MANAS, Kyrgyzstan --
As the war in Afghanistan winds down, it will be critical that military leaders bridge the gap in training their troops to transition to a garrison environment after experiencing years of combat.
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, the senior enlisted advisor to Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with senior enlisted leaders at the Transit Center here today to emphasize combining traditional, basic tenets and innovative thinking to assist service members in making the transition to a military that serves in less-hectic times.
First hearing of the phrase “back to the basics” as he solicited feedback from the enlisted force, Battaglia said he realized the message was incomplete.
“When I heard it I thought, 'Man, that's a pretty catchy little phrase,'” Battaglia said. “But the concept that I have here is let's be careful. Words mean something, and back to the basics is incomplete. It's only half the solution.”
The sergeant major shared an anecdote with the room full of senior enlisted leaders explaining why just going back to the basics could be counterproductive.
“I used it. I brought it up to a Marine sergeant,” Battaglia said. “I said, 'We're going to go back to the basics.' And he said, 'Who's basics? Yours, sergeant major?'”
Battaglia said the Marine sergeant added that he had “no idea” what those basics are. The Marine sergeant seemingly was taken aback, Battaglia said, at the suggestion that the way he’d performed his military duties needed to change.
“So those were the implications that it sort of left,” Battaglia said. “And I started to think about it more and more.”
As the U.S. military downsizes and returns to a garrison environment, he said, there are some basics that need to be taught to troops.
The sergeant major said there were basics from his generation's era of Cold War preparation “training for a war we never fought.”
But there was plenty of garrison time, “and we really cracked the code on how to survive,” Battaglia said.
“It was things like the face-to-face counseling, marching and drill and ceremony and all those basic tenets that really helped prepare us for combat that we're still in right now,” he said. “I really believe that.
“So it's not so much going back to the basics, as it is bridging the basics,” Battaglia continued. “By bridging the basics, I mean that we can't simply turn back to times where technology was almost absent. To be quite honest, there're some basics that I grew up with that, maybe they worked, but I damn sure won't take them today and use them.”
The sergeant major also noted if the force went too far back to these basics it could represent challenges in “keeping pace with our adversaries of today. There's just no doubt about it.”
Battaglia implored the group of senior enlisted leaders to develop their own examples of basics that employ innovative thinking and technology.
So while going back to the basics is a catchy phrase that may be gaining momentum, it's only half-complete, he said.
“It's got to be a bridging,” Battaglia said. “You can't take this generation out of the equation -- they're part of the solution. And if you alienate them, and do that to them, we're going to be regretful and commit some ‘fratricide’ amongst ourselves with regards to this environment and how to survive.
“We're going to get leaner and smaller,” he continued. “I don't see the challenges going away. We have to be ready and relevant, and educated and trained for any existing or emerging requirements that the president or the secretary of defense calls on us for.”
Battaglia quoted Winston Churchill in inspiring the senior leaders to create new and innovative ways to lead troops in a new era.
“There are some good ideas that we can still use from back then,” he said. “Winston Churchill [once said,] 'Sometimes, the best way to get a new idea is to read an old book.'”