Senior Army planners are taking a note from professional football with a new approach to bringing soldiers into units, adding new equipment and preparing for the big game — an overseas rotation.
“The team that just won the Super Bowl, three weeks later could not perform the same feat,” Gen. Andrew Poppas, head of Forces Command, told Army Times.
The reason? Because free agents will leave the team and an NFL draft will reshuffle the deck of players available to that team and others. The football teams go through their own off-season cycle — they bring in new recruits, they swap out seasoned veterans, they work through new plays and formations, training first in the gym on weights, then by position then as a team, all through the coming months as they prepare for their first preseason game.
That may sound familiar.
Poppas uses the analogy as a way for commanders to view their combat training center rotations as that preseason game that exposes their strengths and flaws ahead of the real test — that next deployment.
The precise, predictive manning cycle being implemented by Forces Command, seeks to align new equipment, training cycles and schedules across a unit.
The first step, starting about two years out or more from a deployment is to put the officers and non-commissioned officers in place as new soldiers arrive, both privates out of their job training and soldiers transferring from other parts of the Army.
As that’s happening, Poppas said, new tankers, infantry, scouts, take your pick of soldier job, are paired up with the unit entering that 2+ year training cycle for deployment.
“This class is graduating basic training and we know the date they’re graduating,” Poppas said. “We align that class to that unit to fill their manning shortages.”
The officer/NCO preset, combined with the new and experienced soldier arrivals helps create a “cohesive core,” Poppas said. What that means is the NCOs and junior officers will already be in place, will have formed a training schedule and identified the levels of experience of soldiers coming into the formation. That preparation and consistency in small unit leadership helps those groups better find what areas they need to focus on to bring all parts of the larger unit up to speed.
For example, a fresh batch of infantry soldiers from one station unit training has recently qualified on rifle marksmanship but may need more advanced land navigation work. Newly arrived, more senior soldiers may be in need of some range time. Having a set of leaders ready to receive them gives them a better awareness of what they’ll need to do to bring everyone to standard so that larger, collective training say at the company or battalion level, can run smoothly.
Previously, big Army would monitor soldiers’ time at their duty station or with a unit, and see that the individual soldier was hitting their two or three-year mark. That meant a time to move, regardless of whether it was in the beginning, middle or end of a deployment cycle.
And it was out of the commander’s hands. No longer.
A good example, Poppas said, is when a brigade has a crop of lieutenants pinning on captain. They’ve got to go to captain’s training. But do they all have to go at once?
Now, commanders can select who goes when and balance the needs of their deployment schedule.
Beyond the personnel alignment, Poppas said they can also better plan for new equipment and training in that same cycle.
That process will build in training blocks for the new equipment so that soldiers are learning to employ it effectively as they’re prepping for their training center rotation, rather than having gear dropped on them randomly.
“You have a model to work from,” Poppas said. “That predictability provides a more comprehensive training plan. And that’s for soldiers and their families. The end state is what’s on the field, the most cohesive, trained fighting force.”
The four-star said that the approach does provide flexibility for contingencies and emergencies, such as what happened when the Russia-Ukraine War erupted.
“There are always going to be emergencies,” he said.
Not everyone will be happy.
If a unit isn’t on the Global Force Management Allocation Plan, the long-range overarching plan for what units will be ready to deploy, then they will have lower manning and be at a lower readiness level, Poppas said.