Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, chief of the US Army’s Initial Training, discusses revamping basic training, the stages of training and developing better soldiers during an interview with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the 2018 AUSA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Our AUSA coverage is brought to you by Bell, a Textron Company, Elbit System of America, L3 Technologies, Leonardo DRS, and Safran.
Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, USA
Chief, US Army Initial Training
AUSA Annual Meeting
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Conference and Trade Show, the number one gathering of U.S. Army leaders from around the world to talk about the future of the force, its strategy, budgets, doctrine, technology and more. Our coverage here is sponsored by Bell, a Textron company; Elbit Systems of America; L3 Technologies; Leonardo DRS; and SAFRAN. And we’re here at the TRADOC assembly area to talk to United States Army Major General Malcolm Frost who is the Chief of Initial Training for the United States Army.
Sir, it’s a pleasure. We’ve talked the last couple of years and enjoy your time again.
MG Malcolm Frost: I’m glad to be here, Vago, and appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.
Mr. Muradian: Last year was you sort of presaging some of the changes that have been approved by the Army leadership. Secretary Esper and the Chief, General Milley, have talked about the importance of this as being a priority initiative. Almost everything has changed, from initial training as well as physical fitness standards, but also physical training as well as more advanced training for troops. I want to talk to you about the panoply.
First, let’s talk about the initial training and how that’s changed to try to make it more realistic and relevant for soldiers in the future.
MG Frost: First off, like we said last year. We took basic training, boot camp, Basic Combat Training as we call it, and last year we piloted, about a nine-month pilot at Fort Jackson, revamping it and putting a new period of instruction in.
Why did we do this? There’s two major reasons for why we’re doing it. Number one is, the first units of assignment told us that they were not getting the quality, the discipline, and soldiers that were foundational in their basic skills to the level that they desired. That was number one.
Number two is our Army is looking to the future. We are moving from counter-insurgency operations, and we’ll never forget about that and we will still train on that, towards high intensity conflict and hybrid warfare in the future. And so because of those two things we said we need to change basic training, basic combat training. And we did that.
That nine-month pilot by Fort Jackson resulted in significant changes where we have more repetition in the foundational skills of weapons proficiency, communications proficiency, medical proficiency, physical fitness. And then we doubled down on the discipline aspects. Then we added some soldier acculturation, some history, some esprit and teambuilding, and then we added more field training in an expeditionary environment. All to kind of pack in a more high intense environment for the soldiers, the trainees before they become soldiers and go to the first unit of assignment.
It’s come to fruition, it’s going gangbusters, and as a matter of fact it’s now across all of basic combat training, all four installations — Fort Benning, Fort Jackson, Fort Sill and Fort Leonard Wood.
Mr. Muradian: Talk to us about the new physical fitness standards as well, because we talked a little bit about that, to have the relevant, the right kind of training for soldiers for the future and not do the kinds of things we were doing in the past that actually were more sort of things we did as opposed to things that were value added.
MG Frost: And Vago, I want to hit on one more thing. One of the bit centerpieces of that Basic Combat Training that I want to hit, and I’ll go to the PT test, is the Forge. So we have three field training exercises — the Hammer, the Anvil and the Forge. We standardized those across all of Basic Combat Training.
Well, the Forge occurs in week nine before you graduate, and now it is a graduation requirement. It is an 81-hour field training exercise where the trainees have to march 45 miles, execute operations. It is a peer-led environment. They do everything from an ethical dilemma, logistical resupply mission, battle march and shoot obstacle course, combatist competition. It’s a continuous movement in a field environment.
What that has done is provided a measure of grit and resilience into Basic Combat Training that didn’t exist, and it also bonds and binds those trainees together.
And at the end of it, if they make it, they come out the back side, they earn the right to become a Soldier and go into a Soldier Ceremony, where they earned the right to wear the United States Army patch, they earned the right to wear the Black Beret, they earned the right for the National Defense Service Medal and to be called a Soldier and they get their Soldier For Life certificate.
What we found out is that has just significantly increased morale. And what it does is acculturate you as a soldier first. Not an infantryman, not an armor soldier, not a quartermaster soldier, not a cyber soldier. You are a soldier, and it’s common now across all of Basic Combat Training. We thought we’d lost a little bit of the identity. People would call themselves an infantryman first, versus a soldier. Now they come out as soldiers, common bond, through the Forge. And that Forge, they have learned about the history of the United States Army throughout as well. We standardized that. And the Forge, forged in steel, is also an homage to Valley Forge and the earliest days of the American Army.
Mr. Muradian: That’s great.
Talk to us about the first two stages as well, now that you’ve brought up the Forge part, which is the last part, which is the big test and the graduation, but talk to us about the Anvil and the Hammer as well.
MG Frost: If you kind of think of it through the lens of the first field training exercise you’re learning competence and basic skills. So they’re just learning the field craft, how to become a soldier, how to operate in the field. That’s a short field training exercise, about 24-36 hours.
The next is what I would call the competence phase where they have now taken those skills and ramp it up and do some small unit activities, and we integrate some of those, the repetition of some of those foundational skills into that field training exercise.
The last one, the Forge, is all about another C. Commitment. Commitment to the United States Army and being a soldier.
Mr. Muradian: It’s a great program. I know as somebody who’s covered the Army for a long time, relatives in the Army, that there’s that tribalism that starts very, very early on as opposed to saying we’re all soldiers, which is a little bit of what — not to sort of tip the hat to Marines, but Marines always were forging the you’re a Marine and everything else is second. This is a little bit about getting that common bond and that, even though the United States Army is large, it still has extraordinary esprit de corps.
MG Frost: It does. So the scope and scale of the Army makes it I guess probably pretty easy to have some tribalism — 140, 150 Military Occupational Skills. But we wanted to get back to the foundation and integrate that discipline and teach them about the history, teach them about the heroes through history through the lens of the Army values, and the Soldiers Creed. And there’s a representative of every type of American that you can imagine in the heroes from Valley Forge to the Battle of Baghdad that are highlighted, that they get to see. So they become acculturated as a United States Army soldier first. Then they go on to Advanced Individual Training, or continue One Station Unit Training where they learn the technical skills or the foundational skills for their occupation.
Mr. Muradian: And talk to us then about that intermediate training that they’re going to go to from initial. You guys have revamped that as well, to make that even more value-added.
MG Frost: All of the Centers of Excellence are currently in the middle of kind of doubling down a little bit on Advanced Individual Training. Not the foundational skills, the technical skills that you learn for your occupation. Those are always under review. But what we’re really doing is ensuring that none of the foundational aspects of being a soldier, meaning those basic skills — shoot, move, communicate, treating, protecting, surviving — and the repetition involved with that. That is now going to continue throughout Advanced Individual Training. And not just that.
Advanced Individual Training is not going to be just in the classroom. So you may learn your technical skill in the classroom. Let’s say it’s a signal skill, learning how to put a computer together or build a network. That’s fine. You learn it in the classroom environment. But now you’re going to take it to the field, you’re going to do it at night, you’re going to do it in the dark, you’re going to do it in a field environment. And oh, by the way, if we can get some rain and snow, you’re going to get that environment as well. Then you set it up. Why? That’s the expeditionary environment, the field craft that’s necessary for where we see the future of warfare. It’s not going to be out of forward operating bases, it’s not going to be out of combat outposts. It’s going to be operating in an expeditionary environment.
So that’s the other changes that are going on in Advanced Individual Training, so that when they get to the first unit of assignment they have maintained those foundational skills, that field craft, and they have that expeditionary mindset by the time they get to the first unit of assignment.
Mr. Muradian: I want to get to physical fitness, but you’ve raised, and you and I have talked about this before a little bit, about the mindset change for the new competition that we have.
Over here there are older generations of soldiers who were Cold Warriors, who served in Vietnam, served in Korea. So had, in the ethos of the service, that contested battle. You know, we had to fight our way in, fight our way out in places, while maintaining that great power picture. Right? So guys who were fighting in Vietnam knew that they were going to go back to Germany, for example, and be facing the Soviet Union again.
What are some of the things you’re doing in that initial training to change, given that the entire leadership, not incorrectly or badly because they’ve been engaged in this fight for a very very long time on the counterinsurgency and counterterror. What are some of the things that you’re doing to culturally change, to add that urgency, to add a different kind of dimension? You know, because folks did have ready communications when they needed it, they had ready fires when they needed it, they were not in a highly contested electromagnetic environment. What are some of the things you were doing early on to make sure that guys were screwed in straight before they go into this?
MG Frost: Again, I think the biggest thing is in that small time window of basic training, what you have to do is you have to get them in the field. That’s the biggest thing. They have to get the expeditionary mindset, living in the field, the field craft, and understanding how to operate their equipment, work together as a team, in an environment where they are not protected by the safety of a combat outpost, a forward operating base, where they 24×7 understand that they are in the environment where there’s a thinking, moving enemy, and instead of reacting to maybe a mortar in a combat outpost, now they’re getting artillery attacks, massive artillery attacks come down on them in the field. They have to know how to react to that. They are training in nuclear, biological and chemical. All of the things they might see in the future. And understanding things like jamming and electronic warfare and how if you can’t communicate on your radio and you have white noise that probably means you’re being jammed. It doesn’t mean it’s just static. All of these things that some of our Army has forgotten, we’re creeping back into basic training, and it’s really taken off with what Forces Command is doing at the Combat Training Centers. But that’s another conversation. But that’s where we’re going at the collective level so that our leaders and soldiers both see that.
Mr. Muradian: That’s extraordinary.
Let’s talk about physical fitness, something near and dear to the Army’s heart. Getting nearer and dearer to the Army’s heart.
We talked about why the exercises we were doing weren’t suited. Talk to us about the change in the curriculum to make that physical fitness regimen overall and the fitness of soldiers more relevant to the tasks they do when they’re in combat.
MG Frost: It’s very exciting. Again, last year we talked about a couple of big things changing and they both have come to fruition. The Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army made the decision and we are now moving out with a new physical fitness test, the first one in 38 years, the Army Combat Fitness Test.
The old test was a general test of fitness. It was specific to age and gender. It tested you on cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance. But it did not train you towards the physical requirements that are necessary for combat.
So we executed a long study, baseline soldier requirements readiness study, and looked at all of the 113 warrior task battle drills, common soldier tasks. And then lessons from 16 years of combat. We said okay, in order to do those tasks, and we looked at all of them. We regressed them back to 11 foundational skills. Things like dragging a casualty, moving under or over or through an obstacle, doing a three to five second rush, carrying ammunition boxes and equipment. Things that every soldier is going to have to do. Eleven foundational skills. And then we took the aspects of fitness that are necessary to do those skills and we regressed that all the way down through batteries and tests and looked at the fitness industry events, or fitness tests that can be used, and then that got us to the Army Combat Fitness Test. Six events. So now instead of just cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance, this new test, the six events, also tests you on muscular strength, explosive power, speed, agility, flexibility, balance, reaction time. And it can all be done with a company of 130 soldiers in two hours.
What are we doing now? As of 1 October of this year 60 battalions across the United States Army of all types — National Guard, Reserve, Logistics, Combat Arms, Infantry, Armor, even in the Initial Military Training enterprise, even large and small hospitals, even a four-star headquarters. Sixty representative battalions from across the United States Army are all conducting a field test of this new Army Combat Fitness Test.
What does that mean? That means that what we’re doing is we’re going to get large-scale normative data, and we’re going to look at some of the ways we administer the test, we’re going to look at the standards and make sure we’ve got the standards for each event right that allows us to be able to field the equipment to the entire Army, and then also review and reevaluate and change major Army policies that the fitness test affects. Such as reclassification, separations, promotions, evaluations, things that the G1 of the Army and Manpower and Reserve Affairs need to kind of look at to understand how — because the fitness test, bottom line, is the standard that you must maintain to be in the Army. So it allows us to do that and field the equipment.
Right now we have mobile training teams from the Center for Initial Military Training that are going to those 60 battalions to train graders, train trainers, and then train trainers who are allowed to train. Those who are authorized to train the trainer, right? And we’re also going to set up training at Fort Jackson and Fort Eustis for the rest of the Army. And we’re out really just teaching it, and we just published the training manual and the test manual itself for the United States Army and the equipment that has to go out.
So the Army is moving out.
Then 1 October ’19 is when the Army implements this fully across the board. Then it will be come the test of record for decision by the Chief and the Secretary. When they think the Army is ready after that full implementation has happened, after 1 October ’19.
Mr. Muradian: Let me briefly ask you because you’ve got to go, but about nutrition a little bit on this. It’s amazing how much that’s changed. Talk to us a little bit about the education you’re giving folks. Because I’m noticing increasingly that there are folks who would be ordering hamburgers who have a tendency of telling you, you know, they’re going to have — they’re making much better food choices now than I think once upon a time they did.
MG Frost: I think our society, and I think it’s crept into the Army, is realizing the importance of nutrition. I’m proof positive of that. Quite frankly, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Vago, but since last time you saw me last year I’ve lost 15 pounds. Why? From a nutrition standpoint.
Mr. Muradian: You’re looking great, sir. I must say. It was the jumping jacks.
MG Frost: But in all honesty, we have the Go for Green program in our dining facilities for healthy eating. We have also now, the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Army have authorized now for positions to be in our maneuver battalions first and then eventually we hope the rest of the Army, occupational therapists, physical therapists, registered dieticians, and strength and conditioning coaches. And as a matter of fact those four positions are being piloted in a Holistic Health and Fitness Initiative in Forces Command with 30 battalions. That has just started in October, and right now we’re going through the Army process of putting those positions in the Army’s actual structure at the battalion level. Why? Because of the importance.
The most important weapon system of the United States Army is what?
Mr. Muradian: The soldier.
MG Frost: It’s the soldier. So from the M4 rifle to the M1 tank, we have parts and supplies and warehouses and training areas and training ranges. We have all of these things we put towards those, but what do we put towards the soldier? We protect the soldier very well. We equip the soldier well. But when it comes to the human body and human mind, we treat you at a central medical treatment facility after you’re broken, and we have a morale welfare gym that probably doesn’t have the functional fitness equipment necessary. So we’re making those huge changes by putting professionals down in, by then bringing equipment in, and hopefully eventually developing better soldier readiness performance centers with functional fitness equipment, indoor/outdoor, everything from cardiovascular, recovery performance enhancement, those professionals that can take care of the human body and mind.
Mr. Muradian: And one last question. You’re a proud graduate of the United States Military Academy. How do you think the big games going to go in December? The Air Force is having a pretty good season. What do you think?
MG Frost: Well, I mean Army’s going to beat Navy and Air Force, of course. But I’ll tell you, the Army team looks very good. They’ve got a quarterback that can throw this time. They’ve proven that they can beat good teams and have played some of the best teams extraordinarily well. So I’m very hopeful. It’s going to be a great contest for the Commander in Chief’s Cup, but I think Navy better watch out and Air Force better watch out as well.
Mr. Muradian: That’s fantastic. Great quarterback. He’s an amazing kid. Great touch. Sir, thanks very much. It’s always a pleasure.
MG Frost: Thank you.