I’m not a desert person. In fact, the desert is one of my favorite things to complain about. It’s hot and the dry air makes my nose bleed. Despite this, it’s a place I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating life. It always feels very still and quiet and apart from everything and everyone. This is the first time I’d been there in the springtime, and I couldn’t help but notice how different it seemed. The mountains were green, there were flowers on the Joshua trees, and you could hear insects humming (and, I imagined, rattlesnakes rattling). It was disappointingly downright pleasant. And as I thought about the visit to NTC, it occurred to me how much I’ve grown to expect certain things based on experience, and how things change.
NTC is a different place than it was when I was there last. They’ve built a new hospital, a skate park, a dog park, a nice restaurant, and tons of housing. When I asked the Sergeant Major driving us through “The Box” if the improvements reflected some sort of larger Army initiative at NTC, he said no, but garrison life is always changing. More importantly, though, the Army itself is fundamentally changing its focus.
Over the past decade, the Army learned how to fight a counterinsurgency. This was a smart, adaptive enemy who hid himself in a crowd, had no qualms about killing innocent civilians, and wanted to take Soldiers out as dramatically as possible. COIN tactics were honed by units at NTC, where they made one of their last rotations before deployment. Now that the wars are winding down, the training focus here is on “decisive action”- large scale, combined-arms, expeditionary land operations reminiscent of how the Army trained before the wars. Success in exercises at NTC depends upon a leader’s ability to plan for the complexities of sustaining warfighting functions. In addition, today’s leaders need to be capable of dealing with new threats, including cyber warfare. For many junior Officers and NCOs who joined the military during the wars, this return to traditional warfighting is foreign and uncomfortable.
At this point, I’ve spent almost 12 years working in support of Soldiers in one capacity or another. Most of my interactions with them have centered around them telling me stories, many of them involving something blowing up on the side of the road. I still listen to Soldiers, but the stories have changed. These days their chief complaints are having too much to do with too little time. They feel particularly burdened with their quarterly and annual training requirements – SHARP, Information Security, Human Trafficking, etc. I remember the days I had to take those myself, and I feel for them.
While I certainly don’t have what it takes to be a Soldier, I can appreciate the impact of the shift to more traditional warfighting. Everything I learned about the Army, I learned from an Army at war. I’m thankful that the stories I hear these days rarely involve a MEDEVAC, but I understand how garrison life can be a new challenge. Most of all, I’m thankful I still get the opportunity to hear them, and to be there to see the Army continue to adapt.
For more about training at NTC and decisive action, read David Crozier’s piece in the NCO Journal here.