June 5, 2008 | Posted by Kip - 9:04am | 10 Comments
This is the third in a four part series on training advisors.
Six years into the Long War, efforts to train advisors remain mediocre. But they are improving. Fort Riley Training Mission commander Colonel Jeff Ingram deserves special plaudits for taking a thankless mission after having the combat forces gutted from his brigade and attempting to foster effective, survivable combat advisor teams.
As an advisor-in-training in October 2006, the training we received was the worst I had received in the Army to date. The training schedule seemed to be an hour ahead of our current location, and often an hour behind. The idea that operating in Afghanistan might be different than Iraq had perhaps crossed the trainers' minds, but the solutions was simply to train as though we would go to Iraq and finish by saying, "Well, this should help for Afghanistan as well." If I had ten dollars for every time an instructor said, "So, where are you guys headed in Iraq? Oh, you're going to Afghanistan. Well, its about the same thing," I could have foregone combat pay.
By the end of training, some enterprising students had begun publishing an underground weekly The Funston Insurgent
(Camp Funston is where advisor training takes place at Fort Riley).
The conditions today are significantly improved. Advisors begin their training with a week-long session on advising host nation security forces in a counterinsurgency. They engage in practical leader meetings to evaluate their ability to influence Iraqis and Afghans. They conduct realistic combat training to prepare them to act as teams. Much of the training is tailored to the specific theater of operations where they will deploy.
Key shortcomings remain. Unlike most other schools in the Army, there remains no way to fail advisor training (the subject of the final post in this series). And unlike just about any other military training, few of the instructors have ever been practitioners. With fewer than 5% of the current trainers having been advisors in the past, the training is the equivalent of running Airborne school with 95% of the instructors never having jumped out of a plane (aka dirty, nasty "legs")
That said, the efforts at Fort Riley represent major progress in the training of advisors even as significant problems remain with advisor selection and employment in the Long War. The Fort Riley Training Mission still requires tremendous work but all trends in its training are moving in the right direction. And what has the Army now decided to do? Move the mission to Fort Polk. At the same time, the Army has not committed any real resources toward the establishment of a training center at Polk.
Fort Polk, Louisiana is the post where the divorce lawyers begin as civilization ends. It has been difficult to get former advisors to commit to moving their families to Fort Riley, Kansas after serving a hardship tour. Quality contractors with expertise in Iraq and Afghanistan are equally difficult to hire to come to Fort Riley, Kansas, despite the presence of Kansas State University just a few miles away. It will become next to impossible in a Louisiana swamp.
Mediocre but steadily improving advisor training will atrophy back to terrible, and we will see the emergence of the next incarnation of The Funston Insurgent
, The Polk Guerrilla
The advisor needs of Afghanistan and Iraq are going to increase regardless of who wins the upcoming election. Derailing the Fort Riley train just as it has become operational is a stupid turning back of the clock, especially without any real plan to resource a training mission at Fort Polk and real thought as to the quality of folks that will be attracted to serving there.
Fort Riley was a terrible place to establish an advisor training center. But it is the best thing we have going now. With far fewer resources than are required to move the thing to Polk, the right answer is to improve on the training mission's current status as a trailer park in tornado land. Establishing the ability to conduct field training exercises in locations resembling the terrain of Afghanistan or Iraq as the Marines do with their transition teams out of Twenty-Nine Palms would also allow better training without uprooting the entire mission.
The advisor training mission has been conducted at any number of revolving locations from Fort Shelby to Carson to Riley. It has finally settled down, and it is time to see the return on the investment rather than cash out to buy junk bonds.
(For the first two posts in this series, click here