The U.S. Army is upgrading basic training for officers and enlisted personnel to emphasize combat leadership skills and what officers at the Training and Doctrine Command here are calling the "warrior ethos."
The moves come after Army leaders concluded that the increasingly high-tech force was becoming too specialized, with too many troops thinking of themselves in terms of their military specialties, not their mastery of marksmanship and other basic combat skills.
"We took a look at a lot of areas, and warrior ethos was one we wanted to strengthen. They'll tell you, 'I'm a mechanic,' not 'I'm a soldier,' and we've got to change that," Gen. Kevin P. Byrnes, the TRADOC commanding general, said last week in an interview with reporters. "We took a look at [training] the future soldier, and we came up short in the warrior ethos piece."
The emphasis on the warrior ethos, which will begin in basic training later this year, was set in motion long before an 18-vehicle convoy of the 507th Maintenance Company got lost and was ambushed March 23 by Baathist fighters in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.
But the incident has served to highlight the importance of basic combat skills on the part of all troops in fast-moving, irregular campaigns with hundreds of miles of supply lines and dozens of bases vulnerable to guerrilla and terrorist tactics.
Gen. Eric K. Shinseki formally authorized the warrior ethos program in a memo signed in May, a month before he retired as Army chief of staff. A separate initiative being developed here will add a six-week basic leadership course to the training all officers receive, beginning in 2006.
The course would come before officers' eight- to 14-week training in their specialties, such as intelligence, infantry or logistics, and emphasize small-unit leadership skills, similar to those possessed by Special Operations forces.
"They are very agile, very adaptive," Byrnes said of those elite soldiers. "They're intelligence collectors, they're war fighters. How can we take some of that goodness and bring it into our regular force?"
Eleven soldiers were killed in Iraq when the 507th was ambushed; six others were captured by Iraqi forces and later freed, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch, a 20-year-old maintenance clerk who recently left the Army.
An Army investigation later determined that many of the 507th soldiers were unable to defend themselves because their weapons malfunctioned, possibly due to "inadequate individual maintenance in a desert environment."
Analysts have since commented that Marine forces in Iraq were well served by a fundamental tenet -- "every Marine a rifleman" -- that is stressed from the first day of training and re-emphasized in training and daily routines throughout a Marine's career. Marine mechanics and supply clerks pride themselves on their shooting skills and their ability to defend themselves on the battlefield.
"I think the Marines do a good job on their basic combat training, and we're trying to pull the better aspects out and embed them in our training," Byrnes said.
Byrnes said the warrior ethos -- summarized in Army training material as a commitment to victory, an emphasis on mission, a refusal to quit and a commitment to never leave an American behind -- will also be emphasized after training is over in everything soldiers do in their regular units.
Thus, mechanics not only will be required to fix engines but to repair them at night after a long road march. And all Army personnel, not just front-line combat units, could be required to qualify on marksmanship twice a year instead of just once.
"We'll be making many changes, but the centerpiece will be the emphasis on warrior ethos,' Byrnes said.