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Case Study in High-Level Leadership: The Combined Arms Training Strategy

A Process of Large Organization Senior Leader Decision Making—Agreeing on a Training Strategy

Article by Tom Rozman

This vignette examines the process of communication that occurred among senior Army leadership in the development of an Army training strategy for its combined arms units.  The Army was confronting the severely reduced budgets it anticipated in the immediate post fall of the Berlin Wall era and subsequent Soviet collapse. 

The development of a force training strategy that leveraged all possible resources available, to include emerging technologies, optimally to assure that its combat arms units could train to mission standard was deemed a vital force requirement.  The process that developed to achieve decision by senior leaders succeeded in putting in place a strategy by 1992 that continued to support the force for the next two decades and informs to the present day.  As such that decision process in summary may have some value for leaders today in the insight it may provide.


It was May 1989 and two U.S. Army lieutenant colonels were engaged in a welcome meeting for the junior of the two at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) then based at Ft. Monroe, Virginia.   The senior officer was a promotable armor lieutenant colonel serving in a full colonel’s slot as the Director of the Joint, Combined, Unit Training Directorate, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training, TRADOC.  He would soon be reassigned to Ft. Hood, Texas to assume command of an armored brigade in the 2nd Armored Division.  He would command that brigade in Kuwait and lead it in its spectacular spearhead drive by the Marine Amphibious Corps to cut off and destroy Iraqi Army units withdrawing from Kuwait City.


U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command

The junior officer had just been reassigned to the directorate from the Department of the Army’s Armored Family of Vehicle Task Force where, for three years, he had coordinated the envisioned six infantry systems combat and materiel development study and work, the materiel development work for lethality systems less directed energy, and the projected armored force’s training development work.  His assignment to TRADOC was intended to further certain training concepts that had developed during the task force’s work.


Lieutenant Colonel (Promotable) John B. Sylvester
in later career as lieutenant general

The director’s welcome meeting was cordial and the two officers established an instant rapport.  Significant in the conversation was the comment by the director regarding recent tasking of TRADOC by the then Army Chief of Staff, General Carl Vuono, to examine the development of a force wide combat arms training strategy that in light of anticipated budgets would allow the Army to sustain mission readiness to standard within these anticipated budgets.  To be considered were all existing and emerging training resources, creating strategies and priorities that gave the Army the greatest capability possible to assure mission readiness across the force to include the reserve components.


General Carl E. Vuono

The junior officer noted that this guidance dovetailed well with work of the task force of several years that had preceded the meeting.  But as the colonel also knew from his task force assignment, the still ongoing modernization of the Army as it continued to reorganize its heavy force units to integrate the new M1 Abrams tank and the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and his work for a year and a half in the 1st Armored Division to upgrade and reorganize the division’s training support systems, that senior leader involvement, consensus, and decision buy-in were going to be necessary to develop and implement such a force wide system.

This process of senior leader decision making had begun to form with Chief Vuono’s tasking.  The two lieutenant colonels were beginning the effort to breath life into that process across a vast developmental Army’s senior leadership in form of TRADOC and Materiel Command and other ancillary commands and the operational Army senior leaders to be supported, primarily engaging Forces Command (FORSCOM) and the Reserve Components (U.S. Army Reserve and the Army National Guard).

The process that unfolded as the concept for the strategy developed ultimately engaged Chief of Staff Vuono and his successor, General Dennis Reimer, the latter ultimately making the final decision to implement the strategy, the army executive panel of the serving four star generals, the four star commanders of FORSCOM  and materiel Command, the three star commanders of the TRADOC Integration Centers, and the Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas and the Combat Support Center  at Fort Lee, Virginia.  The commandants of the Army’s branch schools, major and brigadier generals would also, be engaged as the concept matured.   The process would take the better part of three years.

General Dennis J. Reimer

Concept development alone would require the activation of staff resources to perform concept work at each of the integration centers and branch schools.  This meant that a conceptual outline from the chief’s guidance needed to be developed as a basis for communicating to senior leaders at the schools, integration centers and other parts of the Army being engaged what the intent and purpose of the effort was, why it was needed and an initial conceptual form to examine and adapt to a finalized strategy. Important in this engagement would be the in-process review schedule for the teams developing the concept and ultimate strategy, the forming executive leadership team and their supporting staffs.  This in process review effort would prove critical to bringing the executive decision team to final decision.  Critical in this aspect of the effort would be the effectiveness of communication and coordination work by the lead TRADOC team.

One important inertial force that both colonels understood would be a “resister” to any final decision was the “budget sovereignty” Army executive leaders identified with regarding their appropriated programs.  Any initiative that indicated or implied a realignment of funds away from their control, this even when the general officer would only be in their role for at most three years or less, could prove an ultimately terminal death for any initiative if these leaders became resistant and lobbied or otherwise worked against the initiative.  Such resistance was usually not straightforward but back channel.  The two colonels had few illusions regarding what potentially lay ahead.  But they had both come to the conclusion that the Chief’s initiative was vital to the Army in going forward in the coming fiscal environment and determined to make every effort to develop it and bring it to life.

A little over three months from the meeting, the senior lieutenant colonel had been reassigned but initial work with the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training, a major general, and the TRADOC Commander had established a formative concept and project momentum and authorization to proceed.  This was all preliminary work to the roll out and engagement of the integration centers and schools and beginning a sequence of feedback, in-process reviews and decision sessions with engaged senior leadership and the chief of staff.

For a month after the departure of the senior lieutenant colonel the junior lieutenant colonel, whose duty title on arrival was Concepts and Strategies Division Chief, assumed duties as the acting director of the directorate.  The directorate being a 27 uniformed officer and civilian office whose lieutenant colonel deputy and six division chiefs oversaw all of the Army’s collective training programs to include the national training centers, the new acting director would be challenged in maintaining momentum for the new project with his added duties, especially with occasional travel to the Pentagon for conferences with the Director of Training, a brigadier general, at the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and other offices.  Nevertheless, momentum was maintained

A month later the new director arrived.  The acting director had mapped out a rapid transition for the colonel who proved a quick study.  The new director grasped the imperative represented by Chief Vuono’s tasker for an Army training strategy and immediately got on board with the effort.

Colonel Lory Johnson, Infantry, the new Director
of the Collective Training Directorate

In short order a plan was solidified from work already done to continue concept definition and development through the integration centers at Forts Leavenworth and Lee and several unaligned related headquarters like special operations at Ft. Bragg.  Aspects of this work still involved some direct communication with certain centers under command of the integration centers such as the Armor, Artillery and Infantry Centers. Aggressive and rapid shaping of a concept accepted by this development community in as concise a timeframe as possible was essential if the decision was to be realized in a timeframe that allowed it to be implemented and take hold across the Army as the fiscal constraints of the post wall security environment took effect.  Ultimately even the equivalent Marine Corps office at Quantico would be engaged.

The concept development work made maximum use of preceding related work that had been done regarding training ammunition, the national training centers and interactive gunnery and tactical networked simulators among the array of newer capabilities and technologies leveraging training in pockets across the Army.  But there were still many gaps that needed coverage by the strategy and a more refined integration of all existing and emerging capabilities needed to be achieved.  This work was put on a schedule of outcome milestones and closely managed.  It was buttressed by a schedule of in-process reviews and site conferences as necessary that maintained the “priority” standing of the work among the elements of the team that had formed.

As well, an information and education component of the plan was designed and implemented eventually involving some 10-15 articles in Army magazine, Army Trainer, Army Logistician, Military Review, Infantry Magazine an a Pentagon published magazine.  The purpose of the articles was to educate and inform the Army on the purpose and intent of the developing strategy which at this point was being referred to as the Combined Arms Training Strategy (CATS).

Aligned with this work was a plan and process to engage senior Army decision makers at work milestones to maintain a sustained buy-in by the executive leadership.  This as pert of the ongoing plan kept the integration centers’ three star commanders, the TRADOC, FORSCOM and Army Material Command four stars and several other key force commanders and the Army Reserve and Army National Guard  in agreement and consensus with the developing strategy concept and its implementing format at decision.

Scheduled by end of the second year and half of work was a presentation to a panel of the Army’s four star generals currently commanding across the major Army and joint commands.  This presentation had been preceded by a pre-briefing sequence of the TRADOC  commander and the Chief of Staff.  Following this briefing a period of incorporation of executive comment had occurred before a final decision briefing to the Chief of Staff was conducted relative to implementation.

An aspect complicating this process was the dynamic among the general officer in their positions. Several important general officers to the project changed out during this process as their tours ended.  Most notable of these was General Vuono’s completion of his tour as Chief of Staff and his replacement by General Dennis Reimer.

The briefing sequence began shortly after General Reimer’s assignment.  It involved an initial briefing in the Pentagon shortly after his arrival to present the status of the initiative as he began his tour as chief.  It was followed some weeks later by a briefing for his decision for the Army to move forward on CATS implementation.  General Reimer made the decision to proceed and implement.  The strategy was then incorporated in Army Regulation, doctrinal and training publications and necessary development and acquisition contracts as implementation proceeded.

Shortly after this achievement the Director of what was now designated the Collective Training Directorate (previous Joint, Combined,, Collective Training Directorate) had applied for reassignment to command of the Army’s Marksmanship Unit at Ft. Benning, Georgia.  He was accepted for the assignment which vacated the directorate’s director position a year early.  The Military Personnel Center would not have a colonel available for assignment as a replacement for a year.

The lieutenant colonel that had been leading the initiative at TRADOC and previously acting director was now assigned as the director, to continue in that duty for a year until a colonel could be assigned.  Having been the acting director for a month, and project lead for CATS and other critical Army training development work that had occurred, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training, Major General Dennis Malcor, had full confidence in the new director’s ability to move necessary work forward.   He fully supported the new director.

The lieutenant colonel retired from the Army in this position but saw the initial stages of CATS implementation through, working with the Army team that had been formed in this effort.  The team’s success in bringing the vital and needed Combined Arms Training Strategy to fruition was in no small way a product not only of the team’s development work but the plan and process of developing senior leader buy-in and decision.

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas R. Rozman,
Director Collective Training Directorate,
Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training,
U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at retirement

That process engaged the executive leadership with feasible courses of action and an understanding of the imperatives for these courses of action, the making of decisions on the best of these, and proceeding with development and implementation.  The process allowed any leader having doubts about the initiative or aspects of it to engage in the process achieve buy-in and then support the decision.

When considering the size of the establishment at the start of the effort counting the active Army, Reserve and Army National Guard, an establishment of approaching 2,000,000, this was no small feat.  Even the residual total Army after the huge force reductions of the early 1990s was over 1,000,000.  That decision and implementation at all occurs in so large an establishment does take planning and communication, not least with executive leadership to get good and firm decision and buy-in.

In this case CATS became a force multiplying system that sustained the force for well over two decades after the Chief of Staff made the decision to implement CATS.  Clearly the process used to engage executive leadership in forming and making the decision paid dividends.   It also underscored the fundamental importance to so large and vital an organization of effective senior leader decision making ability.  Had the senior leadership wavered or dissimulated on their decision making responsibility and the strategy not come into effective implementation, given what occurred in 2001 and later, the force’s competence in the initial operations in Afghanistan and Iraq might have been severely compromised with much greater loss of life.