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While digging through my office / hiding place looking for something else the other day, I happened upon a yellow notepad with a bunch of random notes in it from various trips and activities.  Buried about ten pages in was a list of “Rejected annual training mottos” from our unit AT in 2012.

Oh, the memories brought back by this list.  The memories.  The rage.  The hate.

Background for normal people

AT is the proverbial “two weeks in the summer” for the U.S. military reserve components.  Because of the nature of our unit, we usually do “individual AT,” which is to say NCOES or language training or an overseas exercise or something, because we don’t really have a coherent unit mission.  In 2009, our battalion did a unit AT, the first in its two decades of existence so far as I could tell.  The first week was a pretty miserable garrison experience, but for the second week our company went into the field in Yakistan (on paper known as the Yakima Training Center) and it actually turned into a fun and useful exercise (very much to my surprise and counter to all of my predictions).

The thought then was: why don’t we do this again, only we’ll just ditch battalion from the get-go and do a company exercise?  So we briefed at the battalion planning drill for the following training year (2011), and so we planned.  We’d do a week at Fort Lewis, doing driver training and combat lifesaver and weapons qualification, but then we’d do a week in the field, improving on the training events of the previous iteration while dropping the battalion staff updates and pointless meetings that take leaders away from troops.

Reality intervenes

Fast forward a year.  I escaped the Readiness NCO job, the worst experience of my life, and the company commander (CO), first sergeant (1SG), and executive officer (XO) all rotated.  A new batch of leadership was in place, and they had inherited our beautiful plan, in which they had no faith or interest. Loudly bemoaning the fact that they were stuck with this plan and it couldn’t be avoided (which was patently untrue), the commander gave over training planning to the XO, who outsourced it to an outside group who specialized in pre-deployment training (which this was not).  The plan was now to spend all of our time at Lewis because “no one really wanted to go to the field anyway.”

The outsiders dropped the ball.  The training we’d asked for was not what we received; this has happened every time we’ve ever dealt with them in the near decade I’ve been with this unit.  What we got was a random collection of training on tasks that we should never be called to do, and which are extremely unlikely to ever occur.  There was a great deal of waiting around, and too many students for not enough classes.

Speaking of ‘not enough classes’…

On day 1 (a Friday) while we were trying to unFUBAR this thing, the XO came to me and asked if I could teach my report writing class this weekend.  “This weekend as in tomorrow, sir?”  He nodded guiltily.  “No.  No I cannot.”  I stared at him blankly, trying to understand what could compel him to think that kind of change could be thrown into the mix of what was already turning into a grand charlie foxtrot.

He moved away.  Something in my head clicked. “Wait… what report writing class?”

Apparently, a four-hour class had been “on the schedule” for months, but no one had actually brought it up to the E6 who was supposed to provide it.  Consequently, this class did not actually, as of day 1, exist.  I spent the first week not getting training, but writing it.  This takes a lot of time to do well.  I could have done it slipshod more quickly, but I wanted something to go right during the two weeks.

Lessons learned: none.

I consider the AT that year to be an epic failure. We missed an opportunity when we had everyone together to do collective embrace-the-suck field training, and instead squandered it on the kind of blah, routine classroom stuff we could do during regular drill weekends. The commander never missed a chance to blame the previous command team for putting it on the schedule (as though this was what we’d intended), which was a repeated slap in the face.

I think about this frequently now, since, as one of her last acts before leaving as our CO, she put another collective unit AT on the calendar for Summer 2014.  And once again, we’re handing planning over to the same group that screwed it up last time.  We don’t learn.

So that this experience wasn’t a total waste, here are the rejected mottos from annual training 2012 in no particular order.  I started writing these down around day five, and had several fine contributions from other NCOs, whom I unfortunately neglected to credit in my notes.

  • Let’s See What Happens
  • Planning: I do not think it means what you think it means
  • Redefining “Well-Planned”
  • Hope is a Strategy
  • The Quest for Training
  • Train to Time, Not to Standard
  • AT: It’s Fragotacular!
  • Fifteen Days We’ll Never Get Back
  • Let’s Never Do This Again
  • Taking the Blame Game to a Whole New Level
  • Suck it up
  • This is Not How It’s Supposed to Be
  • Insha’Allah