Training has always been the soul of the military

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Robert Ehlers
  • 17th Training Support Squadron
During the long and bitter trail of defeats leading from the Battle of Long Island in summer 1776 to the seemingly miraculous (and decidedly uncommon) victories at Trenton and Princeton in December and January 1776-77, General George Washington became increasingly aware of a basic fact revolving around warfare: a well-trained force will almost always defeat one less well-prepared for battle, regardless of the latter's patriotic zeal and commitment to a cause. His Continentals (the closest thing he had to "Regular" troops) and militia were simply no match for the British during major battles.

As defeats at the hands of his British adversaries continued during the 1777 campaigning season, Washington resolved to make the ragtag Continental Army, and the militia units supporting it in the field, a real Army-not just one in name only. To that end, during the bitter winter at Valley Forge, he hired Lieutenant Colonel Baron von Steuben, a Prussian officer with extensive training experience, to prepare American forces for future campaigns against the British.

Von Steuben was a hard taskmaster but was respected and even liked by the troops, who saw him, along with General Washington, as their greatest hope for victory in the field. He helped them understand not just the drills and maneuvers themselves, but why they were so important during tactical engagements. It was during the campaigns following this training that General Washington said, on several occasions, "Training is the soul of an Army." And he meant it. Subsequent battlefield victories, leading to the defeat of Lord Cornwallis' army at Yorktown and the birth of the United States as an independent nation, simply reaffirmed the importance of training.

General Washington was by no means the first to hit on this truism-that training is vital-nor has he been the last. From the Assyrians in 700 B.C. to the Iraqis in the 1980s and 1990s, the benefits of effective training (in the former case) and the serious costs of ineffective training (in the latter) remind us daily that training matters, and it matters a great deal. That basic fact is what drives everything we do at Goodfellow.

Training is why we're here-to prepare young intelligence apprentices for the professional rigors of their trade-one that is becoming of exponentially greater importance in the wars we now fight against elusive, technology-savvy, ruthless enemies who have as their common goal the fatal weakening or outright destruction of the United States. That list of enemies is longer than we might at first recognize, and their objectives remind us that we have a special urgency in training our intelligence troops, who will provide the shield that protects our combat forces in the field and guide the spear those forces use to strike their targets and destroy our enemies.

The 17th Training Group's vision for intelligence training (along with firefighter and special instruments training, which are also central to our mission here) is to make it, once again, unrivalled within the Department of Defense. With many key initiatives already in place to do this, we're well on our way to meeting this goal. Training in the seven squadrons subordinate to the group has never been more realistic, dynamic, or unpredictable, and these three components are the trinity comprising useful intelligence, firefighter, and special instruments training.

Because we're employing sophisticated training exercises, advanced modeling and simulation technologies, new teaching methodologies that emphasize analytical rigor over memorizing facts, and bringing in a wealth of talent in the form of serving intelligence experts and retired senior intelligence and operations officers, students here receive training light years ahead of anything my generation received in the 1980s. And this training regimen is, indeed, urgent. The skills our young intelligence, firefighter, and special instruments trainees learn here will form the basis for all the advanced training and real-world combat-support experience they obtain during their service to our country.

One of the key things that makes the training effort here unique is the extraordinarily heavy emphasis on Joint and national-level training integration and coordination. All seven of the 17 TRG's squadrons have very close and deepening ties with Joint partners, and several are developing unprecedented working relationships with National Agencies. Virtually every senior DoD and National Agency visitor to Goodfellow says, in effect, "You're the leader for intelligence training in the DoD." Firefighter and special instruments training are equally impressive and receive similar reviews on a regular basis. And we've only just begun to do the kinds of things that are earning us these accolades. With a clear long-range plan, supporting resources, and an immense wealth of human talent, the 17th Training Group is pushing the boundaries of intelligence, firefighter, and special instruments training in many new and vital directions, bringing together players who never before trained as a team; standing up training networks and systems second to none; recasting teaching and training techniques to produce the world's best apprentice analysts and other intelligence specialists; and preparing our troops in training to make key contributions to victory in our nation's wars.

An ancient Chinese proverb says of military training that "the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war." Perhaps General Douglas MacArthur put it even more forcefully when he said, "In no other profession are the penalties for employing untrained personnel so appalling or so irrevocable as in the military." The men and women of the 17th Training Group-and their students-understand this clearly. Their dedication to duty and exceptionally high training standards are vital to our country's national security.