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Comments by YACCS
Thursday, February 16, 2006

KIndler and gentler basic training

I guess the kinder gentler method hasn't
reached the Marines yet.

This is from the subscription only Wall Street Journal

Marching Orders
To Keep Recruits, Boot Camp Gets A Gentle Revamp
Army Offers More Support,
Sleep, Second Helpings;
Drill Sergeants' Worries'It Would Look So Much Nicer'
February 15, 2006; Page A1

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- New recruits used to be welcomed to boot camp here with the "shark attack." For decades, drill sergeants in wide-brim hats would swarm around the fresh-off-the-bus privates, shouting orders. Some rattled recruits would make mistakes. A few would cry.

Today, the Army is opting for a quieter approach. "I told my drill sergeants to stop the nonsense," says Col. Edward Daly, whose basic-training brigade graduates about 11,000 soldiers a year. Last fall, Col. Daly began meeting with all new recruits shortly after they arrive at boot camp to thank them. "We sincerely appreciate the fact that you swore an oath and got on a bus and did it in a time of war," he recently told an incoming class. "That's a big, big deal." He usually is accompanied by two male and two female soldiers, who can answer questions the recruits may have.

"The idea is to get rid of the anxiety and worry," Col. Daly says.

The new welcome is a window on the big changes sweeping boot camp, the Army's nine-week basic training. For most of its existence, boot camp was a place where drill sergeants would weed out the weak and turn psychologically soft civilians into hardened soldiers. But the Army, fighting through one of its biggest recruiting droughts, now is shifting tactics. Boot camp -- that iconic American experience -- may never be the same.

Once-feared drill sergeants have been ordered to yell less and mentor more. "Before, our drill sergeants' attitude was 'you better meet my standard or else.' Now it's 'I am going to do all I can to assist you in meeting the Army standard,' " says Command Sgt. Maj. William McDaniel, the senior enlisted soldier here.

New privates are getting more sleep and personal time. Even the way soldiers eat has changed. Drill sergeants long ordered overweight soldiers to stay away from soda and desserts. Today, soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood fill out a survey about their boot-camp experience that asks, among other questions, if they liked the food, whether they were "allowed to eat everything on the menu, including dessert," and whether there was enough for seconds.

Some drill sergeants worry that the "kinder and gentler approach" -- as drill sergeants have dubbed the changes -- is producing softer soldiers. "If the privates can't handle the stress of a drill sergeant yelling at them, how will they handle the stress of bullets flying over their head?" asked Staff Sgt. Clayton Nagel as he watched his recruits file past him in the Fort Leonard Wood dining hall. "War is stressful. I think we overcorrected."

The Army's decision to overhaul basic training came last spring. The service was having a hard time bringing in new recruits. It ultimately missed its 2005 recruiting goals for active-duty troops by 7,000 soldiers, or 8%, and National Guard soldiers by 13,000 or 20%.

Meanwhile, boot-camp attrition was climbing. New soldiers brought in to replace those who were tossed out weren't much better. "We realized that the further you go into the barrel, the lower the quality," says Col. Kevin Shwedo, a senior officer in the Army's Training and Doctrine Command in Virginia.


"Attention!" Sgt. Gilmore ordered. The recruits rose slowly and unevenly.

"Could we all just stand up together?" Sgt. Gilmore said, sounding more let down than angry. "It would look so much nicer."

A few minutes later, Col. Daly, a Special Forces soldier who served in Afghanistan and was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in the U.S. invasion of Panama, strode into the room. He told the recruits to take a deep breath and a swig from their canteens. "There is no problem that you might have that in last 230 years the Army hasn't already heard," he said.


Too Easy

After the session, Pvt. Angela Holmquest, one of the privates brought in to answer questions, said she worried that basic training had become too easy. "The drill sergeants tell us we are in the low-stress Army. I'd rather be in the old Army. When we need to lock it up and work together as a team we can. But we should be more disciplined than we are," she said.

In recent months, the Army has told drill sergeants to back off the recruits in the dining halls as well. A few months ago, sergeants would hover over new recruits, rushing them through meals, quizzing them about Army regulations and chastising them for minor infractions like carrying their drinking glass with one hand instead of two.

The dining hall still is far from relaxing. But drill sergeants no longer shout at recruits. They aren't allowed to order overweight privates to skip dessert. At first, some drill sergeants refused to embrace the new directive. "There was a lot of balking on the dessert rule," says Capt. Meng, who oversees 11 drill sergeants. "I have had to say, 'Don't even mention it.' "

The Army also has cut the amount of running troops do in boot camp by more than 60% in the past three years. "A lot of these kids have never done P.E. or sports. We were injuring too many by running too much," says Col. Greg Jolissaint, an Army physician with the command that sets baseline standards for boot camp.

Instead of running, privates do more calisthenics and stretching. They also are spending more time learning the basic combat tasks they will need in Iraq or Afghanistan, such as how to spot a roadside bomb. Last month, Sgt. First Class Kevin Staddie, who spent a year in Iraq, was teaching soldiers how to move through a city under enemy fire. Suddenly he called a halt to the exercise. A private who was slithering on his belly lost his only canteen. Sgt. Staddie asked the private if he knew the temperature in Baghdad in August.

"It is 115 degrees," the sergeant said in an even voice. "Will you give me a solemn promise that you'll do a better job securing your canteen? You'll get a whole lot further."

The private nodded and rushed to continue the exercise.

Soldiers also get a few more chances to succeed, say drill sergeants. Not long after she arrived at boot camp, Pvt. Starr Mosley was accused by another soldier of writing letters home when she was supposed to be training. Her drill sergeant ordered the 18-year-old private to crawl on her belly through the barracks and chant: "I will not write letters in the war room."

Pvt. Mosley, who said she wasn't writing letters, refused. The Army offered her a fresh start in a new platoon. There she struggled to meet the service's marksmanship standards, her drill sergeant says. Sgt. Darren Baker, her new drill sergeant, spent hours coaching her. "Without him I would have quit," Pvt. Mosley says. "He was down there in the dirt helping me."

A year ago, a drill sergeant wouldn't have taken as much time working with one struggling soldier. Today it is part of the job. "We're all working more one-on-one with the privates," Sgt. Baker says.

Soldiers with certain medical conditions get more help as well. Recruits with mild asthma now are allowed to carry inhalers with them. Privates who come to the Army with a history of mild depression now can take Paxil or Zoloft. Both changes, pushed through last fall, are "contributing to the lower attrition overall," says Col. Jolissaint, the physician.

In the near term, he has other worries. "The commanding general's No. 1 priority here is to support the war," he says. "In order to do that right now we have to graduate more privates."

OK, I'll step back and let the veterans comment on this and it's effectiveness.

posted by Steve @ 12:01:00 PM

12:01:00 PM

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