Train Like You Fight – Army Life Lesson #2
My platoon was tired on the last day of our week long field exercise. We were scheduled to erect an enemy internment collections area, which is one of the four battlefield missions for a Military Police unit. My platoon was only a few months removed from nearly a year long deployment to Bosnia –Herzegovina and my soldiers were weary.
It was especially chilly on that Friday afternoon and my soldiers were tired, cold and anxious to head back home and spend a well deserved weekend with their families. My squad leaders were not particularly thrilled about erecting the general purpose tent, laying out the necessary concertina wire and then breaking it all down when the training was completed.
I was sympathetic to my soldiers. They trained hard all week and deserved some time off. I allowed my squad leaders to convince me to “go through the motions” and simply walk through how we would set-up each station and the process behind it.
I was about to complete the training exercise, when a HUMVEE approached our site. My Company Commander stepped out of the vehicle along with the company’s newest Platoon Leader, fresh from Officer Basic training. I was the senior Lieutenant in the unit and my Company Commander decided to bring the new Lieutenant to show him how we train our platoons in the field.
The Company Commander knew we were scheduled to setup an internment camp so he was planning to inspect our work. I felt the panic rise through me as my cheeks blushed in embarrassment. I had nothing setup, except a few areas marked off by tape designating where we would establish the processing area, the holding area, and other various stations.
I respected my Company Commander and felt ashamed when I saw the disappointment in his eyes. He excused himself from the group and asked to speak with me alone.
“What’s this all about, Lieutenant?”
“Well, sir, this was our last exercise. My troops are tired and I thought I would give them a break before we broke camp and headed home.”
My commander shook his head. “Do you think you are doing them any favors by blowing off this exercise?”
I shook my head no; I didn’t have a good answer.
“Listen son, part of the training is doing the work even when you’re tired. On the battlefield your soldiers will always be tired, homesick, and hungry, but the mission must be completed. If you want to keep you soldiers safe on the battlefield, then you train them properly here, so you can bring them home alive in the future, got it?”
“Yes, sir.” I responded.
“Always remember, Lieutenant, you train in the field the exact same way you expect to fight in the battle. If you allow your soldiers to cut corners now, don’t expect them to flip a switch and be fully prepared and ready to go when the real thing occurs, understand?”
“Yes, sir!” I saluted the Company Commander as he stepped away from me and spent a few minutes with my platoon. He smiled and encouraged each soldier before he departed the training area. He never mentioned the incident to me again, nor did he berate me in front of my platoon. He taught me a powerful lesson that afternoon. “Train like you fight” and you will always be ready.
How do I implement that philosophy in my life now?
I practice my presentations standing up and work the empty room, at my home office, the exact same way I would work the crowd at my presentation. I test the timing of my jokes, and set up the equipment the same way I would for the presentation. When I travel to a new customer site, I drive the route to the customer’s office the night before my meeting, just to make sure I know how to get to the customer location and will ensure that I arrive on time the next day.
When preparing for my marathons this summer, I used the exact same sports drink, during my training runs, that the marathon organizers were planning to use. When I ran my 20 mile long runs, I simulated my water breaks and wore the same shirt, shorts, and shoes I planned to use for the race. I conducted most of my training runs during the same time of day as my marathon so my mind and body would be ready for the actual event.
I train like a fight every day, so when the real event occurs I am fully prepared to tackle it with ease and confidence. The Army taught me this valuable lesson and its served me well ever since. How about you?