Quality tactical training is essential for keeping our military and law enforcement professionals at the top of their game. However, many training courses, schools and unit-level training exercises fall short and fail to achieve true, sustainable performance enhancement. What is the difference between good training and bad training? What follows is a simple list of twelve questions to help leaders and students gauge the quality of tactical training programs…
1. What is the quality and background of the instructors? At a minimum, instructors must be highly skilled and be able to demonstrate mastery of the subject matter they are teaching. Ideally, instructors should also possess extensive personal experience in real-world combat scenarios. Not only will a skilled instructor do a better job of planning and conducting training, but high levels of experience and professionalism also motivates students to take training seriously and give maximum effort.
2. How many actual repetitions or iterations does each trainee perform? Whatever the training task might be, from assembling a machinegun, calling for indirect fire or leading a patrol, how many times does each trainee get to run through the process? Running through once or twice is almost useless. For some physical activities even one hundred iterations are useless. If training does not focus on letting trainees actually do the task over and over it is not good training.
3. Does the unit conduct after action reviews and disseminate the results? Trainees and instructors should both constantly evaluate their performance and record lessons-learned to improve for next time. You should be able to walk up to any instructor or student and ask to see the After-Action Review (AAR) from the previous day’s training. If they cannot produce one there is a problem. More importantly, units should share AAR results up the chain, down the chain and laterally with their fellow units to the left and right.
4. Do instructors know their trainees? Instructors should be able to tell you who are the good trainees in the class and who are the weak trainees. More importantly, the instructor should be able to cite from memory the particular strengths and weaknesses of each trainee. If the instructor cannot cite this information from memory it should be written down somewhere. If it is not, instructors are not doing their job. Great instructors go as far as bringing home tapes of trainees and watching them over and over, taking notes on what to help that student with the next day.
5. Does training focus on combat, adaptability and worst-case scenarios? If instructors spend many hours teaching patrolling, going through how to move in the woods, how to set up an objective rally point or how to send out a recon, the training is almost useless if they do not spend at least equal time practicing what happens if the unit gets attacked during any one of those processes. The whole reason there is a specific way to recon and set up an objective rally point is to protect the unit from attack. Thus, once trainees know the mechanics of the patrol, the next step is to make them respond to attacks from any direction at any point in the patrol. What happens if the recon gets hit on the way back to the rally point? What happens if the recon takes casualties? What happens if the objective rally point takes indirect fire while the main element is on the objective? If training does not focus on these kind of scenarios, with unexpected variables, over and over a unit may panic when it has to deal with these problems for the first time.
6. Does training incorporate a living and thinking opponent? If the good guys always win and the opposing force (OPFOR) moves are scripted, the training is only of very limited value. Training must at the very least include free-play force-on-force scenarios.
7. Are scenarios predictable? A common example of this is a unit practicing a react to contact drill many times but only with an enemy attack from the front. Good training will include attacks from the right, left, rear and multiple directions simultaneously or sequentially. If scenarios are predictable they are of limited value. Another example is running through a shoothouse multiple times that does not have movable walls or changeable door configurations. Once students memorize the shoothouse layout, training loses effectiveness. Scenarios must always incorporate stress and new, unexpected variables.
8. Are trainees held accountable for mistakes? In any sort of effective training, instructors will point out numerous mistakes on each iteration, write them down and force students to repeat the drills, patterns or scenarios over and over again until the mistakes are corrected. A course where the instructor overlooks mistakes and moves on to the next exercise is either much too easy or poorly executed.
9. Are trainees ever sitting around during training? Trainees should never be idle during training. Even if they are waiting for their turn to perform an activity, they should be practicing something, going over notes, quizzing each other etc. Instructors should be on top of the trainees all the time, correcting anyone who is not focused on training, quizzing trainees unexpectedly and punishing them for incorrect answers. Obviously, in more elite classes the punishments might not be needed.
10. Can students fail? If no one fails the course or at a minimum fails in individual evolutions or tests, the course is not challenging enough. If instructors claim that the purpose of a course is simply to communicate knowledge, that is not a logical excuse. How do instructors know the knowledge is communicated if they do not conduct challenging evaluations? If no one fails those evaluations they are not hard enough. The failure rate in any course should be at least 20-percent. This does not necessarily mean that students literally “fail” the course and do not graduate. Rather, students should simply fail to meet course standards at least 20-percent of the time, “training at the edge of failure.”
11. Do instructors emphasize sustainment? If instructors do not have a specific and detailed plan for how trainees are going to sustain the skills gained in a course, and if they do not pass that plan on to students, the course is almost worthless. You should be able to ask any instructor or any student what the plan is for sustaining the knowledge gained in the course. If there is no clear answer to those questions the training is deeply flawed.
12. Are trainees asking questions? This is one of the best indicators of course effectiveness. If trainees are not asking many questions, instructors must take action to get the trainees more engaged.