Military Training:

Actions Needed to Further Improve the Consistency of Combat Skills Training Provided to Army and Marine Corps Support Forces

GAO-10-465: Published: Apr 16, 2010. Publicly Released: Apr 16, 2010.

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In conventional warfare, support forces such as military police, engineers, and medical personnel normally operate behind the front lines of a battlefield. But in Iraq and Afghanistan--both in U.S. Central Command's (CENTCOM) area of responsibility--there is no clear distinction between front lines and rear areas, and support forces are sometimes exposed to hostile fire without help from combat arms units. The House report to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010 directed GAO to report on combat skills training for support forces. GAO assessed the extent to which (1) Army and Marine Corps support forces are completing required combat skills training; (2) the services and CENTCOM have information to validate completion of required training; and (3) the services have used lessons learned to adjust combat skills training for support forces. To do so, GAO analyzed current training requirements, documentation of training completion, and lessons learned guidance; observed support force training; and interviewed headquarters officials, trainers, and trainees between August 2009 and February 2010.

Army and Marine Corps support forces undergo significant combat skills training, but additional actions could help clarify CENTCOM's training requirements, ensure the services fully incorporate those requirements into their training requirements, and improve the consistency of training that is being conducted. CENTCOM has issued a list of training tasks to be completed, in addition to the services' training requirements, before deploying to its area of operations. However, there is confusion over which forces the CENTCOM requirements apply to, the conditions under which the tasks are to be trained, and the standards for successfully completing the training. As a result, interpretations of the requirements vary and some trainees receive detailed, hands-on training for a particular task while others simply observe a demonstration of the task. In addition, while the Army and Marine Corps are training their forces on most of CENTCOM's required tasks, servicemembers are not being trained on some required tasks prior to deploying. While units collect information on the completion of training tasks, additional actions would help higher level decision-makers assess the readiness of deploying units and servicemembers. Currently, both CENTCOM and the services lack complete information on the extent to which Army and Marine Corps support forces are completing required combat skills training. The Army has recently designated the Digital Training Management System as its system of record for tracking the completion of required training, but guidance concerning system implementation is unclear and the system lacks some needed capabilities. As a result, support forces are not fully utilizing the system, and are inconsistently tracking completion of individual and unit training using paper records, stand-alone spreadsheets, and other automated systems. The Marine Corps also uses inconsistent approaches to document training completion. Furthermore, as GAO reported in May 2008, CENTCOM does not have a clearly defined waiver process to provide visibility over the extent to which personnel are deploying to its area of operations without having completed its required training tasks. As a result, CENTCOM and the services have limited visibility over the extent to which servicemembers have or have not completed all required training. While trainers at Army and Marine Corps training sites have applied lessons learned information and made significant changes to the combat skills training they provide support forces, the changes to training have varied across sites. Army and Marine Corps doctrine requires the collection of after action reports, the primary formal vehicle for collecting lessons learned. Lessons are also shared informally, such as through communication between deployed forces and units training to replace them. While the services have these formal and informal means to facilitate the sharing of lessons learned information, trainers at the various training sites are not consistently sharing information about the changes they have made to their training programs. As a result, servicemembers are trained inconsistently and units that are deploying for similar missions sometimes receive different types and amounts of training.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the commander, U.S. Central Command, to establish a formal process for waiving training requirements for all deploying forces, not just nonstandard forces, and to communicate this process to the services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the fall of 2010, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) established a working group to consolidate and validate existing CENTCOM training requirements and discuss procedures to modify and request waivers. On March 28, 2011, U.S. Central Command released an order to the department and the services titled, "USCENTCOM FRAGO 09-1700, USCENTCOM Theater Training Requirements" establishing theater training requirements for standard forces and providing a separate attachment detailing procedures for requesting waivers for a training requirement. By including a formal process for granting waivers to training and communicating waiver decisions, U.S. Central Command will have a clearer picture of which units or individuals have been fully trained for certain missions and whether any capability gaps might exist upon the forces' arrival in theater.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Commandant of the Marine Corps to establish and fully implement consistent approaches for documenting the completion or waiving of combat skills training requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2010 , GAO reported that the Marine Corps lacked a service-wide system for tracking the completion of training requirements, and instead relied on paper rosters and stand-alone spreadsheets and databases to track training completion. To improve the consistency of training, we recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Commandant of the Marine Corps to establish and fully implement consistent approaches for documenting the completion or waiving of combat skills training requirements. In May 2012, the Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration released a Marine Administrative Message announcing the service's transition to the Marine Corps Training Information Management System (MCTIMS). Following the initial fielding of MCTIMS in January 2011, the Marine Corps' operating force validated the requirement for a single system to track all training related data in order to reduce the administrative burden caused by entering similar data into multiple systems. The Marine Corps is expanding MCTIMS to include an operating force-centric capability that supports unit training management and readiness reporting, resulting in a single system capable of tracking, recording, and reporting training requirements associated to a unit's mission essential tasks, including combat skills training requirements. One of the goals of this transition is to eliminate waste, variation, and constraints associated with the duplication and redundancy caused by multiple inputs of training data across the Marine Corps. The integration of training into one consistent system will be implemented in a phased approach that began in April 2012.

    Recommendation: To improve commanders' visibility over the extent to which support forces are completing required combat skills training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to fully implement the service's system of record for tracking training completion--the Digital Training Management System by (1) developing a schedule for fully implementing the system, including the work to be performed and the resources to be used, and (2) including the actual start and completion dates of work activities performed so that the impact of deviations on future work can be proactively addressed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department did not provide any updates on this recommendation during the recent fiscal year.

    Recommendation: To improve the consistency of training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army and the Commandant of the Marine Corps to include all of CENTCOM's minimum training requirements in their service training requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On May 24,2010, the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum emphasizing the need to focus implementing counter-insurgency training guidance to support execution of the President's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. The memorandum stated that to implement the strategy successfully, U.S. forces must be prepared for the operational and geographic complexities of the environment. To achieve those ends, the memorandum noted that DOD should ensure that all personnel deploying to Afghanistan are trained to joint theater-specific counter-insurgency qualification standards, in compliance with previously issued training guidance. The memorandum further noted that the Secretaries of the military departments shall develop programs of instruction for pre-deployment training in accordance with respective qualification standards. Issuance of this memorandum provides specific responsibilities throughout DOD as it pertains to training forces for deployment; thus meeting the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the consistency of training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the commander, U.S. Central Command to clearly outline the conditions under which CENTCOM's mandatory training requirements are to be accomplished and the standards to which the tasks should be trained.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On May 24,2010, the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum emphasizing the need to focus implementing counter-insurgency training guidance to support execution of the President's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. The memorandum stated that to implement the strategy successfully, U.S. forces must be prepared for the operational and geographic complexities of the environment. To achieve those ends, the memorandum noted that DOD should ensure that all personnel deploying to Afghanistan are trained to joint theater-specific counter-insurgency qualification standards, in compliance with previously issued training guidance. The memorandum further noted that the Secretaries of the military departments shall develop programs of instruction for pre-deployment training in accordance with respective qualification standards. Issuance of this memorandum provides specific responsibilities throughout DOD as it pertains to training forces for deployment; thus meeting the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the consistency of training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the commander, U.S. Central Command to clarify which of the command's mandatory training requirements apply to all forces deploying to CENTCOM's area of responsibility and which requirements apply only to joint sourced forces, and clearly communicate this information to the services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On May 24,2010, the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum emphasizing the need to focus implementing counter-insurgency training guidance to support execution of the President's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. The memorandum stated that to implement the strategy successfully, U.S. forces must be prepared for the operational and geographic complexities of the environment. To achieve those ends, the memorandum noted that DOD should ensure that all personnel deploying to Afghanistan are trained to joint theater-specific counter-insurgency qualification standards, in compliance with previously issued training guidance. The memorandum further noted that the Secretaries of the military departments shall develop programs of instruction for pre-deployment training in accordance with respective qualification standards. Issuance of this memorandum provides specific responsibilities throughout DOD as it pertains to training forces for deployment; thus meeting the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To maintain training consistency as training evolves in response to ongoing operations, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army and the Commandant of the Marine Corps to develop a method for consistently sharing information concerning changes that are made to training programs in response to formal or informal lessons learned.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: In comments, DOD noted that draft language addressing the recommendation had been inserted into the 2010 update to the'Guidance for the Development of the Force' (GDF) as well as into draft DoD Instruction 1322.mm, 'Implementing DoD Training.' However, DOD has not yet finalized the DoD Instruction, and the GDF is classified and has extremely limited distribution. It is not available on the SIPRNet and is limited in distribution to only Service, Combatant Command, and Joint Staff J-5 key points of contact. No additional updates have been provided

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