FORT BENNING, Ga., (Sept. 17, 2014) — In addition to senior leaders from across the Army who visited Fort Benning Sept. 8-12 for the Maneuver Warfighter Conference, attendees at the conference also had an opportunity to hear from Fort Benning’s own.
Infantry School Commandant Brig. Gen. James Rainey provided an update on the Infantry Sept. 10, while Armor School Commandant Brig. Gen. Scott McKean spoke Sept. 11.Both extensively discussed the future challenges facing the Army and how best to prepare for them.
“When everybody talks about how big your rifle squad is or what the next combat vehicle is to replace the Bradley, I think a great place to start is the future of maneuver and the future battlefield,” Rainey said. “If we figure the context out, then we’ll be able to make some much better decisions.”
McKean, meanwhile, said a focus on leadership will continue to be critical.
“In the Armor and Cavalry world, we talk about ‘bold and decisive,”‘ he said. “That’s about attitude. When you’re leading from the front, you’ve got to have the right attitude. We’ve got to infuse that in our leaders. We can’t forget that as we talk about these future concepts and strategies. This Army is about people. This is a leaders’ business and a people business, and we all need to remember that as we go forward.”
Rainey agreed with his Armor counterpart, saying leader development will continue to be a key piece of Army strategy.
“Leadership will continue to be the most decisive element of combat power,” Rainey said. “That hasn’t changed. Our best strategy to solve the uncertainty and complexity that we are sure to face on the next battlefield – which could come tomorrow – is always going to be to develop agile, adaptive leaders.”
While preparing for future conflicts was a major theme of the conference, McKean said it was also important not to make false assumptions about the state of the force.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion about 2025, but we’ve got to build it first,” McKean said. “We can’t assume that we already have some of these competencies. One of the assumptions I like to challenge is how experienced we are as a combat force right now. As we start the company and platoon level, that right arm is not what it’s been for the last 13 years. You’re seeing more and more sergeants and lieutenants, and I would venture to say you’ll soon see company commanders, who have not deployed. That’s not a problem, but we need to make sure we have an understanding of where we are.”
Both McKean and Rainey also spoke about the importance of returning to the fundamentals of Infantry and Armor.
“Repetition builds competence,” McKean said. “Competence builds mastery. It’s about repetition. We have to get back in the hatch and build our agile leaders.”
Rainey, meanwhile, said it will be important to balance the fundamentals of years ago with the lessons learned over the last 13 years of conflict.
“We need to get back to the fundamental things that have always mattered in our profession in combat arms, but we need to do that in light of the new context we’ve gathered over the last 13 years,” he said. “We’ve learned some hard lessons and paid a dear price for them, so as we go backward to a set of fundamentals … we need to do that in light of lessons learned and some thinking about future context.”
Rainey said no matter how constrained resources are, the Army should always be able to be thoughtful about the challenges it faces.
“In a resource-constrained environment, it’s always good to remember that thinking is free,” he said. “The best combat leaders and the most brave and decisive men I’ve seen on the battlefield lately have also been incredibly thoughtful and intelligent people who spend a lot of their professional time thinking about problems.”