The Warrior Ethos and Basic Combat Training

CPT Joshua J. LaMotte

The Army Chief of Staff spoke to a Soldier at the Victory Tower during his visit to basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Photograph by SGT Shawn Woodward

The Army Chief of Staff spoke to a Soldier at the Victory Tower during his visit to basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

     "Rifleman first" is the familiar phrase associated with the 35th Army Chief of Staff, General Peter J. Schoomaker, who emphasizes that all Soldiers must think of themselves as combat Soldiers first. He wants leaders and senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) to stop thinking that combat service support (CSS) Soldiers are not capable of defending themselves.

     Over the years, perhaps complacency has been the Army’s number one enemy. The "doctrinal" model of war – as total war – is gone. Guerilla tactics and nonlinear battlefields create the contemporary operating environment for today’s enemy: the terrorist. Today’s Army demands Soldiers trained to adapt quickly and to expect life-threatening situations. Never before has a single Soldier had the potential of shaping foreign policy with the squeeze of a trigger.

     With constant Army cutbacks in personnel, the Army has had to answer the call to recruit, train and preserve its number-one resource: the individual Soldier. The Army responded by changing its image with distinctive berets for all Soldiers, updated commercials for "The Army of One," new enlistment incentives, the Army Values program, and emphasis on the "Warrior Ethos."

     As a company commander in an Infantry regiment conducting basic combat training at Fort Jackson, SC, my mission was to provide trained, disciplined, motivated and physically fit Soldiers who responded to leadership, focused on teamwork, demonstrated the Warrior Ethos and lived by the Army’s core values. The challenge: How do we ensure that Soldiers demonstrate the Warrior Ethos? To answer this question, I will give the Army’s definition of the Warrior Ethos, explain how we used these guiding beliefs in basic combat training at the Army’s largest training post, and then discuss my strategy to ensure our Soldiers demonstrated the Warrior Ethos.

Battle-Focused Training
     The Warrior Ethos statement is contained within the new Soldier’s Creed: "I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade." However, the Warrior Ethos is not new to the Army. FM 22-100 (Army Leadership), published in August 1999, defines the Warrior Ethos as the desire to accomplish the mission despite all adversity. FM 7-1 (Battle Focused Training), approved for publication in June 2003, defines Warrior Ethos this way:

     Warrior ethos compels soldiers to fight through all conditions to victory no matter how much effort is required. It is the soldier’s selfless commitment to the nation, mission, unit, and fellow soldiers. It is the professional attitude that inspires every American soldier. Warrior ethos is grounded in refusal to accept failure. It is developed and sustained through discipline, commitment to the Army values, and pride in the Army’s heritage.

     FM 7-1 replaced FM 25-101 with the same title. FM 7-1 tells how to develop tasks and create standards so the Department of the Army can approve them. As a commander, I understood the meaning of Warrior Ethos, but needed to convey its impact through my training goals.

     The 34th Army Chief of Staff, General Eric K. Shinseki, had directed the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) to define the Warrior Ethos. TRADOC put together a panel of basic combat training brigade commanders, officers, command sergeants major, drill sergeants and military retirees who surveyed every Army population. Trainers at Fort Jackson became an important part of the study. From focus groups, the panel collected data on Warrior Ethos "buzz words," asked questions about the kind of Soldiers the Army needs, determined what should and should not be taught, and then asked, "Where do we need to go next in training?" From this research, proposals were written for the current Army doctrine. The new Soldier’s Creed was a product of the panel’s questions and answers, and other products will come in time.

     The Program of Instruction (POI) for basic combat training was a heavily reviewed document. Commanders wanted more from Soldiers beginning Army training - challenges that were mental, physical and emotional. Every training session in the POI was analyzed, looking to pack in more and more pathways to train the Warrior Ethos.

     A new physical training program was designed and tested. It produced a higher number of Soldiers passing the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) with lower injury rates. Standardization provided increased supervision and discipline. Execution and precision were observed in excruciating detail.

     Basic rifle marksmanship was tediously analyzed. Not only did commanders want Soldiers to pass, they also wanted to increase the number of Soldiers qualifying as experts and sharpshooters. This raised the bar of excellence for marksmanship.

     The three-day field training exercise (FTX) in the POI was modified with a standardized scenario similar to the current Southwest Asian operating environment in the global war on terrorism. Soldiers were challenged in 24-hour operations and required to conduct security patrols. Soldiers were exposed to battle drills and expected to execute with proficiency. Soldiers had little time between training events. Concurrent training was constantly planned. An added benefit of the concurrent training was the increased leadership training.

     Company commanders, executive officers, first sergeants, drill sergeants and cadre alike were forced to execute changes and adapt within short timeframes. Drill sergeants led the FTX patrol lanes as squad leaders, thus enhancing leadership and combat skills for many NCOs. Only one-third of a basic combat training company had drill sergeants who had conducted an actual combat patrol.

     There were plenty of challenges in training the trainer during the FTX. The "Black Lions" of the 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment used an effective, cyclic leadership certification. The company cadre negotiated a lane as the battalion commander and battalion command sergeant major certified them. This training also allowed company commanders and first sergeants to focus on their weaker leaders and develop them. Vignettes illustrating the Warrior Ethos from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom were read weekly to the Soldiers, along with the unit’s own "Black Lion Value Vignettes." All in all, this training reinforcement produced a more battle-focused basic combat training Soldier capable of surviving on the modern battlefield.

Army Values
     How do we market the Warrior Ethos? The average leader does not ask this question. However, the seven Army Values are easily remembered with the acronym "LDRSHIP" for Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. The Warrior Ethos almost demands such a simple acronym, a simple way to remember. I worked on a concept for some time after being asked this question as a commander: How do we model the Warrior Ethos to Soldiers? How do we portray it to them in vignettes and pictures? My answer was "CAN DO’S."

     I built upon the LDRSHIP acronym for my CAN DO’S. How does the Army transform the citizen into a Soldier? Through inculcating the Army Values and instilling Soldiers with the Warrior Ethos through the CAN DO’S: Conditioning, Attitude, Nationalism, Determination, Obligation and Sacrifice.

     In my model, the Army Values answer the "Be" in the subtitle of FM 22-100 (Army Leadership: BE, KNOW, DO) and my CAN DO’S answer the "Know" and the "Do." I told Soldiers that basic combat training was 60 percent mental and 40 percent physical. They had to overcome the battle of wanting to quit in their minds first, and then the victory could be won. I wanted a Soldier to say, "I CAN DO, sir!" I was tired of the "I can’t . . . this is too hard . . . I think I can . . . I hope I can . . . I may be able to." Soldiers needed to understand that the Warrior Ethos is nothing more than saying "I CAN DO."

First I would explain peak conditioning to Soldiers. We need to condition them to a state of high physical fitness and toughness, capable of surviving and overcoming fears and situations under stress and fatigue - disciplined. Soldiers need to be agile, mobile and versatile.

     Attitude. Second, Soldiers need to understand the right military attitude. They need to act as though every Soldier is a warrior. An attitude of professionalism, sound judgment, motivation and self-reliance are required. After all, attitude reflects leadership!

     Nationalism. A sense of nationalism is necessary to instill a sense of pride. Soldiers have to believe in the US Constitution and in defending the proud tradition of winning the nation’s wars.

     Determination. Determination requires a Soldier’s dedication to mission first. Determination means refusing defeat, never giving up, maintaining discipline and initiative, improving and growing.

     Obligation. Obligation is the duty of every Soldier never to leave an American behind. Soldiers defend America’s freedom by interacting and operating with each other.

     Sacrifice. Lastly, sacrifice in the CAN DO’s stands for selfless service to an institution as well as an individual Soldier’s values. Soldiers trade life and limb to sustain the nation. Their sacrifices through selfless service connect the present with the past. Communicating this concept to the Soldiers in basic combat training seems to influence them and begin to implant the meaning of the Warrior Ethos.

     The Army’s stated purpose is to be "relevant and ready." Leaders at all levels are being asked to communicate change and define the Army’s ethos. Values and attributes define character as individuals, a nation and an Army. The tenets of soldierization define what we expect our Soldiers to be, know and do. The Army Values give us LDRSHIP. I believe my CAN DO’S can define the Warrior Ethos concept simply for a Soldier while meeting the intent of the 35th Army Chief of Staff.

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