Sergeant's Time Training in CSS Units

by Lieutenant Colonel Robert A. Swenson

    Many of the soldiers in the combat service support (CSS) units I have worked in were so busy providing support that enabled others to train that they gave a back seat to their own training. That kind of situation is unfortunate, because training is no less important in CSS units than in any other kind. I also have been in CSS units that conducted great training. The difference is in the planning, focus, and leader involvement.

    The biggest training event in a typical CSS unit's week is sergeant's time training (STT). I don't like the term "sergeant's time training" because it causes many officers to think that they are not responsible for it. Wrong! The commander is still the primary trainer of the unit, even during STT. Yes, the noncommissioned officers (NCOs) should conduct the training, but the platoon leaders and the commanders share the responsibility for deciding what should be taught, providing resources for the training, ensuring its quality, and integrating STT into the company's overall training strategy. I prefer to call it "prime-time training" because it is the only time of the week when the attention of the entire unit is on training.

    Unfortunately, here's how STT often is managed. Around 6 weeks or so out, the platoon sergeant asks the squad leader what he is planning for STT in 6 weeks. The squad leader then does a 4.8-second training assessment and says "mapreading." The platoon sergeant says, "You did that last week." The squad leader says, "I know, but we need to do it again." What he really is thinking is, "Mapreading is an easy class to give, and I'm comfortable giving it." So that is what goes on the training schedule. Six weeks later, the platoon leader reminds the squad leader that he is scheduled to teach a mapreading class this week and asks if he is ready. Of course he is. On the day of the class, he scrambles to find some maps and protractors and gives a class. The soldiers sit around bored to death as he calls them up one at a time and has them point out various terrain features on a map. The soldiers all do well—after all, they just had the class 6 weeks ago! Mapreading is one of the worst examples of STT that I've seen, mainly because it is done in a classroom, often using a map of some other part of the world. It is a useless skill unless you use a map to teach land navigation, and that is best done one on one, out on the ground.

    Here are some other examples of bad STT—

    · Location survey. This is an attempt by the officer in charge of the supply support activity to conduct a location survey and call it training. He gives the soldiers 5 minutes of training, and then they conduct the survey. STT is supposed to be based on the unit's mission-essential task list (METL). No unit is going to fail in war because it didn't train on conducting a location survey.

    · Maintenance management procedures. Again, soldiers sit in a class while the sergeant shows them forms in a job packet and explains how they are used. Soldiers "check out" of this class; their bodies are there, but their minds are not. Unless they are involved in maintenance management, they don't care about what the sergeant is saying and won't remember it after they walk out the door. The best way to teach maintenance management is to give a soldier responsibility for it for a couple of months until he has it down pat and then pass the responsibility to another soldier.

    · Common task training. Using the only opportunity available during the week for collective training to conduct individual training is not a good plan. Every unit has dead time, often not planned. Use that dead time for hip-pocket common task training.

    What do these examples have in common? They are all easy to prepare, and they are squarely in the instructor's comfort zone. We need to get our NCOs out of their comfort zones. We need to take the time to plan STT that is METL-based, includes hands-on training, and addresses collective tasks.

STT Done Right

    I once had a platoon sergeant who consistently had the best STT in the unit. In fact, it was the best I've ever seen. I asked him how he did it, and this is what he told me. Right after we got back from a National Training Center rotation, he used his experience there and my training guidance to develop titles for 10 classes. He picked 10 because there are only about 10 STT days in a quarter, and he would get to train these critical tasks only 4 times a year. He wrote the titles on manila folders and gave each of his squad leaders a folder. He told them what he had in mind for each class and that they should be prepared to teach the class in 6 weeks. After the class, each squad leader gave the folder back to the sergeant with a lesson plan, a list of resources, and an after-action report. The platoon sergeant then gave the folder to another squad leader and told him to improve on it and give the class in 6 weeks. Soon he had the best training around, and he had made everyone's life easier. All the squad leaders knew what had to be taught, and the platoon sergeant knew what to say each week at the company training meeting.

    I'm sure that by now you are dying to know what those 10 classes were. Here they are; I have updated them and added a few thoughts of my own.

    1. Establishing an operating area. This class covers everything involved in setting up at a new site, starting at the release point. It includes positioning vehicles; establishing security; and setting up tents, camouflage, communications, power, light sets, heaters—the works. You may not think this training is important, but wait until you see how much faster and more professionally you can set up in the field after being trained.


From their newly constructed fighting positions, soldiers receive instruction in fire-control procedures.

    2. Building a squad defense. This class involves digging fighting positions with proper overhead cover and setting up tactical wire, protective wire, and supplementary wire. (The digging alone could take all day, so the platoon sergeant had the basic holes dug by a small emplacement excavator [SEE] the day before.)

    3. Defending the assigned sector. This class is on the actual defense of the sector, fields of fire, sector sketches, fire control, signals, claymores, flares, and integrating the quick reaction force.

    4. Reacting to a nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) attack. I see a lot of NBC training during STT, but it rarely goes beyond individual skills. This class starts with individual tasks. It then goes on to what you do after you get to mission-oriented protective posture 4, such as finding and treating the wounded and finding and marking contaminated areas. The class also includes the proper use of M256-series chemical agent detector kits, unmasking procedures, and NBC reports. The class ends with a mock attack from start to finish, integrating everything learned. Captain Peter Ramirez wrote a great article on this in the Fall 2000 issue of Ordnance magazine.

    5. Patrolling. No adversary is going to stumble onto a support area and attack it. He is going to hide in the bushes or in the village and watch the support area while he develops an attack plan. Aggressive patrolling will deny the enemy that opportunity or actually disrupt his preparations. Patrolling is not easy to do, and regular training is required to get it right.

    6. Managing a convoy. This class covers everything from precombat inspections and communications checks to ambushes, rally points, land navigation, actions to be taken on a halt, casualty evacuation, and reporting in.

    7. Special teams training. This class covers all of the small teams needed to make a unit successful in the field, such as a quick reaction force, an NBC team, a field sanitation team, an advance party, an entrance control team, an enemy prisoners of war team, and listening and observation post teams.

    8. Evacuating casualties. We all receive a lot of first-aid training, but it usually covers only individual skills. What do you do after you apply the bandage? This class covers first aid as well as carries, litters, nonstandard ambulances, MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) requests, landing zone designation, and preparation of feeder reports and witness statements. Get your combat lifesavers involved. They should demonstrate their skills, including starting an intravenous line, during this class.

    9. Handling crew-served weapons. This class covers weapons assembly and employment, traversing and elevating mechanism, types of fire, fire adjustments, tripod mounts, and ring mounts. For this training, gather up all of the crew-served weapons in the unit, not just the ones in the platoon. That way, you will have 1 weapon for every 2 or 3 soldiers, not 1 for every 20. In an infantry unit, the .50-caliber gunner is highly trained to be just that. However, CSS units rotate soldiers on the crew serves so the gunner can get other things done. But the enemy is not going to wait until the most qualified soldier is manning the weapon to attack, so all soldiers need to know how to use the weapons even if they have never fired them before.

    10. Operating communications equipment. Communications undoubtedly will be discussed in classes 1 through 9, but this class is dedicated exclusively to proper use of available communications equipment. As with the crew-served weapons, pull together all of the communications equipment in the company to use during the class so every 1 or 2 soldiers can train on a piece of equipment, not every 20. That way, you don't have the instructor working with only one soldier while the rest sit around bored to death.

Getting Started

    To start a program like this, you need some kind of leader certification. Our NCOs are great Americans, but many of them have not conducted this kind of training at all, or at least not at this level. A lot of them don't know how to use a traversing and elevating mechanism or build a proper overhead cover. I've seen training fail because our junior leaders were poorly trained and rehearsed on the training they were asked to give. We have to train the trainer first. A way to do this is through officer and NCO development programs.

    When I tell people about this method of training, the first criticism I get is, "Sergeant's time training is supposed to be done by the squad leader." That's true. However, in most units that conduct STT, the squad leaders are expected to put together seven classes at once (the six already scheduled and the one proposed for this week's training meeting). It is a lot to ask of a squad leader to come up with good quality training week after week in addition to all of his other responsibilities. With this method, different NCOs prepare the training, obtain the resources, and then get all the squad leaders up to speed so that they, in turn, can properly train their soldiers.

    The next question is, "Where is common task training?" Well, take another look at the classes. What common task training is not covered in them? Most of the classes start with the individual tasks, walk through the collective tasks, and end with a scenario-driven exercise.

    You might wonder also about military occupational specialty (MOS) training. We work our MOSs every day, but we do not always make the best use of the opportunities we have. For example, when a transaxle repair job comes into a maintenance shop, the shop foreman looks around for his best transaxle guy and gives it to him. At the end of the day, he still has one guy who does a great job on transaxles and no one else who can. Why not get the best guy to talk through the repair with another guy who has never done it?

    As another example, consider what you do when tasked to provide fuel support. Don't just ship it out from the main post. Instead, help your soldiers gain valuable experience by allowing them to set up the fuel system supply point, ship the fuel there, and then send it on to the supported unit.

    Almost everything your unit does is a training opportunity. Making the most of training opportunities takes more time, but, in the end, you've improved the readiness of your unit and the skills of your soldiers.

    Developing a training program like the one I've discussed enables you to cover all of your combat tasks during STT. Field training exercises then are not a time to train these tasks but rather an opportunity to validate your training program and to integrate the various pieces while providing support and doing all the other things that must be done in the field.

    This training methodology works. It results in focused, well-resourced, hands-on, interesting training. It also results in increased readiness, and it actually reduces the time we spend planning and preparing training. Most importantly, it results in more motivated, confident, and capable soldiers who are able to stay alive while providing support.

    Lieutenant Colonel Robert A. Swenson is the Army Joint Actions Control Officer at Headquarters, Department of the Army.  When he wrote this article, he was the commander of the 498th Corps Support Battalion in Seoul, Korea. He holds an M.S. degree in logistics management from the Naval Postgraduate School. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and the Army Command and General Staff College.