job securing your canteen? You'll get a whole lot further."

    The private nodded and rushed to continue the exercise.

    Soldiers also get a few more chances to succeed, say drill sergeants. Not long after she arrived at boot camp, Pvt. Starr Mosley was accused by another soldier of writing letters home when she was supposed to be training. Her drill sergeant ordered the 18-year-old private to crawl on her belly through the barracks and chant: "I will not write letters in the war room."

    Pvt. Mosley, who said she wasn't writing letters, refused. The Army offered her a fresh start in a new platoon. There she struggled to meet the service's marksmanship standards, her drill sergeant says. Sgt. Darren Baker, her new drill sergeant, spent hours coaching her. "Without him I would have quit," Pvt. Mosley says. "He was down there in the dirt helping me."

    A year ago, a drill sergeant wouldn't have taken as much time working with one struggling soldier. Today it is part of the job. "We're all working more one-on-one with the privates," Sgt. Baker says.

    Soldiers with certain medical conditions get more help as well. Recruits with mild asthma now are allowed to carry inhalers with them. Privates who come to the Army with a history of mild depression now can take Paxil or Zoloft. Both changes, pushed through last fall, are "contributing to the lower attrition overall," says Col. Jolissaint, the physician.

    Some basic-training facilities also are setting up special units for soldiers who are hurt or out of shape. In August, Col. Daly created a "Warrior Rehab" unit for injured recruits. Before the unit's creation, soldiers hurt during training often would go home to heal. The vast majority never came back.

    Soldiers in Warrior Rehab practice marksmanship, take classes on map reading and do low-impact workouts in the base's indoor pool. So far, 170 soldiers have passed through the program. Only 30 have quit basic training.

    Last month, about 40 members of the unit gathered in their barracks for a class on how to ambush the enemy with an M-18 Claymore antipersonnel mine. The troops included Pvt. Matthew Brent, a 29-year-old former hotel manager, who enlisted because he "wanted a personal challenge." He came to boot camp overweight at 5-foot-10, 220 pounds and quickly went down with tendinitis in his ankle. In his five months in Warrior Rehab, Pvt. Brent has lost 57 pounds.
    [Richard Hodgson]

    Next to him was Pvt. Richard Hodgson, who has been with the rehab unit since it started in August, trying to recover from stress fractures. He was having doubts about his ability to stick it out. "I've just lost my motivation. I was supposed to have graduated in September and I am still stuck here," he said. The sergeants in Warrior Rehab have been working hard to convince him to stay. "I've had a few mother-son type conversations with him," says Staff Sgt. Nicole Waters, one of the drill sergeants. "We talk about his goals in life. This job is a lot more mental than the typical drill sergeant job."

    Not all Army commanders have embraced the new approach to basic training. Col. Daly says one of the 14 company commanders he oversees is a "gung-ho combat arms officer, who right now is just killing me."

    Recently, one of that commander's recruits brought a round of live ammunition back from the rifle range, which isn't allowed. The bullet was found by a drill sergeant in the barracks common room. As punishment, the commander ordered the entire unit, which numbers 60 soldiers, to don their helmets when eating in the dining facility. He then threatened to send all the privates, who were just two weeks from graduation, back to the beginning of basic training.

    Col. Daly bristled when he heard about the threat. "I am not going to keep 60 soldiers back because one guy made a mistake," the colonel says he told the commander.

    Instead, Col. Daly ordered the commander to have his drill sergeants do a better job of searching the recruits' pockets for extra ammunition when they leave the range.

    "The commander's leadership style has got to change," says Col. Daly, noting that the commander's recruits have gone absent without leave at more than twice the rate of any other unit in the past two months.

    Even among those units that have embraced the new approach, there is debate about whether the changes have been too much, too fast. "It's a hot topic," says Capt. Meng, another one of Col. Daly's company commanders.

    Like many of his fellow commanders, Capt. Meng spent a year in Iraq, in a tour that ended in 2004. He was second in command of a 100-soldier armor company. In the past six months, the West Point graduate has been in the forefront in reducing attrition, overseeing drill sergeants and recruits.

    Last month, a few dozen of Capt. Meng's privates clambered onto olive-green trucks for one of their final boot-camp exercises. The troops, traveling in an Iraq-style convoy, were "hit" by a series of smoke-spewing roadside bombs. Enemy fighters, represented by pop-up targets, sprung from nearby prairie grass. A broad-shouldered drill sergeant ordered a counterattack.

    Instead of leaping off the back of the truck, as they would in a typical exercise, or in actual combat, the privates waited about 10 seconds for someone to walk to the back of the truck and place a ladder on its rear bumper. They then climbed down the 5-foot drop, one at a time.

    Falling Short

    Capt. Meng conceded it wasn't realistic. He said the Army couldn't afford to have privates twist ankles and wrench knees just a few days before their final physical fitness test. "A few months ago attrition was seen as a good thing," he says. "It meant we were sending higher quality troops to the Army."

    Now he says he is racking his brain for new ways to motivate more soldiers who are falling short of the Army's standards. He recently petitioned Col. Daly to let his troops have an extra half-hour of sleep on top of the 30 minutes of additional shuteye all recruits were granted last fall. Standard boot camp sleeping hours are now 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. His troops rise at 5:30 a.m.

    "It has been great for morale," Capt. Meng says. "A soldier's happiness is directly proportional to the amount of sleep he gets."

    The Iraq veteran says his boot-camp troops are in many ways better prepared for combat than their predecessors were. They spend far more time working with their M-16 rifles and more time in the field training on critical combat tasks like defending a base camp from insurgent attacks.

    Asked if his soldiers are as disciplined and tough as their predecessors, Capt. Meng pauses. "There are some who feel we are not sending as high a quality soldier to the Army....I am not smart enough to tell you," he says.

    In the near term, he has other worries. "The commanding general's No. 1 priority here is to support the war," he says. "In order to do that right now we have to graduate more privates."

    -------------------------------------

    I am speechless. And i feel faint....

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    When was Hillary Clinton put in charge?

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    Senior Contributor BenRoethig's Avatar
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    The enemy is not going to hold their hand during wartime. They need to learn to operate under extreme pressure. Col. Daly needs a visit from Paris Island.
    F/A-18E/F Super Hornet: The Honda Accord of fighters.

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    I haven't seen the "new" tactics first-hand, but my guess is that this is more PR spin than it is reality. I'm sure that things have calmed a bit, but from other articles I've read, because of the recruiting woes, a heavier emphasis has been on retention, and that the Army has upped the number of drill sergeants assigned to basic/AIT/OSUT units. So, I'm quite confidence that trainees are still getting their dose of lovin', just not as much when the BDE CDR is around. I'm not implying that they are getting beaten, but that the same old techniques to induce stress and discomfort haven't gone away.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    The above article and what the brigade commander said was happening reminded me of this supposed Army Officers' Guide quote:

    Almost a hundred years ago, the Army Officers Guide is reported to have stated, "Enlisted men are stupid, but extremely cunning and sly, and bear considerable watching."

    While the "stupid" part is certainly a fallacy, the "extremely cunning and sly" rings true today. Sleep soundly Snipe, your bretheren will make sure the soldiers get the training they need - there is only one brigade commander but many drills
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    Jesus!! It sure as hell wasn't like that at Ft Benning. What MOS's go to basic at Ft Leonard Wood?

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    Quote Originally Posted by lwarmonger
    Jesus!! It sure as hell wasn't like that at Ft Benning. What MOS's go to basic at Ft Leonard Wood?
    REMFs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by shek
    The above article and what the brigade commander said was happening reminded me of this supposed Army Officers' Guide quote:

    Almost a hundred years ago, the Army Officers Guide is reported to have stated, "Enlisted men are stupid, but extremely cunning and sly, and bear considerable watching."

    While the "stupid" part is certainly a fallacy, the "extremely cunning and sly" rings true today. Sleep soundly Snipe, your bretheren will make sure the soldiers get the training they need - there is only one brigade commander but many drills
    Shek if we went into a time machine and put this batch of recruits through a WWII US bootcamp probably 70% of them would wash out or get recycled.

    I sure hope all you fine Co. COs and 1Sgts are bringing these coddled troops up to speed once they hit permanent party. In fact, it appears that we've been forced to count on exactly that.

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    Wow, the end is really about to come.

    I mean take a look at this:
    When a drill seargant says this:

    "Could we all just stand up together?" Sgt. Gilmore said, sounding more let down than angry. "It would look so much nicer."
    I thought I would never hear a drill seargant pleading with his recruits to behave nicely.

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    Quote Originally Posted by M21Sniper
    REMFs.
    That explains a few things. I bet Jacksonville is the same way.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blademaster
    I thought I would never hear a drill seargant pleading with his recruits to behave nicely.
    When i read the part about the chick that refused to low crawl i almost punched my friggin' monitor.

    I cannot possibly imagine any Pvt telling me 'no' after i told them to do something, and i was just a line company corporal.

    If i was a DS and a troop said that i'd PT them till they FUCCKING DIED.

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    Geez,

    We really got to work on our recruiting procedures. Not even in the low days of the 70s, would Drill Seargants fall to this kind of standard.

    I sincerely hope for the sake of the Army and its proud heritage, that Col. Daly be deep ass ****ed in any chance of promotion. This kind of thinking cannot be allowed to spread out through the rest of the Army or any armed force.

    I mean, not even Air Farce would stoop to this low.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blademaster
    I mean, not even Air Farce would stoop to this low.
    I've been talking with a few chair force enlisted guys. Apparently their DI's aren't allowed to swear at them any more. I don't really see the point of having DI's when that happens.

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    WTF? I was looking forward to it too.

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    Banned Defense Professional Bluesman's Avatar
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    Don't worry, guys, it's all blown WAY out of proportion. People really LOVE to take stuff like this and run with it. Part of it is the delicious thrill of starting up an 'outrageous' story of this or that, and part of it is us old-timers wanting to play the 'When I was in, we didn't have so many pvssies' card.

    But I'll grant this: if Basic today suddenly was like Basic in WWII, the IG and Congressional investigations would swamp the government. It WAS very tough back then, and not something that would be tolerated today, nor would we be able to graduate anything like the numbers we needed then or even now. Our kids today simply couldn't hack it.

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