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New Army Handbooks Focus on First 100 Days of Combat

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2008 – The U.S. Army has published three new handbooks to help soldiers prepare for the first 100 days of combat, officials said on a teleconference with online journalists and “bloggers” yesterday.

Army Col. Steven Mains, director of the Center for Army Lesson Learned, and Milton Hileman, a senior military analyst, explained that there was a small but clear rise in the number of casualties early in a combat deployment, concentrated in the first 100 days.

“It’s not a new phenomenon that … we just figured out and nobody had ever seen before, but it’s something we could clearly show was the case in Iraq,” Mains said.

“And so it drove us to say, well, what do they know at day 250 that they really need to know during those first 100 days?”

After an extensive interview process with approximately 1700 soldiers, Mains and Hileman said that there were three key elements to surviving the first three months; avoiding complacency, good decisions made by junior leaders, and the efficient staff processes at the battalion and brigade level for commanders.

“When we interviewed the soldiers one on one, we asked them to respond back to us as if they were talking to a fellow soldier,” Hileman said.

Overall, the soldiers said they need to stay alert and stay attuned to the environment in order to survive, Hileman said. Avoiding complacency was a reoccurring theme among the soldiers interviewed, he added.

“Soldiers said that complacency in one way or another contributed to every casualty they saw,” Hileman said. “It was little things like not following (standard operating procedures), not having all of your kit when you went out the gate on a mission, leaders not doing their pre-combat inspections, and leaders not being adaptive in the way they plan their mission.”

Mains explained the original idea was to write one handbook for soldiers, but based on what soldiers told them, it grew into another handbook for junior leaders.

“The decisions the junior leaders make clearly affect survivability and mission accomplishment,” said Mains. “And of course, they’re not used to making those decisions because they’re new in theater as well.”

Soldiers expect to have good leadership at every level, Hileman said.

Hileman explained that to a soldier good leadership means willingness to lead from the front and having tactical experience.

“They certainly expect their leaders to share that same level of risk that they shared everyday when they went out on a mission,” said Hileman. “They expect their leaders to set standards and enforce the standards every day.”

Furthermore, Hileman said the soldiers told him that when they identified a weak leader, they tended to create their own informal chain of command.

The soldiers were also asked if they had the right training, and more than 70 percent said their unit was trained and ready to go.

Mains said that while most military handbooks would publish approximately 20,000 copies, the “First Hundred Days” soldiers handbooks have published more than 200,000 copies.

“We know that four countries are translating it for their own soldiers,” said Mains. “And the other two handbooks are really close behind that.”

Mains also said the Army is going to publish a handbook focused on transition teams. Transition teams are “not quite as focused on going on patrol and staying alive as a junior soldier might be, but they need to come in quickly and gain rapport with … the guy that they’re advising,” he said.

(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)

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