Here is part six, and the conclusion, of our multipart series on training for war by retired Army lieutenant colonel Tom Kratman, creator of the popular Carrera military science fiction series, with latest entry Come and Take Them. Does it seem as if the United States land armed forces have lately been training to be cadres of world policemen and social workers rather than soldiers prepared to win a war? Here Kratman distills lessons from years as a commanding officer in the U.S. Army, where he retired a lieutenant colonel. Kratman’s argument: an army is for winning wars. And to win wars, you have to train men (and some women) to be warriors.


Training for War, Part Six

by Tom Kratman

Collective Training

There are a number of different approaches one can take to collective training. If I had to characterize the American technique, I would say we use the building block approach, heavy on repetition. By “building block approach” I mean we train on, say, assembly area procedures as an independent item, as we may train on conduct of a vehicular movement along a road as an independent item, and as we may train on bounding overwatch or react to near ambush or assault as independent items. To a considerable extent, drill is the mortar that holds those building blocks together.

I am unconvinced that this is the best way to do it. The reader may take that as meaning, “I am fully convinced that this is not the best way to do it.” In the first place, review those filters I gave for drills. Again, most things we train on as drills ought not be done as drills. This makes for a very weak mortar, heavy on the sand. Secondly, this approach really doesn’t grab the troops’ attention, their hearts and minds. “Boo hoo…so we missed X in the assembly area? So what?” Thirdly, this approach, being mostly performance measure oriented, tends to lack quality control. “Yes, you did Z. How well did you do it and how do you know? Oh, someone checked he blocks for performance measures, did they?”

Instead, I offer the following as a better alternative to the building block approach.

A Mission Essential Task List (METL) for a Mechanized Infantry Company or Battalion

  1. Conduct Movement to Contact culminating in a Hasty Attack / Meeting Engagement
  2. Conduct Movement to Contact culminating in a Hasty Defense
  3. Conduct Airmobile Raid
  4. Conduct Deliberate Attack
  5. Attack on Urbanized Terrain
  6. Defend on Urbanized Terrain
  7. Defend Battle Position
  8. Delay in Sector (Company and Battalion) / conduct anti-armor ambush (Platoon and Squad)
  9. Conduct Recon Patrol (Squad and Platoon task, with implications for higher)
  10. Conduct Ambush Patrol (Squad and Platoon task, ditto)


  1. Every building block-like step in the ARTEP can be included in these mission essential tasks, and will be qualified and verified by whether the unit succeeds in meeting the standards (not performance measures) for the tasks. Assembly area procedures and troop leading procedures? They’re in every mission. Road marches? They’re in almost every mission. Reaction to X or Y or Z? That’s up to you to include in the conditions for whatever missions you see fit to include them in.
  2. The number ten is key, because of the way the troops – leaders, too, usually – think. “Ah, we can do everything but the airmobile raid so we’re about ninety percent combat capable, which is not bad.” The number ten is also sufficient to give just about every imaginable set of conditions and enough variance in missions to develop problem solving ability for problems involving the use of force to overcome force.
  3. Trick of the trade: it is usually very difficult to come up with enough opposing force to make a recon patrol a real challenge. Try this: As part of a competitive exercise, start the troops – we’ll assume nine squads – in a circle with about a kilometer or kilometer of so between each of them, a roughly ten kilometer circle, in other words. Hmmm…go ahead and draw that rough circle on a piece of paper and label the positions for squads 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 Imagine that 1 is at the top, or north. Now find the center of the circle. Now emplace a recon objective, maybe it’s the battalion mortar platoon, due south, about one third of the distance between the center and the circle. That is the objective for squads at points 1, 2, and 3. Now go around one hundred and twenty degree and emplace another recon objective, maybe a mess tent. That is the objective for squads beginning at points 4, 5, and 6. Do the same for 7, 8, and 9, with perhaps a headquarters tent with much radio traffic noise. Note that because of the way the thing is set up, squads starting at 1,2, and 3 must pass through – or fight through – six other squads, near the center of the circle, to get their information, and are very likely to run into two more close to the objective. Again, if part of a competitive exercise, this will make for a tough, tough, tough recon patrol. Randomize the starting positions for the squads.
  4. Helicopters are expensive to use, hence often hard to come by for training for a mech unit. A raid is a difficult mission, indeed one of the most difficult. To me it makes a certain sense to use this hard to get asset under the most difficult circumstances, to get the maximum feasible training benefit.
  5. Surprise is a hard thing to simulate in peacetime training. Yet taking advantage of surprise, and working to achieve it, is very important in war. Still, time counts. Like those ambushes Hamilton’s squad had to walk through, if he hadn’t known they were there he’d never have been certain to walk through them, which would have made the exercise a waste of time for the ambushing units. In that kind of case, it’s sufficient to tell the troops walking into the ambush, “Pretend you don’t know they’re there until they either open fire or you actually hear something suspicious.” For things, though, missions like raids, where surprise is key and the defending force, if ready, can basically stomp the raiding party in a way they couldn’t in war, you have to go a step further. One approach that can work is to put the defending troops in their sleeping bags, dressed and with boots but with their equipment off. When they think they hear something they can alert and move to their defensive positions as soon as they have their equipment on and in hand. If they alert falsely, they go back to their sleeping bags, with their boots off. That means that when they alert, they’ve got to get their boots on before moving. If they alert falsely again, off come the uniforms. This also serves to train the raiding force to move fast once the enemy knows they’re there.
  6. The other principles of war: Mass, Objective, Security, Maneuver, Offensive, Unity of Command, Simplicity, and Economy of Force, also should be drivers of your training. While you’re at it, add in my modifications: Attrition, Annihilation, and Shape.
  7. Any of those missions can, with imagination and even a modest degree of moral courage, be trained as live fire exercises.
  8. The US Army tends to emphasize maximum fill of supply at all times. This made a certain sense in front line spots like West Germany and Korea, where moving to one’s battle positions on short notice was more important than training for tough times. In the states, however, or Germany now (not Korea), though, keeping the fuel tanks constantly full is conditioning for the easiest circumstances, logistic plenty. It would be better, as conditions for the tasks in the above METL, to drain the tanks and restrict the amount of fuel the S-4 (supply officer and section/ supply and transport platoon fuel section) has to give out to no more than the minimum needed for the next mission. That, rather than conditioning the troops to fill tanks, conditions them to conserve, and to plan, and not to waste.
  9. History is also a grand driver for setting up exercises. Read Infantry in Battle, What Now Lt? (the 9th Division one, not the Robert Babcock book…if you can find a copy. I have one; so does the War College. That may be it), or Make Every Shot Count (though I have some issues with that). The Center for Military History is replete with free publications that are useful reading for a soldier, and also useful for setting up problems.
  10. There is a temptation, almost insuperable, given the expense of first class training, to squeeze every little plus and minus out in the after action review, or AAR. DO NOT BOTHER. The troops will learn what they learn from what they experience in an exercise. They will listen to about three each plusses and minuses, after which it all is either tuned out or lost in the noise. Keep your AARs short and sweet, tell them whether they met the stands and if not, why not, and limit yourself to three of each, up and down.
  11. There is a strong prejudice against last minute changes to the training schedule. Most of that prejudice is residual, from the days that the post-Vietnam era ruin of an Army simply could not plan and keep to a training schedule. That is still something to be wary of, and changes ought never be permitted due to – people ought to be fired over – simple laziness and inability to plan and supervise. That said, there is one excellent reason to change the training schedule even at the very last minute and, rather than being blameworthy, it is highly praiseworthy. Try this: every day, contact Range Control to see who has cancelled X range for the following day (or even, if you are very good, and your command is, that very day). Why? Because the odds are very good indeed that it isn’t just a range or training area that’s not going to be used, but ammunition, too. And, as the unit that has cancelled is not going to want to lose their ammunition allocation for next year; they will probably be willing to just give it to you. You might be surprised how often you can do a night ambush, or a movement to contact live fire, with ammunition someone else ordered but cannot use.
  12. I’ve recently become aware that the Army, which used to have a great many useful subcaliber devices and simulators to simulate major rounds of ammunition at a fraction of the cost, now has few or none. Puff Boards? The last one was turned in from Fort Benning about six years ago. Where once there were pneumatic firing devices for mortars, which cost nearly nothing to use, now there are collections of unserviceable parts and questions: “Hey, anyone know what this was for?” There used to be 14.5 mm for artillery and 22mm inserts for dummy sabot rounds for mortars, now those are gone. Gentlemen, ladies: Austere times are coming; indeed, they’re already here. Get those sub cal devices back in operation. Order new ones. That said, sub cals can be made a lot better by following this procedure: ind an open sandy area for the subcal impact area. Build a bunker at one edge of it. Make sure the bunker cannot see anything full size. Reduce the viewport as necessary so it can’t. Dig a trench to the bunker, that turns into a crawl tunnel near the end. The objective is to get the troop to lose track of full scale, so that when he looks through the firing / vision port of the bunker it all looks normal. Treat the open area as a big sand table. Put in hills, dunes, streams, lakes, buildings, roads. Make a map, with grid system. Add toy tanks and troops. Even if you don’t have sub caliber ammunition to use, get your best pitcher, with grenade simulators, to toss them at the grid the FO sends. Have an FDC verify the data for different types of calls for fire.
  13. Training is a matter of life and death. There is no such thing as “good enough.” There is only, “as good as we can be given the time and resources.” And if you are good enough in a task, meeting the standards? Toughen the conditions. And if you are good enough and the conditions are tough? Move on to the next task.

Collective Live Fire Training

By live fire I do not mean knocking down targets on an administrative qualification range somewhere. Something is not a live fire merely because of the use of live ammunition. By live fire I mean the execution of those METL tasks, above, or other, similar tasks, with targets substituting for a live enemy (though they ought to act fairly alive) and the unit doing all those things it would do in war against a live enemy.

Live firing is, potentially, the most valuable training we can give people. There we can train skills: Shooting, moving, communicating, planning, giving orders, supervising. We can condition people against fear to some extent because, properly done, there's a heightened element of risk. We can develop their problem solving ability in problems involving the use of force to overcome force. We can test our equipment and doctrine under conditions most closely approaching war. And we can select for leadership and elimination from service, in part because of the heightened risk.

Sadly, live firing in the Army or Marines can be, and typically is, the worst, the most counterproductive, training on offer.

Why? Well how about that walk-crawl-run thing? You know, the one where leaders, rather than developing their own order, are issued their order. You know, the one where the troops go through a flat open range, with maybe a few piles of logs and low berms, about seven times going, “bang…bang…bang.” You know, the one where they then do it three more times with blanks. After which, maybe, that is to say if the man responsible for the range is totally convinced that all training benefit has been eliminated, that every possible value has been sucked from it, they do it with live ammunition.

We call it, “Walk-Crawl-Run,” but, in fact, from start to finish, the troops never are running. At that last rendition they’re still crawling; they’re just doing it on a moving sidewalk.

And what have we done, by this? We’ve conditioned the troops, utterly convinced them, that they and their leaders just aren't competent to fight.

There is a place for this: ONCE. The very first time. Ever. Or if a unit has had nearly one hundred percent turnover since the last one, which really ought never be allowed to happen. But after that, having shown how to do it, to keep on with the travesty has nothing but bad effects.

For that matter on site rehearsals generally suck most of the value from training. We justify this because the enemy, being gentlemen, always let us rehearse on his ground. Or something. Or how about giving the leader or commander the plan, rather than letting him develop his own from higher's plan…because he's just not competent...and never will be, since you won't let him even try.

My advice then is do it like war, or don't do it at all.

Doing it like war also means not establishing a second chain of command, called “safeties.” Why not? Because they are responsible. Being responsible they will take charge. They will give orders. There is little more dangerous than a troop on a live fire exercise getting orders from both his immediate leader and this other person who has taken charge of him. It confuses him. Confused troops do dumb things.

Get that? Having safeties, establishing a separate safety chain of command, is inherently unsafe.

So how do we do it?

First, do not establish that second chain of command. Do, however, task your evaluators to watch out for danger. Tell them that the only command they are permitted to give to the troops going through the exercise is a complete halt for everyone. “Stop! Cease Fire! Lock and clear!” Period.


If everything were to be discountenanced in
peace by which an accident might possibly occur,
soldiers would be greatly sinned against, since they
would be enfeebled and rendered inept for war, the
chances of losses being doubled at the same time.
—Field Marshal Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz,
The Nation in Arms

Axiom Thirteen: Safety is a combat multiplier; all the best safety publications, regulations, and bureaucrats say so. The problem is that it’s often – in practice it’s usually – a multiplier with a value of less than one.

A little less than half of our day is spent at night, or in other forms of limited visibility. Night has been the aide of the outmatched for millennia. Failure to be prepared to fight at night destroyed the Athenian expedition against Syracuse. And even if the more powerful party, as long as your enemy may resort to operating at night, you must be able to meet him.

Despite this, in a repetitive show of absolutely cutting edge, world class moral cowardice and unfitness for office, some years ago a succession of commanders taking their units through the National Training Center, at Fort Irwin, decided against doing a night attack, because of the risk assessment. This lasted for about two years to my knowledge; it may have gone on longer.

Just think about the short-sightedness, careerist selfishness, poor judgment, and moral cowardice implicit in that. Then ask yourself just what the hell we select for in promoting senior officers.

Vignette Fourteen: Don't forget about luck, good and bad

The CG who made the old 193rd Infantry Brigade, in Panama, unusually nuts – it had, though, always been a little strange – was named Leuer. Leuer’s contribution to safety was to require all the officers to put red dots on their watch faces: “Time Out For Safety.” If he was serious about it, none of us believed it. It was the kind of place where, if someone was shot on a live fire range, you didn’t stop training but just called in a “Dustoff” and kept going. Yes, really.

Most lieutenants simply stopped wearing a watch, in rebellion at what they saw as hypocrisy. They had no problem with the risks, mind you, only with the pretense that anyone cared about the risk.

After Leuer left he was replaced by Woerner. Woerner didn't really seem to fully understand what the 193rd was when he took over, so we got progressively nuttier and nuttier, which is to say progressively more disdainful of anything that so much as smacked of safety, without his understanding or realization of what was going on more or less behind his back.

So, one week, one of the platoon leaders in the company Hamilton was XO for ordered a metric buttload of demolitions, the study of which said platoon leader had taken as an elective, so it was said, at West Point. He trained the company on the classroom part, with heavy emphasis on Factor P, for Plenty. Then the company went to a place not all that far from Range 12, which was an abandoned major ammunition supply point. The commander sent Hamilton along to keep the platoon leader from doing anything too outrageous.

The only helmet on the range was Hamilton’s, under the theory that the most probable cause for a fatality (this was perhaps optimistic) would be a hangfire of sorts that went off while someone was checking out why the explosive failed to go boom, after the regulatory wait. Since Hamilton was the senior officer present, that was going to be him. Worst come to worst, he didn't want anyone to have to fill out any paperwork having to explain why his disembodied head wasn't in a helmet. The one vehicle was his M151 jeep, or given local pronunciation, “heap.”

After blowing up some small shit, the next event was to try to send a rather large tree into orbit. They started by using a shaped charge to blow a hole into the Earth underneath the tree. Then they start packing. In went one hundred and sixty-eight sticks of military dynamite. That was followed up with a couple of forty pounder cratering charges. Okay, maybe it was four or five. In went some TNT. Okay, it was a lot of TNT. Then they added a leetle touch of C4, for ambience. And they were ready to go.

Hamilton looked at his jeep. He looked at the base of the tree. This is a big tree, an easy twelve feet across, maybe even fifteen. It’s a big-assed tree, in any case. Hamilton looks up and up. Tall tree. Really tall. He told the platoon leader, "Hold up a minute," then – anticipating a nasty survey should the jeep be damaged – he told his driver to drive about four hundred meters away and listen for screams.

Then he told the platoon leader, “Okay, go ahead.”

Remember, his was the only helmet for miles.

With a beatific smile, the platoon leader squeezes the blasting machine and touches off the tree, which starts to rise. And rise. And rise. Actually, it looks like a leafy Saturn V heading for space. It’s really beautiful and, fortunately, when it stops rising and starts to fall it falls in the other direction.

Unfortunately, tons and tons of dirt and, oh, yes, rock come down. Miraculously, nobody gets hit or, at least, not seriously hit. There are, go figure, a few bruises here and there. Of injuries, though, that’s it. But about a quarter ton boulder lands not all that far from Hamilton, exactly where his jeep had been parked. No, not a few feet either way. Had he not had it moved, his driver would have been squashed like a bug.

Now, one can take several lessons from that. One is that it was incredibly stupid, from start to finish. It was. The second is that luck plays a tremendous role in human affairs. It does. And the third lesson was that Hamilton was never again, not even once, to be cavalier with any demo above the one pound level. Never.

Vignette Fifteen: Don't forget about luck, bad and good

It was SOP in Hamilton’s unit, the one he served as an Exec for, that Claymore mines, safety regs be damned, could be set off perfect well a meter or so in front of the firer, provided that sandbags – two or three or sometimes four of them, for the timid – were placed behind them to absorb the blast and the plastic fragments.

So the company is giving a demonstration of daisy chaining Claymores, linking them with det cord to set them all off, simultaneously with a single detonator, or “clacker.” There are targets set up along a berm a hundred meters or so from the bleachers whence the troops watch. There are also sandbags behind the claymores, which are perhaps fifty meters from the berm.

Along comes another officer, formerly of the same battalion but now, sadly, contaminated by Fort Sherman’s unrighteous ways.

“No, no, no. There’ll be none of that daisy chaining here,” insists he. “Move those Claymores to the other side of the berm.

Well, after some fruitless argument – fruitless because this defector of an officer owned the range – Hamilton gave in…with indefinable misgivings. So the whole bloody assembly was disassembled and the Claymores and sandbags were moved to the other side of the berm\, with the targets being moved further downrange still. Then they were set off.

Now you have to picture this; for the first time in memory this company is actually doing something like following the rules. And, because they did, when the backblast, which is only limited, not eliminated, by the sandbags, picks up a stout rock, which it drives back against the earthen berm, turning said berm into a launch rail.

Up, up and away, goes the rock. Down, down, down, comes the rock. Right onto the knee of a medic, sitting the bleachers, watching the demonstration. Smash! Ouch! “Medic!”

So much for following the rules.

Vignette Sixteen: You want me to do what?

“I want a rolling barrage preceding the troops up the final objective.”

“Whew,” said Lieutenant Hamilton, “that’s a pretty tall order, boss.”

“Yeah, well, figure it out.”

“Yes, sir.” Crap! How do I do this?

In the event, what Hamilton did was think about the attributes of the systems available – 105mm M102 howitzers, 107mm heavy rifled mortars, and 81mm smoothbore mortars – to do what his battalion commander wanted, to walk a rolling barrage in front of the assault line.

Right off he tossed out the 81mm mortars. They were just not accurate enough. Being finned they were subject to derangement by winds. And quality control at the factory was probably not everything one might have wanted.

The 107mm rifled mortars were better. Within their range, on a windless day, they were about as accurate as a 105, though their trajectory was usually high enough that winds, if present, could move them around a little.

And then there were the 105s.

For the latter there were four attributes of importance, though it took some thought to identify them. The guns had lesser deviation error than range error. They could fire shells on delay fuse. They could be pre-fired, which is to say, pre-registered. They could use meteorological data to correct for any changes after they were registered. Most of this was also true of the 107mm mortars.

Right off, Hamilton made several decisions. One was that the mortars and the 105mm howitzers would set up to fire at right angles to the anticipated assault line, so that any deviation would move the guns right or left, as the troops faced, but not long or short, into their ranks. Moreover, the mortars would only fire on the final objective. The third requirement was that every round to be fired would be pre-registered. Fourth was that all guns would fire with delay fuse, which was tactically sound, even more visually impressive to the troops, and much, much safer.

In the event, it worked well. At a certain point in the exercise, the infantry company commanders going through the live fire would receive authority to fire the rolling barrage. They’d call for it and the guns would go through their dance, dropping rounds seventy-five to about one hundred and fifty meters ahead of the line. The delayed explosions lofted great quantities of dirt and rock skyward. The troops were impressed and the artillerymen had to be sent to the hospital to have their erections surgically reduced. Okay, I’m lying about the last part. But not by much.

Vignette Seventeen: Opportunity knocks but once

“Hey, sir, what do you want me to do with this?”

“This” was a dud 4.2 inch mortar round, held in the sergeant’s hands, that he’d carried from the half completed fighting position where it been uncovered, fortunately without going off. Hamilton nearly wets himself. You don’t, you just don’t, mess with duds.

Thinking, Oh, fuck, Hamilton turns the sergeant around and begins to guide him closer to the impact area to the north. It’s not far.

Says he, “Let's just put it on the other side of the lip of the OP line, shall we?" He then walks the sergeant, arm around the sergeant’s shoulder, to where he wants the round put down…gently.

Gay? Not at all. Hamilton just needed to make sure that a) the sergeant didn’t fall and b) that if the round went off – 4.2 inch was a little deadlier than a 105mm shell – he would not survive the experience. In any event, they did get it placed back on the ground ten or twelve feet down from the lip.

Then, thinks Hamilton, Aha, training opportunity. He tells the sergeant, “Go take apart one of those claymores and prime this thing for demolition.” Then he has the unit – actually two companies, training together – line up south of the lip, such that there was probably thirty or forty meters of dirt between them and the round. Nothing with any velocity can go to them directly, and anything that goes up, with come down with only terminal velocity, if that.

"Okay boys; heads down! This is what incoming feels like!" KAABOOOOMMM!

Appendix 1

Things we are not, never have been, and hopefully never will be serious about:

  1. We have to be ready to go to war tomorrow!

  2. Oh, really? Let me tell you what life would be like for an army totally dedicated to going to war tomorrow. Every CO would call the troops in, every day, at somewhere between midnight and 0230. They would then load all the vehicles, check shot records, run the boys (oh, and girls, too, of course) through JAG, etc. Ammunition would be taken from the bunkers, broken down and distributed (and then the clever and thoughtful commander would start the paperwork for the survey for the ammunition damaged).

    Then, while waiting for flights to be arranged and ships and flat cars to show up, they’d send everyone home for one last chance at a little woopie with Mama (or Papa, I suppose). There would be no training to get better for going to war, someday, because, by God, the number one thing to do is to be ready to GO – that is the operative word, “Go,” not win, but “Go” – to war tomorrow.

    Of course, we don’t do that. Nobody does. Nobody ever has. Nobody ever should. Everyone knows it’s silly and so pays it little more than lip service. Instead the “going” part is just one more mission, and often shunted to a low priority to allow time to train to win the fight once we get there.

    Besides, jumping through our butts and improvising are among our greatest strengths.

  3. It is completely impermissible and doubleplusungood ever to get a soldier injured or killed in training.

  4. Again, oh really? Let me tell you what an Army would look like that never got a soldier killed or hurt in training. It would stay in the barracks. All training would be done on simulators…heavily cushioned simulators. The troops would never be allowed to take their weapons from the arms room. Foot marches and other physical training would be strictly forbidden, lest somebody have a heart attack. Parachute jumps for parachute units? “No, nay, never!”

    Instead, we know everything we do carries risk and we accept that, even as senior cowards and frauds dishonestly pander to “enlightened” sentiment and say, “It is completely impermissible…”

    We can’t say how many senior non-coms are going to have heart attacks on foot marches under heavy loads, but we know someone will. We can’t predict when a tank will catch fire, the fire suppression system fail, and a driver, trapped inside, will burn alive. But it has happened before and probably will again. We can’t say when the jump masters will screw up, put two people out opposite doors at the same time, and have those two jumpers smash into each other, before falling to their deaths. But that, too, has happened and, given an infinity of time and sufficient jumps, it will happen again. Or something just as bad will. Or an unpredictable wind will spring up and drag several troops to their deaths. Or dump them in trees, where one will hang and another be impaled. We can’t say when a track will drive off a bridge into the water, drowning the crew. But, boys and girls, it’s going to happen.

    I would further suggest that anyone who mouths the platitude opening this section, or any variant thereto, has thereby demonstrated dishonesty and morale cowardice sufficient to select them out of the armed forces. At the very least it should be a bar to promotion or selection for command.

  5. Every Marine a rifleman.

  6. A rifleman as someone who can shoot with a reasonable expectation of hitting a target, within the rifle’s effective range, where no one’s shooting back? Sure, this much of a rifleman the Marines can produce. So could the Army – so could the Andorran Army, if they had an army – if it chose to. But a rifleman actually morally and emotionally integrated into a unit capable of closing with and destroying the enemy, or repelling his assault by fire, close combat, and counterattack? One doubts. In fact, one rolls on the floor laughing. Oh, sure, there’s always the individual exception. Counting on individual exceptions is right up there with confusing hope and a plan.

    This doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile to try to keep a combat mentality among one’s service support types. It is definitely worthwhile. What it means is, as the Sphinx told the Aussie, “Don’t expect too much.”

Appendix 2: Build your own targets

Training doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, stop in the theater of war. Rest is needed, of course, or the troops begin to morally and mentally disintegrate, but the biggest and most important rest troops pulled out of the line get is relief from danger and the stress danger brings. It is in those rests that new troops are best integrated, and best integrated by hard training with the old troops.

I’m not a huge fan of electronic targets. They have their place, but they also have certain disadvantages, expense, the need to be dug in from direct fire, unreliability, ease of hitting , and – because they’re so easy to hit, unrealistic zombie-like behavior. They just won’t stay down. They’re also going to be about last priority for shipment to the theater of war.

Remote control electronic targets are also not necessary to conduct live fire training. And, since we do in war what we practice in peace, it is rather important that the troops learn how to build and use their own in peacetime, so they can do it from available materials in war.

For the following you are, or anyone tasked to pull targets is, anywhere from twenty or thirty to thirteen hundred and thirty feet (one four hundred meter roll of commo wire) from the target. The troops about to attack the objective which includes the targets are all around you. The box - which is, say, about 18"L by 30"W x 6"D is, at rest, closed. (The size isn’t key, experiment a little.) The hinges are towards you, as is the base of the target. The head of the target is away from you.

  1. The basic live fire target begins with an e-type silhouette, or any other roughly man-shaped, lightweight but sturdy target. Cut a round hole inside the target, center of mass, four to six inches in diameter. Make sure the sides of the hole are fairly smooth.
  2. Take a wooden ammunition box with a hinged cover. Almost any box will do, though I’ve always preferred mortar ammunition boxes. Nail the silhouette to the box cover, with the bottom of the target nearest the hinges. You may need to put strips of wood over the target before driving the nails, to distribute the stress on the target.
  3. Put a nail in the box’s lid, on the edge away from the hinges, and another in the base of the box, also away from the hinges. Connect with cord to keep the target from being pulled all the way forward, to where it won’t fall back again.
  4. Drive a nail into the lid of the box, between the hinges. The nail is just in the lid, but not interfering with anything else. It provides a point of attachment for the stick, below, such that when you pull on the commo wire, the stick stands up, which then provides that roughly forty-five degree angle to lift the sandbag, hence lift the target, without overstressing the balloon.
  5. Take a fifteen to eighteen inch stick and drill a hole in one end, from side to side. Run string through the hole, and affix to the nail in 3, above. This stick is for leverage. Why? The problem with this kind of target is that, at rest, it's parallel to and quite close to the ground, as is the commo wire. You can tug on the commo wire forever, but all you will do is overstress and break the balloon or glove, or tear the wire from the sandbag, leaving the target flat and useless. What you've got to do it elevate the commo wire in some way, so that it is tugging the sandbag/balloon at about a 45 degree angle, give or take. But you've got to do that in some way that doesn't give away the position of the target. Hence the stick which, at rest, lays flat, but when tugged on, stands up.
  6. Take a sandbag and place in in the hole in the target, open side down.
  7. Stuff a filled balloon or a blown up and tied off surgical latex glove, into the sandbag.
  8. Site the target where you want it, and fill the box at least partway with dirt, to prevent the target being pulled completely over. Run commo wire from the sandbag to the stick, affixing it to the stick, then on as far as needed toward the beginning point of the live fire.
  9. When you pull the commo wire, the stick will rise, giving leverage to allow the target to be pulled up. It can be pulled up and dropped as much as desired, until a friendly troop manages to put a bullet through the balloon or glove, allowing it to collapse and the commo wire to pull the sandbag through the hole. After that, the target will go down and stay down.
  10. It is possible to make the target “shoot,” once at least, by using a practice grenade fuse, with the spoon held down by a loop of wire, it being pulled out of the wire, or vice versa, when the target is raised. Christmas tree lights and batteries can be used at night. A small chemlight hidden by a fold of MRE packet, taped to the front of the target, works too. I am sure there are other methods, as well; use your imagination. Using your imagination is about half the point of this paper.

Note, here, that marksmanship in combat – the probability of a hit – drops to a fairly tiny percentage of the probability on an administrative range. The smallness of the part of the target that must be hit for a kill compensates for that reduction.

There are a number of possible variants to this target system. Instead of a hole being cut, a C of coat hanger wire can be affixed to the target with the balloon-filled sandbag jammed in that C, hanging from a cable or pole. Trenches and fighting positions can be dug and targets with the wire variant can be carried, raised, and lowered by live soldiers under that cover. They can be hung and put on trip wires to swing down in trenched and tires houses. The targets can be connected as a series and hung from an overhead cable to be pulled through the kill zone in an ambush.

It is possible to do with these something that is ordinarily very difficult, a live fire company defense with a reasonable number of the enemy. That said, it takes a lot of work, a lot of ammunition boxes, and a lot of commo wire and rope.

Do not skip the sandbag and go directly from balloon or glove to wire. Even if the balloon can take the stress, it usually won’t. Plus, the heat of the sun will tend to expand the balloons to bursting.

Appendix 3: Chrome

Chrome, a word I’ve borrowed for these purposes from the wargaming community, are things that add realism and spice to an exercise, but are not, strictly speaking, necessary for it. A certain amount of it is worth putting into the preparation for training, as long as it doesn’t become a distractor of limitation on training. It has no useful purpose of its own, but only in the service of other training. It validates that training in the hearts and minds of the soldiers, by making it seem most real, hence making them feel most prepared.

When General Collins wrote, in his Common Sense Training, about excess emphasis on realism as sensory (my phrasing of it, not his) – sight, sound, smell – I am almost positive he was criticizing REALISTIC COMBAT TRAINING and how to conduct it, by a lieutenant colonel named Robert Rigg. Rigg’s book, published in 1955, is replete with ways to put that sensory experience into training. Some of those ways are fantastically clever. Others – borrowing corpses from a morgue or medical school to accustom the troops to the sight of dead bodies – strikes me, frankly, as bizarre. Worse, I’m not sure what it does to the troop to see the dead mishandled, treated disrespectfully, and used as mere props. I doubt it does anything good, given that the troop knows he may himself be among the dead someday in the not too distant future.

That treatment of the dead isn’t the only objection one might have for Rigg’s book. It is so resource intensive that not more than a fraction of what he suggests could be done by a unit below division level. If done at division it would probably suck away every bit of chrome potential for any lower unit. And if restricted to division-run, then the training for the troops would come very infrequently indeed. I suppose this may have made sense in the army of the 50s, an organization mostly lost and looking for a mission amidst a nuclear doctrinal wasteland, and to some extent unserious. I think Rigg’s purpose was mostly conditioning the troops against simply freaking out at the sights and sounds of the battlefield. If that were that much of a threat, it would be more valid.

By the way, if you don’t think Rigg is still having his effects, ask yourself if the training experience at the National Training Centers would really be appreciably less if the OPFOR vehicles were not rigged with those expensive and somewhat fragile VISMODs to look like Russian / Soviet equipment?

Again, though, chrome, if not taken to ridiculous extremes, can have value.

Some suggestions – a not very exhaustive list; rather, a very inexhaustive list – for chrome for particular METL and other tasks:

  1. Deliberate Attack: If it includes a preparatory bombardment, have craters blown or dug around the objective. They would be there in war. They add confusion and difficulty to movement, but they also provide covered and concealed positions for the troops to rush to and from.
  2. For a night live fire ambush, clothe the targets and hang boots from them. Put items of intelligence value – maps, diaries, and letters to and from home – in their pockets and boots. There is a recipe for making fake blood with food coloring and powdered chalk. Put some of that in the pockets, as well.
  3. For any offense or defense, if there are old armored vehicles in the training area or range, put a mix of waste oil, diesel, gasoline, cut up old tires, and maybe some condemned meat in a half barrel inside and set them off. Doesn’t cost much. Doesn’t take much effort. And the smoke and smell do add a certain something.
  4. Do not issue ammunition in the assembly area. Deliberately withhold it until the troops are marching to the Line of Departure, then pass it to them from the back of a vehicle as they pass. (This one I’ve shamelessly ripped off from General Collins. No, as a matter of fact I don’t feel a bit guilty.)
  5. For MOUT, Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain – city fighting, basically – go through the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, DRMO, formerly Property Disposal Office, PDO, for scrap furniture, clothing, anything else that might be found and fix up the houses. That’s not just for visual impact, old clothing can hide booby traps. Furniture can conceal mouseholes and, broken apart, provide material to fortify.

The most thorough incidents of chrome in training I know of occurred during a counter-guerrilla ARTEP in Panama in 1978, for 4th Battalion, 10th Infantry. For it, two A teams from 3rd Battalion, Seventh Special Forces, were detailed to provide “special effects.”

For one event, a hill was notionally bombarded by about thirteen mortars and eight 105mm guns, plus some A-7s from the Air Force’s wing down there, for three or four hours. While the notional bombardment was going on the special effects special forces went to work. They first used a fair quantity of demolitions to blow down trees and crater the earth. They took several troops and moulaged them up nicely. Not content with the standard moulage kits, from eyes hanging by threads to guts extruded from bellies, the SF folks put wads of cottage cheese on heads to simulate brains. They also had six gallons of condemned whole blood which was liberally poured over the cottage cheese and moulage sections and pieces. They’d set traps and caught some animals, which they killed and then burned the bodies of to give the air that nasty stench of overdone meat and carbonized hair. Fires were set. The “wounded” troops were further put through a short course in acting, so that their screams and moans would be about as close to real as possible.

I remember that the first man off the helicopter, when a platoon was sent in to do a bomb damage assessment, took one look, one sniff, one earful of heartrending shrieking, then promptly bent over and threw up.

For another event for the same ARTEP, the special effects teams wired several kilometers of jungle with demolitions overhead, in the trees. These they set off as one company, “Mad Dog” A-4/10, if I recall correctly, moved through the jungle, at night, supported by their own mortars firing illumination (risky, and a pain in the ass, frankly, but a nice touch when you can get away with it). The demo would be set off overhead when the company was below it, as if it were enemy artillery or mortars.

Some years later I was reminiscing with a senior NCO who had been in that company, at that time, doing that night movement to contact. He said, “I had two tours in Vietnam, both as a grunt. But I never felt as much like I was in a war, really in a war, as I did that night movement on the counter-guerrilla ARTEP with A-4/10.”

Copyright © 2014 by Tom Kratman

This concludes the series "Training for War” by Tom Kratman with part six of six. You can purchase the entire six-part series as a Baen Ebook here.

Tom Kratman is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and the author of many science fiction and military adventure novels including Carrera series entry
Come and Take Them and upcoming The Rods and the Axe.