The Road to Hell

by Maj Gregory A. Thiele

As an instructor at the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Warfare School, I have heard numerous senior officers express their concern to the students that Marine leaders at every level have either lost or never acquired training management skills. Such statements have been repeated frequently enough that the problem seems to be real. It needs to be discussed and solved.

Paradoxically, one of the primary reasons for this decline in training management skills is the predeployment training plan (PTP). The PTP attempts to set out in detail the training requirements for units deploying to Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring FREEDOM (OEF). Commanders no longer can determine what training to conduct; they simply must determine how best to meet the requirements of the PTP. As a result, leaders at ail levels are no longer required to be proficient trainers. Those who bemoan the fact that our training management skills have atrophied miss the point. This is not a training management problem; it is a policy problem.

Everyone has heard the old adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It may seem cynical, but it is often true. People occasionally make well-intended decisions, particularly short-term decisions, that lead them away from their true and proper course. The Marine Corps appears to be on the edge of just such a calamity with respect to the impact of the PTP upon our philosophy of leadership.

Given the challenges that they face in the current operating environment, there is no doubt that the PTP was intended to help commanders and their units prepare for deployments. The pace of deployments has been extremely fast for most units in the Operating Forces. Many units still do not receive the 2:1 ratio of dwell to deployed time that is the Commandant’s goal. This places a great deal of stress on units attempting to prepare for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. There is simply not a lot of time to prepare. Most units have 7 to 1 1 months between deployments. These challenges are compounded by a myriad of other issues, such as late personnel fills and insufficient gear sets for training. Such challenges led to the perceived need to create and institutionalize a standardized training plan for units deploying to OIF and OEF. This decision has not come without consequences. The PTP has had a negative overall impact upon the ability of our leaders to conduct training.

The PTP prescribed the training requirements that units had to complete in order to be prepared to deploy. It included individual and unit annual training requirements, theater-specific training, and a mandated Service-level exercise to certify the unit’s readiness for deployment. The PTP also oudined a regime of briefs and progress reports that were to be delivered to the division (or equivalent) commander. These briefs occurred at specified intervals as units progressed through the PTP. The purpose of the briefs was primarily to ensure that the subordinate unit had a plan to complete the PTP successfully and that they were making satisfactory progress along the way.

The goal of the PTP was not to reduce the role of the battalion commander in training his unit, but this has been the unintended outcome. Due to the short time between deployments, very little time exists to do anything other than the training required by the PTP. The PTP was designed to alleviate the time pressures that most units are under by ensuring that commanders know what training is required prior to deployment. But the effect has been that commanders can no longer develop their own training plans; the PTP prescribes it.

The PTP has other drawbacks as well. As a program that attempts to address the training required by a broad range of units across the MAGTF, it attempts to create a “one size fits all” regimen with many of the shortcomings such an approach entails. In fairness, most commanders would likely develop a training plan that incorporated many of the same events as those that are part of the PTP. This is beside the point. The point is that most have never been given the opportunity to try.

In actuality, the purpose of this article is not to debate the reasons the PTP was instituted or its merits (or lack thereof). The PTP serves as an example of the kind of thinking that, unfortunately, is currently dominant in the Marine Corps. Our doctrinal manuals (and, as an aside, our only true doctrine is contained in the white-covered Marine Corps doctrinal publication (MCDP) series) are excellent and extremely clear on the kind of leadership required in a maneuver warfare force. MCDP 1, VCctrßghdng, states that:

In order to develop initiative among junior leaders, the conduct of training – like combat – should be decentralized. Senior commanders influence training by establishing goals and standards, communicating the intent of training, and establishing a main effort for training. As a rule, they should refrain from dictating how the training will be accomplished.1

There is nothing decentralized about the PTR It is highly prescriptive in nature. Maneuver warfare requires decentralized leadership and seniors who, rather than reserving all decisions for themselves, trust their subordinates. Fleet Marine Force Manual 1-0, Leading Marines, further states that, “The Marine Corps has always enjoyed great success decentralizing authority to the lowest levels.”2 The PTP and the philosophy behind it flies in the face of our doctrine.

The cenrral ingrethent in the formula for maneuver warfare is trust. If we truly trust our subordinates, then we should trust them to train their units for the challenges of combat. Gen James N. Mattis was recently quoted in the Army Times as saying that, “Operations in the future will occur at the speed of trust.”3 It is not a coincidence that a Marine of Gen Mattis’ stature considers trust so vital. It is the glue that holds a maneuver warfare force together. It allows such a force to work to achieve a common goal while operating on little more than the commanders intent. The key issue is to find commanders at all levels who are trustworthy and will develop their subordinates and place their trust in them.

Tb judge by the PTP, we do not trust our battalion (and equivalent) commanders to train their units. If we did trust them, we would give them broad guidance, allow them to develop a training plan, train their units, and hold them accountable for the results. The PTP seems to have as its primary underlying assumption that many of those who are selected as commanders are incapable of devising an effective plan to train their units. As a result they must be provided with detailed guidance and be closely supervised throughout implementation. There is no doubt that no one would ever admit that such assumptions exist (incidentally, such assumptions underlie many of the Marine Corps’ other training programs), but actions always speak louder than words. The philosophy that underpins the PTP is absolutely clear. We do not trust those individuals who are placed in command to fulfill their roles properly.

According to LTG Arthur S. Collins, Jr., USA(Ret), in his book, Common Sense Training, the critical individuals in terms of training are the battalion and company commanders.4 If we do not fully trust them, as it seems is the case, the answer is not to prescribe a detailed training plan so that a cardboard cutout could serve successfully as a unit commander. The proper answer is to relieve subordinates who do not possess the trust of their superiors.

There is no middle ground here. The Marine Corps either selects individuals capable of discharging the responsibilities of command, or we do not. If we do select the best, then we should trust them. If they are not the best, then perhaps our method of selecting commanders is flawed and should be changed. If we cannot find enough individuals with the capacity to command, perhaps those who are selected should spend more time in command; perhaps not everyone should have, or deserves, the opportunity to command. Regardless, some change in either our leadership philosophy or our method of selecting commanders must occur.

None of the above discussion is meant to indicate that supervision is no longer necessary or desirable. Supervision is still absolutely essential. The form and manner of supervision must change. The current model of supervision is extremely centralized and aimed at the collection of data from subordinates. This must give way to a model more appropriate to interaction between professionals who trust and respect one another. Proper supervision should take the form of the senior commander and members of the staff visiting the subordinate unit, often unannounced, to see what is going on for themselves and to determine what assistance their subordinates require to effectively train their units.

Doubtless some will charge that I have misrepresented the goals of the PTP. They would argue that the combatant commander has placed requirements on Marine Corps forces that deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan and that the PTP is simply the Corps’ mechanism to ensure that deploying units meet these requirements. It is certainly true that the Marine Corps must comply with the requirements of the combatant commander, but the prescriptive approach taken in the PTP is a clear indication of the leadership and training philosophy that underpins it. It is not necessarily the requirement that is flawed but the manner in which the requirement is being met that must concern us.

The Marine Corps is unwittingly moving toward a centralized leadership model. Leaders of character and vision must stem this tide before we have gone too far down this path to turn back. The PTP is simply one manifestation of this shift in philosophy; there are many others. Let me leave the reader with a question to ponder. If we concede that we must be able to conduct decentralized operations due to the requirements imposed upon our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, how does a centralized training methodology create such leaders?


1. Department of the Navy, MCDP 1, Vfárñghting, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1997, p. 60.

2. Department of the Navy, Fleet Affatine Force Manual 1-0, Leading Marines, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1995, p. 75.

3. McMichael, William H., “Mattis: Hybrid Skills a Must in Future Wars,” Army Times, accessed at hnp:// 2009/06/military_mattis_futurewar_060 1 09w.

4. Collins, Arrhur S., jr., Common Sense Training A Working Philosophy for Leaders, Presidio Press, Novato, CA, 1978, pp. Ò3-4.