The Best Defense

A worrisome report on the eroded combat skills of an Army Stryker regiment

The 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Stryker) is reamed out in an internal Army study for its performance last month at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, a training ground in Germany. It is worrisome that this unit appears to have deteriorated so much, yet paradoxically reassuring that the Army is using its maneuvers identify shortcomings.

The conclusions are hair-raising. Everybody from the way senior leaders understand command to the way privates poop comes in for criticism. Here are some of the highlights:

--The report found "Commanders and command sergeant majors tethered to command posts, rarely visiting subordinate units. This results in a lack of mentoring and face-to-face interaction to judge understanding of the operational situation and intent and time to make on-the-spot corrections." And those corrections clearly were needed. 

--Commanders give lip service to "mission command" (basically, telling subordinate leaders what to do but not how to do it) but in reality micromanage by issuing a stream of "frago" orders that make minor changes in organizations and assigned tasks.  "Despite emphasis on Mission Command over the past year, most commanders still do not feel comfortable allowing subordinates to operate broadly under their intent."

--Commanders also do not get out enough.  "Many commanders are tethered to the command post, in essence becoming a chief of staff. Commanders need to execute battlefield circulation, visiting subordinate and supporting commanders in the field to ensure clear understanding of intent and orders."

--Units are so reliant on digital connectivity that when it was down, it resulted in a "total loss of  situational awareness of operations."

--Senior NCOs didn't understand their role in sustainment.  Logistics and medical evacuation of the wounded also stunk.

--Soldiers don't even know how to do basic field sanitation, and were "defecating randomly on top of the ground in unit positions."

"Hit the leather and ride, take it all in stride," indeed. 

I asked Col. Keith Barclay, commander of the regiment, what he thinks of the report. This is his response: 

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Thank you for the note and interest in our rotation.  It was a fantastic training event that all our soldiers and multinational partners benefited from greatly as we developed our leaders and soldiers to operate in support of unified land operations.  As to the report you reference, I have not seen the written training center observations from our training center as of yet, but the after action reviews were very positive.

I would refer you to the 7th Joint Multinational Training Command, commanding officer for his comments regarding any other specific data; he was the deputy exercise director for this exercise and would be in a position to answer your specific questions."

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Tom again. This is what Col. Lee Rudacille, the commander of the training center, had to say:

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We appreciate your interest in our recent Decisive Action Training Environment rotation involving the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.  However, the document that you've obtained is not a comprehensive assessment of the Regiment's overall performance or capability.  I simply recommend waiting for additional material to be available before making comment on the unit's "overall" performance.

Please keep in mind that the purpose of the DATE is to give Army units a highly stressful, complex and challenging environment to evaluate current strengths and weaknesses.  We capture the results in order to sustain the positive, and to improve areas identified as requiring additional training.  As you know, in the last eleven years, the Army has focused almost exclusively on COIN operations.  In the last few years, we've done so in environments with established infrastructure and set logistics systems.  We have Soldiers in leadership positions who have only trained for and conducted COIN operations for the entirety of their careers. This is partly why the DATE was designed - to place us into something entirely different and to challenge us to incorporate a fundamentally different way of leading through Mission Command.  It involves a highly complex set of threats and it deliberately stimulates leaders to think about future battlefields.  The training environment is a safe place to learn hard lessons and prepare for future fights.  It is not unreasonable or remarkable that we found areas in which we must strive to improve.  The Army is a learning institution; we cannot be afraid to hold a mirror to ourselves and honestly see our need for improvement. 

As to the report itself, this particular document is one of several that are for our internal use and not a comprehensive assessment.  Many of the topics in the report were brought up by our evaluators and the 2CR Soldiers themselves during the AAR so that we can learn and improve.  These issues were not central to whether or not we were successful overall when you consider that the DATE required that we combine offense, defense, and stability operations within the context of Wide Area Security and Combined Arms Maneuver, often simultaneously.  They are simply areas that we will improve on.

Again, I am pleased our training in Europe has captured your attention, particularly so since the Army is increasing its focus on training and developing leaders and Soldiers for our future missions which I believe we do well. "

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Tom again: I asked Col. Rudacille if he had read the CALL report, and he wrote back thusly:

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Yes, I've read the document.  Again, I remind you that it isn't an AAR - it isn't comprehensive, it only looks at select areas and it is not indicative of the unit's overall performance.  As the Exercise Director, I observed the unit enjoy many successes during the training, and I witnessed learning at all levels of the formation.  As written, the report reflects events temporal in nature during a single training event, the actions reflective of Soldiers who have operated in a COIN only environment over the past several years, and a training environment designed to challenge leaders at multiple levels.  It is only partly accurate in that it omits the review of the entirety of the DATE rotation containing only a small percentage of the total findings - findings which will reflect the tremendous learning which occurred when confronted with a difficult mission set."

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