17 April 2009

Gates and Army Aviation

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Fort Rucker, Alabama (the home of US Army Aviation) yesterday, discussing his $500 million increase for more helicopter pilots, rotary-wing programs, and maintainers.

I'm not going to go on about how much I like more money in the Army Aviation community—that's for another blog post. What I do want to talk about is Secretary Gates' impression of the learning facilities at Fort Rucker.

And because he feels army aviation is so important, Secretary Gates did express some concerns he has about the Fort Rucker facilities.

"It's clear from their standpoint that there is a need for some further infrastructure improvements, classrooms too crowded, and as the helicopters themselves have become more high-tech the classrooms have not kept up with that" says Secretary Gates.

Education makes a difference, whether it's in an ivy-league classroom or across the table from an instructor pilot. One of the things that irked me about the Aviation Captains' Career Course was that we spend literally hours in planning cells tracing lines, battle positions, enemy artillery ranges and Soviet division tactical groups on acetate with Sharpie markers. Not only were we fighting a battle straight out of the Fulda Gap playbook, but we were also not using the digital systems that are so prevalent in our tactical operations centers—those that are used to actually fight battles. (To be fair, however, we were allowed to use digital products during one of our four planning events)

A 21st-Century military should be well-versed in the digital medium. Sure, the counter-point was brought up that occasionally, we might be forced to have to draw out the battle plan on acetate or trace lines with sharpie markers. And while I agree that there may be times when we need to pull out a roll of acetate, I'm pretty sure I mastered the art of tracing lines when I was six years old. I don't think I need an instructor pilot to help me remember how to trace lines.

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