Bringing Up Leaders

The Army retools officer training.

The Army has been criticized for not having a uniform system for bringing on new officers. It commissions officers from three sources: the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Officer Candidate Schools and Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs at 290 colleges nationwide. All three sources develop officers differently.

At West Point, cadets spend four years learning how to become officers, while OCS lasts about 14 weeks. ROTC courses vary widely, based on the institution. At Georgetown University in Washington, for instance, ROTC members practice urban operations in an abandoned warehouse. At other colleges, such space may not be available, so learning how to search a house becomes a classroom exercise.

Col. Steven Jones, director of leader development at the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, says pre-commissioning training courses are being rewritten so all programs have the same standards. The three will emphasize the Army's seven values (loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage) and how vital they are to being a successful officer. "You can't have teamwork and trust without common values," he says.

Upon commissioning, Army officers traditionally go to one of 16 branch schools for 15 to 23 weeks of officer training. An infantry officer would go to Fort Benning, Ga., for example, to receive extensive training in basic soldiering and leading dismounted operations, such as searches and raids. An Army transportation officer would go to Fort Eustis, Va., to learn to lead truck convoys. Jones says branch school courses differ drama-tically: Some emphasize leadership while others focus primarily on technical training.

The Army will scrap its current basic officer course beginning next year and will send all new officers to a six-week basic officers leadership course at one of four Army installations. It will teach them how to think like platoon leaders and provide training in basic skills they'll need as unit commanders. "This is a brand-new course; there is no parallel," says Jones, adding all officers completing the course will be certified as small-unit leaders.

The lieutenants will be placed in 40-student platoons with a mix of officers from different branches and commissioning sources. They will spend 80 percent of their time performing field exercises based on current Army operating conditions. The exercises will stress platoon leadership skills, such as advanced land navigation, operation of night-vision equipment, combat life-saving skills, handling of improvised explosive devices, ambush prevention and use of multiple weapons systems.

The course also stresses ethical decision-making and cultural training based on the experiences of troops serving in Iraq. Lieutenants will practice working with local leaders who might or might not be trustworthy and who could pop up unexpectedly during routine patrols or searches. Lieutenants also will confront reporters seeking answers to the kinds of questions they might face if something goes awry in a combat environment. "We stick microphones in their faces and ask them: 'How do you account for this atrocity?' " says Jones.

After the six-week course, small-unit leaders will attend their branch schools for six to 14 weeks, where they will receive more specialized training. Those courses will cover material now taught in the basic officer course, but will be five to six weeks shorter. They'll also teach officers how to work with troops from other branches during combat operations.

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