Army Shifts Focus of Basic Training

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Facing terrorist strikes and cyber warfare, the Army is shedding training that has little use on today's battlefields - such as using old-fashioned bayonets that don't fit modern automatic rifles - and going back to the basics, the three-star general in charge of the new program said Wednesday.

"A great many of our soldiers who come to basic training have never been in a fist fight - and we have to help them learn a spirit of aggression, something they can learn that will take them into combat," said Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who is heading the program overhaul.

Hertling said the Army will use more types of hand-to-hand combat training, stress rifle marksmanship and move away from its current use of emphasizing certain wrestling techniques. He predicted the revamped physical training and improved diet will help transform video couch potatoes into fighters who can adapt to today's complex urban and anti-terrorist warfare.

The service is revamping its physical training to help a more obese generation lacking physical skills to train up to military standards without injuries, Hertling said. The training will also help prepare them mentally for the stress of combat by emphasizing the Army's value systems and helping support their families.

Some of the changes are already under way, while more still to be approved by the Army's top leaders will be in place in the coming months at the Army's five basic training installations, the general said. Some changes are also in store for more senior levels, he said.

Hertling said the current generation entering the force has computer skills and a knowledge base vital to a modern fighting force. He envisions that soldiers someday will be given cell phones with thousands of stored applications to help them repair a truck or carry out an emergency lifesaving medical technique on the battlefield.

"The new task is to adapt," the general said. "This is true, whether you are a sergeant, colonel or general."

There are about 47,000 Army soldiers presently in training in the service, he said. The changes are designed to forge more consistency in Army training standards.

Speaking at the Army's largest training installation, Hertling said the service is "facing a task paralysis" because so much has been loaded onto soldiers' training that it must be pared back to hone a battle-ready "warrior ethos." Also, soldiers must learn a spirit of cultural sensitivity to survive in unfamiliar regions and perform any other task the service requires.

Today's soldier in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea or Bosnia must also be "an ambassador, a doctor, an engineer that fixes roads who can talk with the press person sitting next to him, and yet understand his fellow soldiers and balance a family life on the home front, too," Hertling said. So it is important that soldiers in their earliest training get a basic system of strengths and values to draw on, he added.

The general, who has a master's degree in exercise physiology, is the deputy commanding general for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va.