ASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 11, 2014) — As football season kicks off, the public is focusing on favorite teams and athletes and making predictions. That same focus needs to be on “our Soldier-athletes,” perhaps even more so, said Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown, commander, Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Brown spoke at the Association of the United States Army’s Institute of Land Warfare Medical Forum, Wednesday.Before kicking off his discussion on “The Soldier Athlete,” Brown walked around the audience of mostly Soldiers and former Soldiers, asking them to describe traits of good athletes. “Leadership,” “disciplined,” “talented,” “teamwork,” “commitment,” “hard work,” “determination,” “competitiveness,” “physically fit,” and “resilient” were some of the attributes given.
Then, Brown asked the same question about Soldiers. The similarities of their answers were striking.
Brown has some insights into soldiering and athletics. He was the number two basketball recruit from Michigan, playing for Coach Mike Krzyewski at the U.S. Military Academy. He was commissioned in 1981, and went infantry.
“We need to be more proactive in the way we treat Soldiers,” he said. In many ways, Soldiers have to deal with situations more difficult than athletes, particularly on the battlefield, but also at home station.
The battlefield of the future will be even more confused and chaotic than ever before, and a mature, well-trained Soldier who is adaptive and quick-thinking will be required.
Who could have imagined just a few months ago that a civilian airline would be shot out of the sky, the barbarism of ISIS and the situation in Ukraine?” he asked. The only predictable thing is that the future will be even more confused and chaotic, he said.
In Brown’s early career, he said the “fog of war was not having enough information. Now, the fog of war is too much information — in overwhelming amounts.” Soldiers will need to process that information much more rapidly than ever before and to do that will require a lot of realistic training. What is certain is that “the enemy will adapt” and they won’t play by the same rules and moral values.
Brown put up a slide showing a Soldier from World War II on the left and a Soldier from recent times on the right.
The uniform and gear for the World War II cost about $200 and for the current Soldier, about $25,000, he said. About the only thing Soldiers today are not issued that they were then are cigarettes.
“Soldiers were treated for most of my career as a number,” he said. Today, however, a Soldier at any grade needs to be able to use initiative and make important decisions. The consequences for using bad judgment can be disastrous and can go viral quickly in this age of cell phone cameras and social media.
When Brown was in Iraq, he said his Soldiers were fired on by snipers in Mosul. The Soldiers chased the insurgents, who fled in a car. Later, the insurgents jumped out of the car and ran into a crowd of women and children. The Soldiers had sense enough not to fire into the civilians to take them down, he said.
The good news is that in their rush to escape, the insurgents left their rocket-propelled grenades and wallets in the vehicle, he said. They were apprehended that evening on a night raid. “That’s the kind of discipline we require of our Soldiers today,” he said.
Another difference between today and yesteryear, he said is that Soldiers, himself included, used to run in boots, do pushups and sit-ups and that was pretty much the extent of physical training at home station. Not the kind of training a professional athlete would do.
Today, Soldiers train in running shoes and have a variety of exercises. However, Brown said that there are still old-school carryovers who don’t appreciate the value of scientifically proven physical training.
Also, leaders today still need convincing that their master resilience trainers should be utilized more than they are, he said. The culture is starting to shift as the value of resiliency and proper training is being emphasized in the school houses.
While physical training has changed in the Army for the better, the new generation of millennials coming into the service are disadvantaged to a certain extent, he said, meaning they are less physically fit.
Kids these days are not as active in sports and outdoor recreation as they once were, he said. On a recent bicycle ride around Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Brown said he saw just one child outside playing, despite nice 70-degree weather. They likely were indoors playing video games, he said.
Youngsters are also overeating or eating the wrong kinds of food and not getting the sleep they need, he said. When he was the commander of I Corps, Brown said that 38 of 40 of his staff had trouble sleeping and that about 30 of them used medication or alcohol to help them fall asleep.
Brown applauded the Army’s Performance Triad program, which places an emphasis on proper sleep, activity and nutrition, and has information that help Soldiers and their families become more healthy and resilient.
He also applauded the U.S. Army Special Operation Command’s THOR3 program, or Tactical Human Optimization, Rapid Rehabilitation and Reconditioning. Its goals include helping Soldiers recover more rapidly from injuries sustained in training or combat. The program is similar to what elite athletes use and Brown said he’d like to see that spread to conventional forces as well.
Another program that has been shown to work is Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, he said. Developing one’s concentration skills, visualization and goal-setting really works and makes an “unbelievable difference,” in cognitive and emotional well-being.
Finally, Brown said the Army needs to give lower-level commanders more mission command responsibility at home station. They get it overseas, he said, but when they return, they are not as empowered. “If we don’t give them enough space to lead, they’ll walk,” he predicted.
Today’s athletes are better prepared than ever, Brown concluded. The Army needs to better prepare its Soldiers the same way.
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