!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Outdoor Training that is Genuinely Relevant

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Outdoor Training that is Genuinely Relevant

I'm sure I'm not alone in being skeptical that the outdoor "ropes" courses some companies spend considerable training dollars on actually deliver work-related results that couldn't be achieved more cost effectively with alternate team training methods.

I do make an exception for the military. The November 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute has an article by freelance writer Ed Darack that makes a compelling case for enhancements to the outdoor training Marines go through prior to deployment to Afghanistan.

The concern highlighted in the article is that the live-fire portion of the current training is almost exclusively geared to operations in Iraq, whose desert terrain is very different from the mountains which cover much of Afghanistan. At the moment, Marines get most of their live-fire training at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) at Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert of California.

A convoy gets ready to transport snipers to a training exercise at Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert.
(Lance Cpl. Sean P. Cummins, USMC)

To learn about operating in mountain terrain, Afghanistan-bound Marines go to the Mountain Warfare Training Center in the California's Sierra Nevada, an area "with elevations ranging from 6,000 feet up to more than 11,000 ... very similar to the terrain of Afghanistan's Kunar Province."

A Marine practices rappeling down a mountain.
(Cpl. Ryan D. Libbert, USMC)

Darack describes the Mountain Warfare Training Center experience:
... Bridgeport (as the base has come to be known) presents deploying Marines with the experiences of gasping for breath at high altitude, the cold of night and the biting chill of pre-dawn, and of course the knee-pounding and ankle-twisting movement across miles of steep terrain-just like Twentynine Palms immerses troops in the realities of desert living. But while the [Twentynine Palms] combat center provides a full-fledged MAGTF [Marine Air Ground Task Force] experience, Bridgeport has only a few ranges for sniper training, with no ability to host live-fire mortar, close-air support, and artillery training.
As Colonel Norman Cooling, the commander of the Mountain Warfare Training Center explains, "The terrain dramatically changes the tactics, techniques, and procedures associated wih the accomplishment of every military task." For example,
In the desert, the gun line and target are usually at or near the same elevation, where in the mountains the difference could be 5,000 feet or more. This requires a complex ballistic solution that demands training. "It isn't something that you should face for the first time when lives are on the line in country." [comment by Captain Roe Lemons, an artillery officer with experience in Afghanistan]
Training in communications is also a major issue. As Captain Zach Rashman, a pilot with experience in eastern Afghanistan, explains:
... you need to maintain comms at all times, and in the mountains, where you're rarely in line of sight of whom you want to talk to, you really have to know how to use non-line-of-sight frequencies and channels, like SATCOM. To be able to work out techniques before setting foot in a theater of operation — talking to air, infantry, commanders in the rear, in a live-fire training setting — would give troops a tremendous advantage.
So now the Marines are looking to create a full-fledged MAGTF training ground at the Mountain Warfare Training Center. The Proceedings article is a brief for undertaking this clearly "relevant to the job" project. We'll see what happens.