The transition – which aims to build Marines adept in ground weaponry that can tackle the higher-end threats they will face on the dispersed battlefields of the future – will focus as much on smarts as on being Tough.
Battalion officials took a deep dive into infantry training and how it should develop Marines who have a broad array of combat skills they’ll need in future battlefields likely spread out and far from higher-level commanders. The existing course creates “an automation who has some finite skills that they can use in very specific environments, in specific times – so it’s not an all-around player.”
“Currently, we train a Marine that is automatic. What we are looking to do is deliver a Marine who is autonomous,”
“We understand this is a novel approach, that this is different than what the fleet is used to getting. This is different than what the Marines are used to seeing,” The changes may meet some initial skepticism. But the Fleet Marine Force will get Marines “that are better trained, better prepared, better equipped – and they’ve been taught to think through this entire process.”
A Fundamental Shift in Training
Battalion leaders and course instructors considered: What kind of infantry Marine should the training produce? They tasked an out-of-cycle training company to “come up with any idea that you have.”Just lengthening the existing course wouldn’t add significant value by itself. “We identified that just getting more training in the field is not the solution to the problem. Marines are trained to operate “in any place, anytime, but the kind of automation training was insufficient. We also have to have the ability to learn, as well.”
Students at the Infantry Officers Course “are incentivized to learn They are given problems, they are given tactical decision games…where the officer is presented a problem, a mission-type order, and then what he or she is required to do is look at our own techniques to be able to analyze a problem. Our enlisted marines are not trained that way. But “in distributed operation, that may cost us time – time that we may need to make a valuable decision.”
Training isn’t just about telling Marines to “think more” but, rather, to engage them in ways where they can exercise their creativity with a warfighting mindset, This is just a different way for them to train their brains, which they’re pretty much not asked to do – up until this point.”
Wargames are a vehicle to allow Marines permission to learn. “The object here is to look at the battlefield in a number of different ways. So what we want the Marines to do – our end state – is to effectively understand where the Marine exists, where he or she can understand themselves in an environment with complex rules and within a complex scenario, where they understand their actions affect others, and how the enemy’s actions affect Marines.
In those potential scenarios Marines need to be able to understand the mission type order, and based off the commander’s intent and resources along, continue to execute their mission.”
With a modern Marine learning model, the course better reflects how today’s high-tech generation learns develop infantry Marines skilled in weaponry but also skilled cognitively will better position them for future operations, since Marines in the future might have to make decisions when geographically apart from their higher commands or if the adversary disrupts communications
The new approach is rooted on the commandant’s broader vision outlined in recent articles and the Commandant’s Planning Guidance, Force Design 2030, and Learning, the Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 7. “The effective message to the commandant is: We are listening. We hear you loud and clear.
“What we’re doing is we are taking a fundamental shift in our learning ideology of how we’re going to shape the Marine of the future, and wargames are one of many revolutionary changes we are making within the infantry curriculum.”
Wargames allow “the Marines to contextually understand where he or she exists in battlespace, and by introducing it early in the training, they learn to think and become conditioned to make decisions. “If Marines don’t understand the fundamentals of wargames we will teach them. We are not interested in teaching them rote memorization anymore. … We want free play. We want freedom of thought.”
Small-unit infantry leaders “are going to have to make decisions that are outside of their pay grade, and we want them to be comfortable in understanding that they can make those decisions.”
“Anybody can play this wargame at any time from any position. You walk by it and you recognize whether Blue is on top or Red is on top, and that is the next person to move. You may have to shift sides, requiring a new strategy.
“What this says is, you don’t get to execute your own plan. “You have to assess the battlefield as it is, identify strengths and weaknesses – and you sometimes have to abandon your own plan because now you’re working against what your initial onset was.”
Instructors will teach those unfamiliar with the game, and with incentives they hope to “make it make it interesting by challenging instructors “in not only a pull-up or a run competition but also a wargame.” By playing, it’s making smart Marines who can make decisions faster than their opponent or see deeper into several moves down the road.”
Among the ideas is Fire Team version, students one-by-one make their moves against another fireteam but under a time constraint. In another version, each fireteam member controls specific board pieces, “so now they have to be able to battle track one another,” And “they don’t have the opportunity to execute their own plan. They have to talk as a group” while under a time constraint, all while the “enemy” is there to hear and watch them.
“So it allows for nuanced communication, non-verbal cues, figuring out your own method to be able to move the piece when your enemy can sense what you’re doing and, in real time, react to it.
Instructors are looking at taking game boards to the field so Marines can talk about tactics, they can talk about shooting manipulations, patrolling formations. … So we’re exercising their mind as much as we’re exercising their bodies.”
Success in wargames comes with experience but also some luck. “You could only become better by exercising your mind. “So anyone is capable of beating anybody with their own skill.”
If Marines haven’t played the game, unlike some instructors in the battalion, it can be rough going initially. For example a battalion gunner is used to being the person who is the end-all, be-all with infantry, but sometimes they got routed several times by a sergeant.
Pieces on the board can represent tactical components more familiar to infantry Marines, like a combined-arms ground force: direct-fire weapons. enfilade fire that can shoot at an angle, indirect fire weapons, since they can jump over other pieces and aren’t limited to specific boundaries. There’s also light infantry that can block, defend and envelop with supporting arms and, if used effectively, can become more powerful if they reach enemy territory. Some pieces that are more powerful and limited in number can represent special operations, since they are few but move most freely. Then there is the piece that is your commander.
Marines leaned quickly that you want to keep indirect-fire assets as along as possible, even though they might be worth the same amount of points as something else. A different piece might be more valuable because with indirect fire you can attack the commander, where maybe another piece, through a direct-fire line of infantrymen, you may not be able to penetrate.”
All that might very well become more relevant in the new course as students train toward a single, multi-discipline infantry specialty, which according to a Marine Corps Training and Education Command is yet to be finalized.
In the wargame, the Marine has to decide which weapon will create the needed effect. So instead of just focusing on a machine gun, for example, a newly-graduated infantry Marines will have to think about machine guns but also mortars, rifles, rockets and other weapons systems. “Wargames allow, since the pieces are all complex … to think about how your actions combine the effects of these pieces to achieve an overall effect.”
Changes were instituted to the learning atmosphere and culture at infantry training. Students won’t be marched together around camp but will be expected to manage their time and figure out where to go on their own.
“We wanted to take away the restrictions we have on Marines and get rid of them and actually have them think on their own. It came up as we are erasing, in almost its entirety, the whole program. “This could fail massively, but “we don’t just want to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing.”
There’s a general excitement around the School of Infantry. Instructors recognize they are at the forefront of this entire thing. They recognize that this is their course and that we are the advocates for them and we trust them.
Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 7 Learning MCDP 7 has established a doctrine on learning for the Marine Corps. MCDP 7 has much to offer Marines. For example, it addresses current issues found within Training and Education Command, such as the obsolete “training versus education” argument, and it reinforces principles found in other Marine Corps publications.
It took courage and a lot of effort to be sure, for Marine Corps leaders to produce this doctrine. It signifies the first steps toward establishing a valid representation of learning. The application of MCDP 7 will permeate through all that the Marine Corps and Marines do.
Many others would like the chance to contribute to this new vision and suggest additions to the MCDP7 conceptual framework like focus on developing the professional competence and capacity of Marines and their ability to learn through the complexity and uncertainty of today.
Possible additional contributions to the Marines valiant effort is to propose a framework of 21st Century maneuver warfare, a topic that is much in need of updating based on new threats Marines will face in the future. MCDP7 is a great start, but much remains to be done.
Most important, MCDP 7 validates the need for and value of a learning construct. MCDP 7 can be improved. Indeed, MCDP 7 delivers only a partial construct of learning. Therefore, we offer the following critique in the hope that it moves the Marine Corps to develop a more complete learning construct and revise MCDP 7.
Stated goal of manual is to “describe the Marine Corps’ learning philosophy and explain why learning is critically important to the profession of arms.” But critics say MCDP 7 stops short of delivering on that promise, because it lacks the applied science, research, and philosophy of the field of professional learning. And there are more than 40 years’ worth of research in learning research fields that could provide Marines with the tools to think through problems encountered in the profession of arms.
MCDP 7 identifies its purpose as creating “a culture of continuous learning and professional competence that yields adaptive leaders capable of successfully conducting maneuver warfare in complex, uncertain, and chaotic environments.”
This is a strong justification for the creation of such a doctrinal publication. But in the succeeding pages, critics say MCDP 7 does not provide convincing arguments to support or achieve its purpose of preparing Marines to fight. The manual should provide Marines with a framework—beyond previous conceptions of learning—that allows them to apply it to their context in preparing themselves and others for military operations.
MCDP 7 spends much of its time on areas encouraging Marines to remember things because circumstances may not always allow them to digitally search for information. This is a prudent warning, but MCDP 7 misses an opportunity to provide Marines with insight into cognition and memory or resources for empowering themselves to recall information in action.
MCDP 7 offers other tips, concepts, and discussions on learning, but less time is spent on providing Marines with concepts of how they can develop their capacity to practice warfare in complex, uncertain, and chaotic environments.
Marine Corps doctrine should provide every Marine, from the newest private to the most senior general, with a practical learning construct they can draw on in war and peace. It should challenge Marines to practice and embody its concepts throughout their lives, in and out of uniform.
In many areas, MCDP 7 lacks the depth to do this. For instance, it contains dangerously few definitions for the concepts it introduces, which severely handicaps any discussions on learning.
Why is this dangerous? Because the lack of clarity in the definitions confuses Marines, it is not creating a foundation from which to build themselves as lifelong learners. Marines are already referencing MCDP 7 as the Marine Corps’ central authority on learning; however, some shortfalls could be improved.
There are some questionable parts of MCDP 7, given that a lot of people have identified that individuals and teams have differences in the way they learn, with varying sensory preferences for learning, competencies, and strengths. These differences are essential components of the learning process and can be useful knowledge for structuring or engaging in learning events to that learning is more effective.
The passage refers to learning styles. In one of the rare times MCDP 7 cites existing research on learning, some critics have stated that cited article actually contradicts the passage in question. According to research, tailoring one’s teaching to a trainees preferred learning style does not make learning more effective. In fairness to MCDP7, this conclusion about learning styles is not limited to MCDP 7, others have also come to that conclusion.
But even some Marine instructors who have investigated the topic have reacted with “shock” and “disbelief” because they find that much of existing practice rests on false premises.
MCDP7 defines critical thinking as “the reflective part of . . . reasoning. Critical thinking skills include inference, evaluation, interpretation, and explanation.” This is oversimplified. It leaves a false sense of a person’s capacity to think clearly when instead most thinking instead remains biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or even prejudiced.
Many organisations have tried and failed to teach critical thinking and instructors tell Marines to think critically without providing a measure of what thinking critically actually means. Critical thinking has seemingly devolved to mean novel, creative, or just plain good thinking, but critical thinking is anything but a natural or innate ability.
MCDP 7 asserts that the “most effective instructors use the coach-teach-mentor approach to provide learners with constructive feedback.” This implies that the best instructors simultaneously exercise three distinct roles with their learners. But, in fact, each of these functions vary in activity, effort, time, and outcome in relation to the organization and learner.
MCDP 7 makes no meaningful distinction among the roles, and—to complicate things further—the other Marine Corps publication that discusses these roles, Marine Corps Training Publication 6-10B Marine Corps Values, misrepresents coaching as a subskill of mentoring.
Critics also say that MCDP7 simplistically defines experiential learning as to learn by doing. If it was stated that the concept of maneuver warfare requires practitioners to always avoid surfaces and seek out gaps, that would be a similar oversimplification. A well-known, better definition describes experiential learning as a process of making meaning from or grasping and transforming experience. That is, learning occurs not from the doing, but in the reflection on that experience.
As with the complex topic of maneuver warfare, there has been much debate and different definitions created for experiential learning. Marines must ask the questions: How do we know learning actually occurred from our experiences, and was it the right learning?
MCDP 7 frequently references “self-directed learning.” However, the extrinsic motivation of “encouraging and holding Marines accountable for it” may not directly result in or sustain professional curiosity about it among Marines.
MCDP 7 should be able to refine its definition to mean either 1) a goal of instruction to instill in learners, 2) a process for a learner to follow, or 3) a characteristic of the learner that one could measure. Developing lifelong learners through extrinsic means seems similar to teaching fitness and nutrition by providing people with personal trainers and private chefs and then wondering why the individuals did not continue the regimen after the trainers and cooks departed.
MCDP7 insists that “leaders also recognize that we are not an expert in every topic i.e., self-assessment. ”Although this appropriately warns Marines about being overconfident, the self-assessment example misses a crucial point, in that it fails to make Marines aware of potential cognitive bias that leads to difficulties in recognizing our own shortcomings, that is, the less expert you are at something, the harder it is for you to recognize that you are not an expert.
MCDP 7 also compounds issues with outside critics by stating that when “a Marine begins to feel more confident, it is because he or she is closing the gaps between their goals and their actual capabilities.” But sometimes confidence indicates that the individual remains a novice, while genuine experts recognize their own shortcomings and deficiencies.
Marines may unintentionally leave MCDP 7 with the lesson that they should study topics only directly related to their profession. The overuse of the word “profession” and its related forms—“professional,” “professionally,” or “professionalism”—sends the wrong message, since the document doesn’t really define or use the concept of the professional consistently.
As a result, MCDP 7 encourages Marines to narrowly view professional content and learning opportunities. It fails to provide a complete picture of what professional curiosity and development should look like, and how Marines and the Marine Corps would benefit from more diversity of thought, study, and practice.
If Marines develop “hyper focus” on narrowly, or undefined, professional learning over the cultivation of curiosity could lead to “cloning,” the tendency toward seeking new leaders identical to old ones, a danger that organizations are susceptible to without concerted efforts.
Process of influencing others to accomplish the mission by providing purpose, direction, and motivation. Command is the authority a person in the military service exercises over subordinates by virtue of his rank and assignment or position.
Process related to an object, such as a person, situation, or message where military commanders are able to consider the object and use concepts to deal adequately with that object; implies abilities and dispositions with respect to an object of knowledge that are sufficient to support intelligent behavior
3. Decision Making
Knowing if to decide, then when and what to decide. Includes understanding the consequence of decisions. Decisions are the means by which the commander translates his vision of the end state into action.
Provides direction and describes what the commander wants the organization to achieve in the future; it’s more about the “what” of the organization. It is different from a mission statement, which describes the purpose of an organization and more about the “how” of the organization.
Capacity for higher forms of knowledge, as distinguished from the power to perceive objects in their relations. power to judge and comprehend; aptitude, understanding, potential to do certain kinds of work whether developed or undeveloped.
Going the extra mile or going above and beyond your normal job responsibilities to make things happen; ability to see something that needs to be done and deciding to do it out of your own free will without someone else telling you to do it.
Being able to weigh your options accurately and plan what works; result of analyzing multiple solutions, identifying what is wrong with a solution and changing what does not work.
8. Building Relationships
Setting expectations to help avoid complications and disagreements over which partner should handle what; taking time to iron out issues where potential for overlap and other conflicts is substantial; establish capability to share resources and adapt over time.
9. The Ability to Communicate
Creation and exchange of meanings from one entity or group to another; process of assigning symbols in an attempt to create shared understanding through verbal or nonverbal means, including speech or oral communication; writing and graphical representations, behavior.
10. Learning from Experience
Reframe your mistake as an opportunity to learn and develop. Review what went wrong, to understand and learn from your mistake. Identify the skills, knowledge, resources, or tools that will keep you from repeating the error.