American and allied troops have relearned in the last decade just how easy it is to train hard in peacetime and still find yourself unprepared for combat:
The list is long and often embarrassing. For example, in peacetime troops are taught to drive carefully, in order to avoid accidents. But in combat the safest form of driving is fast and, to peacetime sensibilities, reckless. Even if commanders seek to practice “combat driving” in peacetime they do so in the knowledge that after a few bad accidents orders will come down to not drive like that because it causes bad publicity.
It’s a somewhat similar situation with battlefield first aid. It’s difficult to provide many troops with realistic training, especially since it’s harder to train on pigs or goats with the animal welfare zealots constantly trying to sue you into training methods that will get more troops killed in combat.
Another bad habit armies tend to drift into during peacetime is using weapons for training less and less. These things are, after all dangerous and with all the safety precautions and restrictions it is understandable why firing practice is cut and cut until it’s a rare event. But once war breaks out you quickly appreciate why sending troops to the weapons range several times a week is one of those lifesaving things you need to do.
Then there are the Emergency Action Drills. These are the things you do when there is an emergency. You must practice them with the people in your unit, to make sure everyone understands and does it the same way. You must practice these drills a lot until it becomes automatic. When someone new comes into your unit, you have to go through all the drills for them. The drills are varied, ranging from what to do during various situations while on the road, to where the bomb shelters (or trenches) are in your camp. For combat units, these drills are no great shock, as most combat operations are a succession of drills (which are practiced regularly). But for non-combat support troops, these drills are a new experience, and more practice is always useful. Drills save lives. In peacetime there are so many competing demands on troop time that the drills are just abandoned one after another.
Along with learning how to drive like a madman, you have to practice hard so you can change tires like one as well. In combat you will often have to do this under fire, so you must learn to do it quickly. This does two things. First, you learn how long it takes, even when you are in a hurry. This can be a useful bit of information if you are under fire while changing the flat. Second, practicing it forces you to make sure the spare tire is in good shape, and can quickly be reached (along with any tools needed.)
Then you must learn how Mister Grenade can be your friend, even on the crowded streets of a city like Baghdad or Kandahar. If your vehicle has a glove compartment, re-label it as the “grenade compartment.” Carry one smoke, one fragmentation and one tear gas grenade. If you’re stuck in traffic and the situation outside it starting to look dicey, then drop a smoke grenade out the window and try to get moving. You MUST be moving if you drop the tear gas grenade, because you cannot drive through the tears. Most other drivers will give you a wide berth when they see the smoke or tear gas grenade go off. For those who keep coming, with evil intent, the fragmentation grenade may come in handy (it is good for getting at bad people hiding behind something.) Remember, when using grenades, do not touch the pin until the grenade is outside the window. Accidents happen, and having a smoke grenade go off in your vehicle will ruin your day, at the very least.
After the shooting war’s over, one commenter notes, “those without combat experience will move the the forefront of promotion and command queues because of their sterling record of ‘education’ and accident (i.e. risk) free service.”