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USMC general details training changes

Oct. 4, 2012 - 11:02AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 4, 2012 - 11:02AM  |  
Maj. Gen. Tom Murray, commanding general of Training and Education Command, said the commandant's priorities - like ethics and jungle warfare training - will shape Marines' education.
Maj. Gen. Tom Murray, commanding general of Training and Education Command, said the commandant's priorities - like ethics and jungle warfare training - will shape Marines' education. (Cpl. Susan Smith / Marine Corps)
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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. Marines are about to see a lot of changes in their training as the Corps shifts from steady combat in Afghanistan to new missions focused on U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

There are plans to revamp pre-deployment workups, reinvigorate jungle warfare training and develop broader cultural expertise in this vast, diverse and dynamic part of the world. Lessons learned during the past decade will undoubtedly play a role in determining how these programs evolve, said Maj. Gen. Tom Murray, the head of Training and Education Command, but with budgets and people stretched, TECOM must look closely at cost and benefit that is, how the Corps will get the best return on investment.

Meanwhile, TECOM is looking at shaking up the experience recruits get at boot camp and re-examining its approach to ethics training, the general said. The related efforts are meant to address some troubling cultural issues that have taken root within the Corps.

Murray met with Marine Corps Times here in September. Excerpts from the interview, edited for space and clarity:

Q. Among the changes TECOM has looked at over the past two years, what's been the most significant to implement?

A. The biggest one is the [Marine air-ground task force] training program for the future. It all stems from the fact that the whole environment is changing. We've been here before as a Marine Corps, but we're here again. We're seeing a major evolution with 10 years of combat drawing down. We also have financial restrictions that are going to be put on us and also in manpower. So from a training and education standpoint, we're trying to look at all of that.

Q. So what will MAGTF training look like going forward?

A. We're doing the last Enhanced Mojave Viper pre-deployment training right now at Twentynine Palms, Calif. We used to have the [combined arms exercises] about 10 years ago before we instituted Mojave Viper, so we're looking at kind of a hybrid of the two going forward. We have it in two pieces: ITX, which is an integrated training exercise, and then LSE, which is a large-scale exercise.

The ITXs will be for the battalion, squadron and logistics unit level where they will come out, we'll provide them some time to train as an individual unit, as a squadron and as a battalion. Then we'll also bring that together and integrate all of the pieces of the MAGTF. We're looking to do five of those each year.

Then the LSE is for the command elements. That's a large scale exercise, and we'll do two of those per year. That will be focused on the [Marine expeditionary brigade] or the [Marine expeditionary force] staffs.

Q. What are the biggest lessons learned over the last decade in regard to pre-deployment training?

A. I think one of the biggest things we learned is that there are no more front lines like there used to be. We found that it was very often corporals and sergeants dealing with local populations and governance, making decisions that could have strategic implications. In the past, that would've been a battalion or company commander. That's why we've gone to increase the [professional military education] and change the curriculum. We've changed the way we think about things.

Q. Where is cultural training headed next?

A. That's a challenge because we don't know where the next environment will be. So how do we give people the basics that they know enough about culture and how to think through problems but not be country-specific? We are focusing toward Asia-Pacific because we've been told to do that, but our culture and language training is going to be balanced … and basically every Marine is going to participate in it.

It's called Regional, Cultural and Language Familiarization, and they will pick or be assigned a region, a culture and a language that they are going to learn throughout the rest of their career, with certain milestones they'll have to pass to be eligible for future promotion.

We found over the past 10 years that the cultural piece is probably more important than the language, because even if you can speak the language, if you don't understand the culture, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble.

Q. Will certain countries have a heavier emphasis than others?

A. There are 17 different regions. There will probably be a little bit more of an emphasis on Asia-Pacific, but we do want to maintain a balance. A person whose region is Asia-Pacific, culture is Chinese and language is Mandarin, it won't stop him from deploying on an East Coast [Marine expeditionary unit]. It's about having a balance and a mix.

Q. The commandant recently discussed an overhaul of jungle warfare training. What is being considered?

A. We've kind of been thinking about this for a while. There's the training center on Okinawa, Japan. But it's not anything like what the Mountain Warfare Training Center is for mountain training or cold-weather training because it's not a service school right now.

The commandant wants us to look at a service-level jungle warfare training center on the model of the Mountain Warfare Training Center up at Pickel Meadows in California. So who is it that we'll put through this training? Is it forces that are going out to Asia-Pacific? Or could it be anyone?

[At] the Mountain Warfare Training Center we train in mountain climbing, we train in cold weather, but it's not all that school's about. It's about small-unit leader training. In the future, it will be a venue where people will work in those ITXs, so they might be at [different training locations]. So it's really more than just mountain and cold weather. And as we develop the jungle warfare training center, it'll be the same thing.

We are also looking at costs because if we were going to take forces from the U.S. that aren't on their way to deploy to the Pacific, it would cost a heck of a lot to get a unit over there to go through jungle warfare training and then come back.

So is there somewhere here in the western hemisphere where we can do it as well? Do we want one, do we want the other? But we are going to within a reasonable amount of time develop a service-level jungle warfare training center if that's what the commandant decides.

Q. So there could be multiple training centers?

A. Yes, we're looking at all of that. We're looking at the most efficient and cost-effective way to train now for using a jungle environment, but to do all the small-unit leader training as well.

Q. TECOM also is looking at boot camp. A review board met in September to talk about curriculum changes. What's being considered there?

A. There's a lot that we're going to beef up within the curriculum at the depots the sexual assault prevention, readiness training, we're getting at the hazing, the Marine total fitness package, resiliency, combat stress, and then a thing called mission command that has become very big in the joint world recently. That's where all up and down the chain of command, people understand the commander's intent. We are nurturing an environment where understanding turns into trust and then empowerment. That way you don't have to ask questions, you understand what the mission is, where you want to end up and how the commander wants to do it.

We also want to get at the idea of diversity and what has been done for the Marine Corps by the diverse cultures that have joined it.

We're also looking at changing around the instructors some. We only train female Marines at Parris Island, S.C., but what we want to do is put women in positions of leadership. So whether its instructors or sergeants major … our recruits male and female see a mix of male and female figureheads, authority figures.

Q. What about ethics training? The commandant has toured the Corps discussing this, and there was a servicewide ethics standdown. How will ethics become part of sustained training for Marines?

A. It's ethics but also the issues we're having with sexual assault, hazing and mentoring properly. Instead of doing shotgun-blast training for six topics, we're going to take all these kinds of things under an umbrella of training and get this back to being part of our culture.

We're going to get to where it's talked about all the time in all of our schools, in foot locker discussions, in weekly command leadership training discussions.

Q. How does TECOM identify a need for training to be improved or changed?

A. It's the operating forces that we want to be responsive to. So we're out there, we discuss with them, we identify gaps. Then we prioritize those gaps.

Q. So how do you get more Marines through the training they need when fewer resources are available?

A. Getting individuals out of the units is a challenge, especially as we get smaller because they're going to be busier. There's still a lot more distance or online learning.

We want to get to where this training is mandatory for promotion. But you have to be really careful about making residential training mandatory for promotion because of the large numbers at certain ranks that were deployed back-to-back. By giving them the distance learning now, if this all works out, then we may go to a mandatory training to be promoted.

Q. Aside from distance learning, how else is technology helping to better train Marines?

A. Simulators have really advanced. You can stop, restart and work through a problem much easier with simulation. We have the Infantry Immersion Trainer, and at first it started out small with just fire teams, but now you can put very large units through it. It's a mix of live and virtual training. The repetition trains Marines to do some basic things without thinking, which allows more of your brain to focus on the unexpected.

We're also getting to the point where we can network this stuff … a big advancement.

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