#2 Framing the Discussion

Over the past 2 years or so, I have been involved in small arms marksmanship training for organizations part of the 101st Airborne Division. A unit approached me and asked me to develop an instruction and training plan that would improve their soldier's ability to successfully qualify on the rifle range, and by extension become more capable and confident if they ever needed to use their rifle in combat. That program worked extremely well and its' success allowed me to move to other units and run it over and over. To date, I have trained over 3000 soldiers / sailors / airmen / marines both in the States and while deployed.

When the program started, I somewhat believed that my method of instructing was the key to the soldiers success. But, as time went on and different types of units all generally achieved the same results, I started looking at the program itself to see what was going on. In that analysis, I found that there were parts of the program that, indeed, helped to enhance the outcome, but generally speaking, it was still the soldier's task to go and put what they were learning into effect.

One of my bosses then introduced me to the writings of COL John Boyd, an Air Force officer, now deceased, who invented the military theory known as OODA Loops, or Boyd's Law. COL Boyd helped revolutionize aircraft design using the engineering concept of "fast transients". In effect, he needed an aircraft that could turn faster, and gain and lose energy faster than it's adversary. Boyd then realized that by creating that aircraft, he was also having an effect on the pilot. By getting inside your adversaries decision cycle, you had two effects on him. First, you forced him to change his intended plan, and second, you then created an advantage by forcing him to react to your actions. Boyd realized that this thought process happens on every level, personal, militarily, geopolitcally, with individuals, organizations, and nations etc.

In essence, the OODA cycle works as such: I observe something (doesn't matter what it is), orient myself to why it is happening using a wide variety of inputs, decide on a course of action, and then act. The key though is that the OODA cycle must 1) act as a cycle and 2) that the orientation step is the most difficult and complex part of the equation because it relates both to the observer and the adversary simultaneously.

When I looked at the marksmanship program in this new light, I became convinced that the Army conducts most training backwards. Instead of teaching soldiers how to think, it spent most of it's time telling them what to think. By emphasizing rote memorization over active thinking, the Army was preparing soldiers for a predicted action. The adversary will do X and then you will do Y. There were no other options. The marksmanship program was working because I was doing less not more. I didn't prescribe definite actions, I taught principles only and allowed the soldier to figure out what needed to be done to accomplish the task. I might teach a technique, but only to help guide the soldiers learning. Not to do it "My way". Discover your way. If you could hit the target I really didn't care how you did it, as long as you understood what you were doing to achieve success (and more importantly when it didn't work) and could replicate it under various conditions.

At the same time, a group of people were looking at this issue of leader development using the same general idea. Stop telling soldiers how to do everything, and encourage them to learn and critically OODA their world. By doing that, the argument went that since you couldn't possibly teach a learned response to every scenario that would present itself in 4th Generation Warfare (4GW - more on that at a later date), you were allowing them to use the their full compliment of skills to successfully negotiate their reality. This becomes the larger philosophical template that my marksmanship program begins to work in.

I then developed an "Effective Training Design" brief that is the learning construct inside which the marksmanship program operates. This briefing outlines the training issues units face, why they have them and then introduces Boyd's Law as a new way to focus their training efforts. It also tries to orient the audience correctly without passing judgment. It's kind of like trying to convince an alcoholic that they have a problem. If they can't or don't want to see it, then you've got a tough road ahead. In my case, units hire me to fix their marksmanship problem, but the solution I bring them is much more complex than just getting kids to hit the target. I'm trying to get them to see how the very way that they approach their training is the problem - that the leaders actions and decisions are the issue - not whether or not a soldier can shoot. And I have to do that without wearing out my welcome. Not always easy.

So, when I figure out how to attach documents to this thing, I'll share them with you and look forward to your comments.

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