This is a terribly sad story that should have never happened. Sgt. Lawrence Sprader died in the course of normal training. The report found that at least 12 other soldiers required medical attention. Warrior Leadership Course is intended to develop the leadership skills of new Sergeants. This is not a combat skills course. All sergeants are required to attend, including those who can reasonably expect to never see a combat zone. This course was not preparation for deployment. By all indication, this should be a safe learning environment where soldiers have an opportunity to learn and develop skills in a safe, no-threat environment. No one should be put at risk in this class. That doesn’t mean it should not involved hard work, stress and all that other hoo aahh stuff. It only means that the training staff should be paying close attention and taking very good care of the soldiers under their charge. The fact of the matter in today’s Army is that this does not happen.
I recently attended Warrior Transition Course (WTC). This is a course intended to prepare prior service members for service in today’s Army. Prior Air Force and Navy are required to attend the course, as well as prior Army and Marine Corp who have been out for more than 3 years (it might be 5, I can’t remember). The course is a fantastic waste of time and money. While I was at WTC I saw a lot of attitudes that must be similar to those of the trainers and cadre that are described in the Fort Hood article.
One of the primary examples is hydration. Dehydration is a big concern to the military. Dehydration casualties are a serious problem. As a result, Army training incorporates hydration into its training regimen. However, keeping everyone properly hydrated is time consuming. Everyone needs to have access to fresh water. That usually means transporting the water to the training area and ensuring that the water remains safe for drinking. It means making sure the soldiers have access to the water and time to fill canteens or hydration packs. It means having proper restroom facilities so that soldiers can urinate as required by the increased intake of water. That’s a lot of logistics to take care of.
At WTC, at least while I was there, water sources were adequate but restroom facilities were grossly inadequate. The facility were most of the classroom activity took place there was one restroom with five toilets. There were 240 males in the class. We were required to drink one quart of water an hour. We were given five to ten minutes each hour for restroom breaks. If each male used two minutes (it takes at least that long, time yourself next time) at the toilet, a ten minute break would allow 50 men to the restroom each break. Assuming that there was an effective rotation process (there was not) that would mean each man got to use the restroom once every 4 hours. Not nearly enough for people drinking one quart of water an hour.
So, most of us stopped drinking a quart an hour. No big deal, right? We were required to attach a string to our collars, plainly visible. We were to tie a knot in the string for each quart we drank. Through the course of the day, instructors would check our string to see that we were drinking the required amounts. If we weren’t, we got in trouble. If we became a dehydration casualty and our string indicated that we had been drinking enough water, we were charged with two offenses. Failure to hydrate and an integrity violation for lying about our water intake. If we complained about not being able to use the restroom often enough we were publicly ridiculed. This isn’t something I heard from someone, this is what I experienced. And all the while, the instructors were harping on us about the importance of Integrity.
So, this might seem fairly minor. However, this leads very easily to dehydration casualties. We weren’t allowed to use the restroom so we would stop drinking water. After a classroom event we would go to the field for a strenuous event. We were at higher altitude than most of us were used to, the humidity was significantly lower than most of us were used to and the temperatures were high enough to be a factor. Many of us had experience in the desert and would try to catch up on water as soon as we left the classroom. This still leaves the restroom issue but that was easier to deal with outdoors, at least for the men. Even so, some of the soldiers still became dehydration casualties. Only now, it’s the soldier’s fault, not the training command because the soldier didn’t follow orders, right?
I’m very interested to see what becomes of this. What happen at Ft Hood is not an isolated incident but a symptom of a much bigger problem. In many cases, there are good soldiers in instructor positions trying hard to meet the demands of senior leadership. Even in those places were the Army school house is trying to do the right thing, the pressure to push soldiers through the training as fast as possible with as few resources as possible is making it impossible to meet all the requirements. Instructors are under constant pressure to meet terribly tight training schedules, train to standard not to schedule and pass as many soldiers as possible. It simply isn’t possible.