Army to Shake Up Training, Rotational Deployments to Allow Time for Unit Bonding

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Infantrymen with the Army National Guard storm into action during an attack on the simulated village of Rajeesh, at the Army’s Fort Irwin National Training Center.
Infantrymen with the Army National Guard’s 3/278th Armored Cavalry Regiment based out of Lewisberg, Penn., storm into action during an attack on the simulated village of Rajeesh, at the Army’s Fort Irwin National Training Center. (Sarah Kirby/U.S. Army)

The secretary of the Army cited the murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen earlier this year as he outlined aggressive changes intended to improve unit dynamics and prioritize investment in troops.

Speaking at the virtual opening ceremony of the Association of the United States Army's annual conference Tuesday, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said the service plans to scale back time-intensive training demands and make some deployments less onerous.

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"We are removing gated training requirements and are reducing the demands of rotational deployments," McCarthy said. "We will focus our training on the basics of individual, squad, platoon and company-level training and key leader training while reducing the requirement to conduct brigade and battalion live-fire exercises."

McCarthy added that the Army is also looking to create ways to conduct brigade-level combat training center evolutions "that are a mix of in-the-box organic battalions, command-post exercises and heavy-light rotations."

In an interview with Army Times on Oct. 6, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville expanded on the service's plans with regard to deployments, saying he was eyeing a move to shorten noncombat tours to reduce strain on the force.

"We're working our way through that right now," McConville said in the interview. "Nine-, 10-month deployments, year-after-year, [put a] strain on families, so we're looking for opportunities to reduce those lengths."

All this, McCarthy said, would "buy back time" for units to invest in their soldiers and the families that support them.

"It will take an organizational approach as well as an internal shift to counter the rising negative trends," he said.

McCarthy did not offer additional details about training requirements to be eliminated, but rotational deployments typically entail a long list of trainings that must be completed prior to departure, regardless of when the requirement or certification would otherwise expire. These can lengthen the pre-deployment workup process.

In 2018, under then-Army Secretary Mark Esper, the service moved to slash mandatory online training requirements deemed overly burdensome that detracted from the primary mission. This newly announced initiative could further that end.

McCarthy called the shock of Guillen's murder following her disappearance from Fort Hood, Texas, a reckoning that motivated the Army to make its people the year's top priority.

In the wake of that tragedy, the base has undergone a leadership shake-up and multiple investigations have been launched. The new commander of Fort Hood, Maj. Gen. John Richardson, told Military.com in September that he'd ordered a weeklong training stand-down for all units and was embarking on a yearlong effort to rebuild soldier trust and unit cohesion.

"[Guillen's] loss has been felt in our formations and across the Nation at large," McCarthy said. "But through this sort of reckoning, we realized that some of the same barriers and threats still exist within our formation. We must be accountable, and we must act."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

Related: Fort Hood Commander Orders Training Pause to Rebuild Soldiers' Trust

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