The quality of our training will determine our mission success. Shortcuts during training can have negative long-term effects on our mission readiness. This article is intended to pick up where The Lost Art of Training left off. If you haven’t read it yet, I would suggest you start there.
Whether you’re enlisted or an officer, we are all leaders. As leaders, we inherit the responsibility of being a trainer as well. Training is more than giving someone a cutsheet and having them program a device repeatedly. It’s more than making a by-the-numbers guide for your Soldier to lug around. These are just small fragments of the larger picture. For years our institutional training has been churning out Soldiers that are great at pushing buttons on a very specific piece of outdated equipment. The academic institutions do their best but simply can’t keep up because our modern equipment is too diverse and ever evolving. The equipment changes often but the concepts they use do not. We’ve grown too accustomed to only teaching Soldiers HOW to accomplish a task and often never get around to explaining WHY we do a task.
Training is teaching, or developing in oneself or others, any skills and knowledge that relate to specific useful competencies. Training has specific goals of improving one’s capability, capacity, productivity and performance.
Army training includes a system of techniques and standards that allow units and Soldiers to determine, acquire, and practice necessary skills. Candid assessments, after action reviews, and applied lessons learned and best practices produce versatile units, quality Soldiers, and Army civilians ready for all aspects of an operational environment.
I have never bought into the mentality that the Army doesn’t pay Soldiers to think. We don’t pay Soldiers to questions orders, but this does not mean they cannot or should not engage their brains to accomplish a task. This mentality is especially counterproductive in the fast-paced world of communications. The Signal community is comprised of highly intelligent individuals who have a great deal of untapped potential. We should focus our institutional training on helping Soldiers and NCOs gain a better understanding of the underlying technologies rather than forcing them to blindly memorize a specific implementation. If all you know is how to follow steps, one software update is all it takes to bring you to your knees. This might be acceptable on-the-job training for brand new Soldiers but eventually they must move past this point. Too often senior operators and junior leaders have progressed in rank without progressing in understanding. Without a clear understanding, Soldiers and leaders can’t formulate a plan to effectively troubleshoot problems. As a result, they resort to trial and error which can often make things worse than they already were. Helping someone truly understand a system or capability can be more time consuming but the end result is a Soldier that is much more capable, flexible and adaptable.
Unit training provides a forgiving, learning environment that allows leaders to grow from lessons learned on the job without the fear of making irretrievable mistakes in combat that cost lives.
In the garrison environment, training is what we do. Whether it’s in the field or in an office the goal is always to maintain mission readiness. You must always do your best to set your Soldiers up for success; in a training environment, that means you must be willing to allow your Soldiers to fail. Failure in training is a learning opportunity. When an operator has an issue don’t just fix it for them. Take a page from the recruiting guide and ask them “open-ended, fact-finding questions.” Ask questions such as “with symptoms A, B, and C, what are some possible causes? “ Coach and guide them to the answer and let them fix it for themselves. ADP 7-0 states, “Leaders coach and teach, providing feedback on performance, making on-the-spot corrections, and conducting after-action reviews.” When you’re at the gym simply showing someone an exercise isn’t going to make them stronger. The same concept applies. Leaders with the knowledge and understanding must step back from the fight and let the Soldier struggle. It’s better for them to struggle and know that you’re by their side so later they will have the confidence to drive on alone. In an operational environment, teams are often spread wide and thin. They need to understand that chief can’t and won’t always be there to save the day.
As I’m sure that you are aware, there is only so much time in a day. A critical skill for any leader to master is time management. If not managed wisely it can quickly slip away. I mention this because when developing and conducting training we must make a key decision that will drastically affect the outcome. We must decide if we will train a few tasks well or many tasks poorly. We make this decision whether we realize it or not. If your training events end up feeling rushed or like a check-the-box activity, you’ve probably chosen the latter. Too often unit training events are too ambitious and don’t take reality into account. As a result, everyone is too busy to actually allow any learning to occur. The training becomes ineffective and you end up repeating the ‘crawl’ phase with little or no progression. Prioritize your training objectives and choose a small handful to work on. This applies to your unit training as well as your own self-development. Not every task can be your top priority; the sooner you come to grips with this, the better off you’ll be.
Units do not have the time or other resources to train on all tasks that support execution of their METLs across the range of military operations. Instead, the unit’s mission drives the focus of its training.
Leaders understand the unit’s mission and the commander’s intent. This understanding allows the unit to focus on training the few collective tasks that will best prepare it and its leaders to accomplish a mission or adapt to the requirements of a contingency mission.
Certifications are a critical part of learning your craft. They are unavoidable if you want to stay in the communications field and remain competitive. Outside of regulatory requirements, they are meant as an indicator of your knowledge and competence regard a specific discipline. Study to gain the knowledge, not the certification. I have no use for someone with many certs but no knowledge. As the old cliché goes, “it’s not about the destination, but the journey to get there.” Find an exam that suits your needs and interests. There are many to choose from regardless of your MOS. Study for a certification even if you never plan to take the exam. The exam objectives are freely available and make an excellent road map for broadening your skill set.
Don’t be a button pusher. Be curious and resourceful. Whenever you’re configuring a device, don’t just blindly plug in the settings. Pull out the manual and learn what those settings are, what they mean, and why they’re configured the way they are. If the manual can’t answer your questions reach out to someone who can. If you don’t know anyone, begin searching one of the many online knowledge bases such as milSuite. There’s not enough time in the day to learn everything there is to know but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Never stop broadening your horizon. Take a personal interest in your training and don’t just accept what is handed to you. While also encouraging others to do the same.
Take the time to understand the What and Why and not just the How.