Today’s young adults might just be worse at doing things off-screen than previously- and it’s starting to show among Army squad leaders when it comes to land navigation and maneuvering their troops.
While the US Army is on track to meet their readiness levels in the next few years, the squad-level leadership -now comprised mostly of generations raised by the light of electronic screens- seem clueless when it comes to actually leading troops, let alone doing so with deadly efficiency.
The issues are well-documented at this point, with the Asymmetric Warfare Group reporting that troops in Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) are struggling with the concept of graining footholds. To make matters worse, they lag behind in operating independently in lieu of orders from higher, a skill that has traditionally led to US victories, with one notable example being the Battle of 73 Easting in the Gulf War.
One area where improvisation and leadership are essential is that of fighting in urban or subterranean environments. In a review by the AWG, young Army enlisted leaders struggle with basic room-clearing tactics, especially when it came to clearing an area “large enough that can allow adjacent units to pass through and continue with systematic operations.”
Another shortcoming is land navigation, a crucial skill for if, not when, satellite navigation becomes disabled or unavailable. Unfortunately for the Army, Advanced Leaders Course students appear to be unable to do so.
“Students are expected to pass a Dismounted Land Navigation assessment with a score of 4 out of 5 points. On average, we see approximately 30 percent of students fail this initial assessment across our courses,” wrote Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Reel of the Henry Caro NCO Academy. “When surveyed, the feedback from these NCOs was they have not conducted Dismounted Land Navigation, with a map, protractor and lensatic compass in several years.”
According to Military.com, retired Major General Robert Scales believes the Army needs to focus on keeping infantry troops sharp, rather than constantly compromising training schedules for menial details.
“An infantry battalion, at the molecular level, is made up of 27 [separate] fighting entities,” Scales said, referring to the average number of infantry squads in a battalion. “Each one -in order to win in combat- has to be able to perform at an exceptional level. In order to do that, the training system has to have the means to get small units the resources and the oversight and accountability they need to achieve that level of excellence.”
Soldiers are also showing up to ALC in poor physical condition, and are often unable to qualify using iron sights.
As the United States begins the process of re-organizing and re-honing its troops away from counterinsurgency focus in order to better engage near-peer adversaries (such as the Russians and Chinese), challenges exist across the board- be it the lack of suitable recruits, poor leadership, loss of experienced personnel or even something as simple as dependency on electronic devices.
If the US Army is to remain the world’s premiere fighting force, it will have to get back to basics, a process that will no doubt have growing pains.
In the end, one must only hope it isn’t a case of “too little, too late.”
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