The Second Nightmare: Outcomes-Based Training
After capturing my thoughts from my first nightmare, I nervously drifted off to sleep. It wasn't long before I began to dream again. My second nightmare began much like my first; the company had just finished our convoy live fire exercise. It had been a really good training day, but I knew why this time. It was not my great leadership; no, it was because we had planned, back-briefed, and rehearsed the training event twice before execution just as our standing operating procedure (SOP) required.
However, I still felt a sense of accomplishment as I spoke with First Sergeant Hill. This time, although proud, I was not cocky at all. I spoke with the first sergeant and executive officer about clearing the range and preparing for our upcoming Dragon Challenge. I knew it was getting late, so I instructed the executive officer to push the company's motor move back, allowing time to properly clear the range. I also said I was going to push back our start point (SP) time the following day to support clearing the range properly, getting the Soldiers and cadre some rest, and conducting our troop leading procedures to standard. I told the first sergeant that according to our range clearing SOP, he was in charge of clearing the range and to make sure we checked all magazines to ensure we didn't have any live rounds. He looked at me kind of odd after that comment, but being the true professional, he said, "Yes sir, got it on the checklist." I asked if anyone had any questions. Without questions, I was feeling confident about our plan.
As I left, I heard the senior drill sergeant, who handed the checklist to the first sergeant, murmur under his breath, "Gee whiz, the Captain acts like we haven't done this before; we got it." Once again, I was eager to get back to brief LTC Charles on what a great training event we had executed that day and to inform him that I pushed back our Dragon Challenge timeline. However, as soon as I walked into battalion headquarters, I heard LTC Charles voice, "Captain Foresight, see me in my office now." He told me he had received a Congressional, and a new Soldier alleged misconduct by my 3rd Platoon sergeant, SFC Johnson. I told LTC Charles I would work the issue and provide him an update. I also told him the reasons why I had shifted our SP times. He looked at me and said, "Good deal, Captain. Makes sense. It's good to see you are thinking. Now get out of here. I have papers to sign and e-mails to write before I go to my kid's soccer game." I left the battalion commander's office knowing exactly what to do.
I called First Sergeant Hill to give him the news about SFC Johnson. He told me he was coming back with the Soldier to discuss the issue, but I told him to stay on the range. I wanted him to send the Soldier back with the executive officer and have the senior drill sergeant bring SFC Johnson to my office. I notified the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), and they linked up with the Soldier as soon as she got back. After notifying SFC Johnson of the misconduct accusation against him, I assigned someone to escort him to the battalion S3, pending the completion of the CID investigation. Once the company made it back to the barracks around 2100 hours, I asked the first sergeant if everything went well. He said it had, but they found two Soldiers with live rounds in their magazines. The company unloaded its equipment; accounted for everything; issued the Soldiers meals, ready to eat; and gave them about 30 minutes to eat before getting them to the barracks to clean up and get some rest.
The next morning we let the Soldiers sleep in until 0700. We ate breakfast and then around 0830 began our precombat inspections (PCI) and rehearsals for Dragon Challenge. I told the first sergeant I wanted to address the cadre once training was complete and we were all in the forward operating base (FOB) in reference to the misconduct issue. I reviewed our revised troop leading procedure timeline. I discussed with the executive officer and the first sergeant who would spot check the various tasks within the platoons. I highlighted that Drill Sergeant Kelly would be taking over as the platoon sergeant (since SFC Johnson was reassigned to the S3 shop), and that I would focus my efforts to make sure he was squared away. I had Drill Sergeant Kelly back brief me on his plan and his risk mitigation measures, and I inspected one squad for the proper equipment. All in all, the company seemed ready to go.
Third Platoon Mad Dawgs began its tactical foot movement at 1500 with everything in order. Third Platoon was followed by 1st Platoon at 1530 and 2nd Platoon at 1600. Each platoon had to conduct a four-mile tactical movement that included reacting to an improvise explosive device (IED) attack, indirect fire, and sniper fire along its route before closing in our FOB. The cadre knew my intent that all field training had to include reacting to IED and to sniper fire because those were the two biggest killers on the current battlefield.
As the day continued, I received a call from Drill Sergeant Kelly. He and the Mad Dawgs had closed in on the FOB with no issues. I had learned my lessons well, I thought: Everything was going well; no hurt Soldiers; we were following our SOPs; training to standard; and I had handled the misconduct investigation properly.
About that time my brick radio went off. It was range control issuing a severe weather-warning. Thunderstorms were 25 miles out and heading right for us, and if that wasn't bad enough, the weather forecast for the next 24 hours called for more of the same. As I stood there with my radio in hand, I thought, "Good grief, how could I have missed the weather forecast? The first thing I do every morning is to check the training schedule and check the weather." After my short period of disbelief, I snapped out of my aggravation and called all platoons to get an update on their locations.
Third Platoon again confirmed they were in the FOB. Second Platoon was about 20 minutes out, so I told the platoon leader to continue movement directly to the FOB and seek lightning protection. Receiving no response from 1st Platoon, I began to get anxious; however, I did have about 40 minutes before the lightning storm would hit, and I did have a good idea of where the platoon would be. I instructed the company executive officer, 1LT Ortiz, to take our three five-ton trucks and transport 1st Platoon as rapidly as possible to the FOB. As I got in my truck and began driving to the FOB, I was still irritated with myself for not verifying the weather, but I was pleased that I had handled the situation fairly well.
About the time I got to the FOB, the skies became darker, and I could hear the thunder in the distance. Then over the radio 1LT Ortiz exclaimed that one of our trucks had rolled over on its side. My heart sank; I could just see my Soldiers lying injured all around the wreck. I thought, "This nightmare is worse than the first." 1LT Ortiz continued his situation report (SITREP). He stated there were no injuries, and the accident occurred prior to picking up 1st Platoon. With a sense of relief, I acknowledged his SITREP and told him to continue his mission with the remaining trucks and to be vigilant. I turned to my senior drill sergeant and told him to call range control and post safety and notify them of the accident. I would notify the battalion commander. I realized news of this incident would spread across the post so I grabbed the first sergeant, and we went directly to the accident site. Once we arrived and got out, the driver told me he was not licensed to drive a five-ton truck because he had missed the driver's training during our company certification. He said he missed the training because he had been tasked by the command sergeant major to support a public affairs office tasking. After hearing this, the first sergeant looked at me and said, "This one is going to hurt, sir."
I replied, "Yep, first sergeant, I can see the Training and Doctrine Command's safety gram now with my picture on it and a caption saying, 'Company commander or idiot? You decide.'" After gathering my composure, I phoned LTC Charles, who answered quickly, unnerving me even more. I explained to him the details of the accident, and to my astonishment, he took it well. He told me he was thankful nobody was injured and to execute a safety stand-down to make sure all my drivers were licensed. He asked me what my training plan was for the inclement weather. I told him that we were going to conduct training in and around lightning protection areas, and that I saw this as an opportunity to conduct the company's first "outcomes-based training." I explained that I was going to allow my platoons to develop and implement a training plan that would achieve building Soldiers' confidence in the warrior tasks of react to IED, react to sniper attack, and request a MEDEVAC. My intent was to allow the Soldiers the initiative to plan, to request resources, and to execute and assess their training with me as an observer. The colonel responded saying, "Okay, Captain Foresight, I understand but make sure your training still has a task, condition, and standard-no winging it." As soon as I got off the phone, the first sergeant asked me how it went. I told him that it went surprisingly well, but that I had to get the platoon sergeants together to talk about our outcomes-based training plan as soon as possible.
About an hour later after everyone had occupied the FOB, and the exhilaration of the day had dissipated, I brought the platoon sergeants together to explain my outcomes-based training intent. This concept was new, but the platoon sergeants were supportive because it allowed them the flexibility to train as they saw fit as long as they met the outcome. Amazingly, there were no questions. Normally change and platoon sergeants are two words that don't go together. Without further discussion, I let them get back to their platoons to get started. Pending breaks in the weather, they were to plan that night and execute vicinity of the FOB in the morning.
The night passed without incident, although it did storm. I headed out to check training around 0800. I got to 1st Platoon's location shortly thereafter. The training looked great. The Soldiers were moving down a squad lane where they would encounter an IED, perform the 5 Cs, and continue moving while being engaged by sniper fire. During the engagement, the squad would suffer casualties, and the Soldiers would have to perform combat care and MEDEVAC. I was extremely satisfied with their efforts. The platoon sergeant had rehearsed the task that night and conducted a good PCI. The Soldiers knew why the tasks were significant, and even their Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System equipment was operational, although wet. The Soldiers were executing the tasks to standard, and I was ecstatic.
When I called the first sergeant, who was with 3rd Platoon, to give him the good news, he told me that was great, but that I might need to linkup with him at 3rd Platoon's location. It was about 0930, and I headed over there just in time to see LTC Charles and the brigade commander arriving. As I got out of my truck and saluted the colonels, I saw 2nd Platoon Soldiers hanging out around their tents. LTC Charles promptly interjected that he invited the brigade commander, COL Ranger, to watch the battalion's first attempt at outcomes-based training. LTC Charles told me to walk the colonel through the training with the platoon in front of us, which to my distress was 2nd Platoon. I fretfully turned around and started moving toward the platoon while asking First Sergeant Hill to find me the platoon sergeant. When the platoon sergeant came forward, I asked him to explain his outcomes-based training plan. He looked at me and said, "Sir, I chose not to do it this morning. We had two Soldiers fall asleep on guard last night, and I caught a Soldier smoking, so I am having Soldiers dump out their gear for a health and welfare inspection."
As the sweat poured off my forehead, he continued to say that he did have a plan to give classes that afternoon on IEDs and MEDEVAC, but he didn't really see a necessity to practice reacting to snipers because he believed the only way to defeat a sniper was to never get out of your armored vehicle. Before I could react, COL Ranger dismissed the platoon sergeant, looked directly at me, and said, "That's not it, Captain. In fact, one week from today you will present an officer professional development lesson to all the officers within the brigade on outcomes-based training, and you'd better know what you are talking about." He walked off. Seeing my career diminish, I couldn't even speak.
Mercifully, I woke up and was delighted that it was only a dream and that I still had a career. This time I sat there for a while trying to figure out what had just ensued. I finally gathered my thoughts and began to put in writing the lessons I had learned.
When planning an operation, always consider the impact of the weather. The weather, just like the enemy, gets a vote. To disregard either is a plan predestined for failure. Always have an inclement weather-training plan that will permit you to complete your training objectives. Too many risk-adverse commanders will use weather as justification not to train.
A commander must be hardnosed in certifying his drill sergeants/platoon sergeants in accordance with Field Manual 7-1, Battle Focused Trainingand Training and Doctrine Command Regulation 350-6. There can be no exceptions. Cadre cannot train to standard if they do not know the standard. In this case, I was lucky that no one was killed or seriously hurt. Leaders are responsible for implementing certification programs within their units that validate and, if necessary, train the trainers. Commanders must monitor and sustain these programs regardless of cycle breaks. Quality training must be our prime mission.
Outcomes-based training is a concept that defines the desired outcome, promotes initiative, and allows freedom to maneuver to achieve the training goal. However, a commander must provide guidance and set boundaries by which to operate. An experienced and inspired platoon sergeant, such as in the 1st Platoon, is capable of understanding and executing the task and achieving the outcome. In the case of the 2nd Platoon's sergeant, knowledge or enthusiasm is missing. A commander must know his cadre's capabilities, prepare them, employ them, and guide them as necessary to meet the desired outcome. The commander must be cognizant of the mental intangibles required for the outcomes and ensure the Soldiers are gaining the intangibles from the training. The outcome must be a measurable standard.