Army Aviation

The New Normal

This Is Your Army! / By GEN Paul E. Funk II: The coronavirus presents new challenges to the manner in which TRADOC generates combat power for the Army, and nowhere has this been felt more than at the Centers of Excellence.

The responsibility borne by the Aviation Center cannot be understated – as they are the sole provider of fixed and rotary wing aviators for the United States Army. The nature of their business mandates training in close proximity, which posed – and continues to pose – a difficult challenge to both trainees and instructor pilots. The confined nature of cockpit training presents a unique problem set not experienced at other training installations. Like other installations, however, the Aviation Center also grappled with being part of the generating force in an operational fight. But with these challenges arose opportunities – and the Aviation Center of Excellence capitalized on them.

An AH-64 instructor and student wear masks as a COVID-19 precautionary measure as they prepare for a gunnery training flight at Fort Rucker, Alabama on Apr. 24, 2020. / U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY KELLY MORRIS, USAACE PUBLIC AFFAIRS

Through this pandemic we continue to train and build combat power. To do so requires replacing the factory-like repetition of the generating force with operational plans and actions that account for an unfamiliar enemy in a dynamic environment. We use actions such as controlled monitoring, social distance enabled training, hand washing, mask usage, the employment of trace and clean teams, and testing to minimize the impact of the virus on our training and instructor populations. When we do experience infection, we aggressively contact trace, quarantine those potentially exposed, and then monitor those quarantined to provide the best care, as well as protect the force. We are reforming our 20th Century industrial command and control model, adopting an operational approach to how we function that brings us into the 21st Century. Decisive to this transformation is an information campaign that drives adjustment and adaptation through flat, agile organizations. The methods and protocols that we employ are not one-time actions to combat a fleeting enemy, but rather encompass a New Normal for operations within Training and Doctrine Command. It is incumbent upon us to adopt these mitigation measures as norms in our training installations, as force generation and training cannot stop.

Significant Emotional Experience and Repetition

I have often stated that people learn in two ways: significant emotional experience and repetition. The COVID-19 pandemic presents us with both circumstances. As the spread of the virus began to escalate in early March, it required us to adapt and learn from significant emotional experience. By necessity, we operationalized our headquarters across the enterprise at every echelon to exercise a level of command and control seldom seen in the generating force. We implemented force protection measures, increased HPCON, and stopped all movement of personnel – understanding that we had to quickly, but deliberately set conditions to resume movement and maintain momentum. We also embarked on a comprehensive information campaign to communicate within, and outside, of our organizations. These are transformational changes forced by the environment in which we are operating. The environment is forcing our hand and making us reform in the midst of the fight.

As often happens, we transitioned from environment-induced changes to efficiency-induced processes. As a learning organization, we adapted the best practices set in place by U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) – led by General Abrams – for use on our installations. From the Army Command level down to our platoons and squads, we are retaining the procedures that work and discarding those that do not. From my vantage point, the paradigm shift is evident – and awe-inspiring. The entire enterprise is operating with an efficiency initiated by the pandemic but refined by our People. We assumed a war footing within the organization. Our Soldiers, civilians and leaders did what they do so well – applied the basics of Army doctrine – our doctrine – to the operational environment and refined those processes through repetition. We created and maintained bubbles around our training bases and resumed shipping on carefully monitored sterile transportation with rigidly enforced protocols. Professional military education is continuing through the expanded use of distributed learning when possible, and social distance enabled instruction, when required. Commanders are taking tactical pauses when necessary to set conditions and pressing ahead when they see opportunities. With each day comes more repetitions, and with every repetition we improve as an organization. Through this pandemic, the training bases continue to function – and to function well – informed by the art of mission command and managed through the science of command and control. TRADOC is adapting and continuing to generate combat power for the Army.

The New Normal

As we reflect on this period, it is imperative that we not view this as merely an aberration in time. This is not a blip on a radar screen that disappears as quickly as it appears. The processes and procedures that we are instituting and refining are part of a new operating paradigm. I say this not because I fear for the discovery of a vaccine and believe we will be required to operate in a COVID environment in perpetuity, but because the policies and procedures we are implementing during this crisis are making us better and more capable of dealing with uncertainty and operating under suboptimal conditions. The operationalization of the TRADOC enterprise was long overdue and provides us the ability not only to see the environment, but also to see ourselves within that environment. This capability will serve us well, regardless of whether we operate in crisis action or steady state. The force protection measures and protocols that we are implementing and refining will continue to protect our Nation’s most valuable resource, our People, for the duration of this pandemic and beyond – from the known and the unknown. Our enhanced distributed learning capability will allow us to gain efficiencies in the professional development of our Soldiers, civilians and leaders, optimizing both our instructional time and our resources. Most importantly, as leaders, we have been pushed outside of our comfort zones, forced to think critically, and required to exercise ingenuity to overcome the challenges opposing us and win.

As iron sharpens iron, so, too, do difficult times test the mettle of those who endure them – for those who emerge from the crucible are better and stronger because of it. While we have not yet defeated the current threat, we are better Soldiers, better organizations, and a better Army because of our penchant to persevere. The advances we are making in the face of a daunting enemy demonstrate to the world the power of our Army. We are reforming our processes while in contact. We provide comfort to the sick, represent hope to the Nation, and demonstrate resolve to the World. This is the New Normal.

Victory Starts Here!

GEN Paul E. Funk II is the 17th commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command headquartered at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA.