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In Praise of Failure

pbi

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Tango2Bravo said:
I've participated in a number of major exercises (two BTEs, two MAPLE RESOLVES, UNIFIED RESOLVE, many staff college exercises) over the past two decades as a member of the primary training audience, as an OCT, Directing Staff, as a member of the OPFOR and as a member of the Validation team ... I guess I'm seeing something different than you are....



..brigade-level CAX with a constructive simulation, though, is a much more awkward beast than the squadron-level virtual sim I went through. Resetting a one hour discrete battle at squadron level is very different than a Bde CAX. The aims are also different. You can confirm the ability of a HQ to plan, issue orders, coordinate preparations and C2 the battle without letting the Sim take over. In a capability development experiment, though, you might let the Sim run free while remaining cognisant that constructive sims have real limitations at replicating tactical results.

In general terms I agree with you. This is why formation HQ trg has to be carefully planned to permit these resets and AARs. I have seen an entire HQ ordered to re-do an activity. It was a PITA for them but the OCE directed it, and they needed it as they were heading off to fight in Afgh. But the OCE and Ex Dir have to factor this in to te plan for the ex, or (IMHO) the learning value for the PTA gets reduced. As you obviously know, a good AAR is not a rehearsed victory parade. Nobody is that good.

I should be careful not to seem to suggest that we let the Sim system "take over": I have never seen that done and I probably wouldn't advocate it. Formation HQ trg can be supported by a digital Sim (or not...it can work without also...) but  the Sim has a proper role and place just like all the other aspects of simulation (roleplayers, simulated media, synthetic documents, synthetic data/imagery and the EXCON structure). The main value of a digital Sim at Fmn HQ level is that it can provide ground truth to keep the PTA honest and make them deal with the many aspects of operations at that level which sometimes get forgotten or put into the "too hard to worry about" category.
 

pbi

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Tango2Bravo said:
I've participated in a number of major exercises (two BTEs, two MAPLE RESOLVES, UNIFIED RESOLVE, . ...I guess I'm seeing something different than you are.

The results you describe in this portion of your post are good to hear about: obviously somebody is doing something right, which is I think what we all want. It seems, though, that your discussion is primarily about tac trg at BG and below, which is traditionally where the strengths and experience of the CA trg system largely lie. As a rule at CASC (except for CACSC BGXs) we don't get involved much below Bde, because there is no real need for us there. Our tasks are mainly at Bde and above, Joint, Allied and Multi-Agency. So, yes, my perspective is different.

brigade-level CAX with a constructive simulation, though, is a much more awkward beast than the squadron-level virtual sim I went through. Resetting a one hour discrete battle at squadron level is very different than a Bde CAX. The aims are also different. You can confirm the ability of a HQ to plan, issue orders, coordinate preparations and C2 the battle without letting the Sim take over. In a capability development experiment, though, you might let the Sim run free while remaining cognisant that constructive sims have real limitations at replicating tactical results.

In general terms I agree with you. This is why formation HQ trg has to be carefully planned to permit these resets and AARs. I have seen an entire HQ ordered to re-do an activity. It was a PITA for them but the OCE directed it, and they needed it as they were heading off to fight in Afgh. But the OCE and Ex Dir have to factor this in to the plan for the ex, or (IMHO) the learning value for the PTA gets reduced. As you obviously know, a good AAR is not a rehearsed victory parade. Nobody is that good.

I should be careful not to seem to suggest that we let the Sim system "take over": I have never seen that done and I probably wouldn't advocate it. Formation HQ trg can be supported by a digital Sim (or not...it can work without also...) but  the Sim has a proper role and place just like all the other aspects of simulation (roleplayers, simulated media, synthetic documents, synthetic data/imagery and the EXCON structure). The main value of a digital Sim at Fmn HQ level is that it can provide ground truth to keep the PTA honest and make them deal with the many aspects of operations at that level which sometimes get forgotten or put into the "too hard to worry about" category.
 

TangoTwoBravo

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I agree that our happy place is the BG and below, and I had the most fun with Sqn and BG level training where you can do multiple runs in a day. I have certainly done two fairly recent Brigade exercises (MAPLE RESOLVEs) with very good AARs during the conduct of the exercise that led to improvements as well as one UNIFIED RESOLVE at Bde level as PTA. I was also on an exercise as part of a manoeuvre Div HQ under a real Corps HQ, so my POV is not just from a hatch.

We should also be clear on exercise aims and training audiences. Redoing a MEL/MIL event reaction at a Joint Task Force Afghanistan pre-training event is different than telling a CMBG HQ to redo a planning cycle.

Ideally, higher level training includes a pause where an AAR can be had and adjustments made. This is different than redoing something.
 

pbi

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Tango2Bravo said:
Ideally, higher level training includes a pause where an AAR can be had and adjustments made. This is different than redoing something.

Yes, quite true. My point is that while the AARs and adjustments should be built in to the exercise plan (such as ensuring the time is allocated), we should equally be prepared to have a re-do when something has gone sufficiently wrong that the PTA needs to demonstrate competency. And, sadly, not every HQ I have seen is competent. Certainly not at the start. But then, that's why we train.

I would also say that any redo, for any level of HQ, can be painful. An OPP cycle re-do at a JTF or CJTF HQ level hurts as much (or maybe more) as a similar re-do at Bde level. But (and especially if we are talking about saying that an HQ is OPRED to go and make decisions that will kill people), we need to be forthright enough to do it, pain or not.
 

Infanteer

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"Sets and Reps" are the key, allowing an institution to train to failure.  Train more, have more chances to fail and then improve.  Only train once or twice, and you only have once or twice to get it right, so the pressure (institutional and personal) for a "successful" event ("we won the war!") is there.

Wargaming (or "table top exercise" in milspeak) is a tool we don't use enough, but it is simple and cheap enough to provide a lot of space for "sets and reps."  A Brigade staff could go through its planning drills once a week with a good table top wargame.

http://www.chacr.org.uk/docs/CKPDF.pdf
 

dapaterson

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But if they're doing wargaming, who's going to fill out the quarterly reports & returns on completion rates for WHMIS 2015 training?  How will they ensure 100% compliance with WHMIS 2015?  How can we go to war if we don't have WHMIS 2015?
 

Halifax Tar

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dapaterson said:
But if they're doing wargaming, who's going to fill out the quarterly reports & returns on completion rates for WHMIS 2015 training?  How will they ensure 100% compliance with WHMIS 2015?  How can we go to war if we don't have WHMIS 2015?

How can we fight a battle if my KPI statistics are all askew ?

I am with you.  Even as a supporter I can admit we have lost sight and sounding of the end state.
 

pbi

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Infanteer said:
Wargaming (or "table top exercise" in milspeak) is a tool we don't use enough, but it is simple and cheap enough to provide a lot of space for "sets and reps."  A Brigade staff could go through its planning drills once a week with a good table top wargame.

http://www.chacr.org.uk/docs/CKPDF.pdf

With you 100% on that. The wargame (which can be as simple or as complicated as you need it to be) is such a powerful tool, and sadly so often neglected, or conducted in such a rushed, watered-down form as to be almost useless.

IMHO a plan is just a piece of paper until you run a good wargame on it. Then, when you have the "Aha!" moments (or the Holy *** moments) is when you can really envision it properly. If you have to cut some part of your planning process, don't cut the wargame.
 

OldSolduer

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In 1996 our company deployed to Fort Polk LA to the JRTC.

Our first mission in the box - we got our asses handed to us.
The second one was better.
The third one we took our asses back.
 

pbi

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Hamish Seggie said:
In 1996 our company deployed to Fort Polk LA to the JRTC.

Our first mission in the box - we got our asses handed to us.
The second one was better.
The third one we took our asses back.
Exactly.
 

Tom Kratman

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When I trained troops, the type-A high achievers always stood out, mainly when I told them they weren't good enough; often they melted down on me. A life of easy wins and excelling in the school system had ill-prepared them for tasks and skills that sometimes you needed to do wrong, before you could get right. Their self-esteem and "Confidence" couldn't get them a successful section attack inside an hour. It took time and it strained them much more than it should have.

I've often noticed how we always win in our exercises, even when our performance is dismal. killed soldiers "respawn", we tell the enemy force to tone it down and die politely and entire platoons re-set to try it again in order not to upset the OC or CO's plan. So, being socially inept and unable to read those kinds of cues; I asked. Officers and peers and senior NCOs. I got the same answer;

"People don't learn from failure."

"If you tried something the first time and you failed and failed badly, you'd never want to try again."

This felt like one of those times, when either my autism was colouring my perceptions or I, as a soldier just needed to note my disagreement, click my heels, shut up and get in line. Because; you know? Maybe normal people are like that.

My counter-argument was to the point; "But, the enemy always gets a vote."

Now, I speak as a life-long loser. I could not be more different from the type-A over-achieving athletes I've trained. Clumsy, slow, physically and socially awkward, my life is a litany of failure; I've been a terrible student my whole life, I wasn't even good at video games, I'm a poor shot and easily confused by the more socially adept. If I didn't learn from failure; I'd never learn anything. The things in life I had to learn from bloody-minded tenacity; eliminated every wrong way to get something right are legion. I'd have argued the opposite; how can you learn from success?

If I gave up or rather; was allowed to give up on anything I tried and failed at the first time, no matter how disastrous, embarrassing or painful, I'd never have got anywhere in my life. We're talking about war here, why all the optional language? As if we have a choice in the matter.

When I take people shooting, I don't start them on something that will hurt them. But I also don't add any holes to their target to boost their ego, either. This is a very concrete discipline we're part of here. Very absolute, very win-lose and things do not always go our way.

One of the smartest things I ever read was by a guy named Tom Kratman, he said that training has three purposes;

1. To enhance old skills and acquire new ones.
2. To test doctrine and equipment.
3. and, to select amongst ourselves.

Here #2 is key; I think we tend to worship our doctrines and part of how we do that is by our we-always-win mentality. What we should be doing is testing our doctrines to destruction. Then Sitting back and asking why and trying something else. So you say, but Shrek; we have that! We have Standards and our Centres of Excellence. In 7 years of teaching, I submitted over a dozen PO/EO reviews. none of them went anywhere. Your system is broken. And I think, from my experience in the CF and elsewhere that these edifices we have for advancement and change actually work as bulwarks against those forces.

One of the things I learned in school was that once you have an organization for accommodations, you never really need to accommodate anyone ever again; you can reject everything on the basis of your expertise and defend it by it's own existence. Not a shock; Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy in action; protecting the institution, even at the cost of the very goals that institution expressly exists to forward.
I had posted a link, not knowing the rules, to a free essay on Baen. Training for War, if you can to hunt for it. Again - Moderators Note Well - it is free. I am not peddling anything.
 
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