The Front

The Front
The New Basic Training

Shawn Williams | 3 Nov 2009 12:30
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Wenger had only fired a rifle a few times at a rifle range before he was drafted. He was not trained with the weapons he would actually be using in combat, let alone any enemy weapons or vehicles. Boot camp did not cover any advanced tactics; it was a brief eight-week introduction to the mental and physical conditioning soldiers would need to survive. Servicemen in that era learned what they needed to survive on the front line or else they went home in a box. Wenger became an experienced soldier in the fierce jungle combat of the Philippines and met plenty of young recruits who didn't know what to expect - and never got a chance to learn.

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"Once in a while, I would lead a group of replacement [soldiers] to our company," Wenger recalls. "And then a week later I'd carry them back."

Soldiers from World War II used pure guts and sheer determination in place of the tactical training recruits receive today. During one mission, Wenger led 100 unarmed Filipino recruits in a pack train on a long march to deliver supplies to a forward camp. Along the way, they were ambushed by Japanese soldiers that opened fire on the unit and raided the supplies. When Wenger made it back from the front of the marching convoy to where the attack happened, he didn't hesitate - he charged after the three enemy soldiers as they tried to escape with the stolen supplies. Despite being outnumbered, Wenger attacked their position with only his Thompson machine gun and brought all three of them down, an act that earned him a Bronze Star.

"You just did what you had to do," Wenger says. "And if it came down to them or you ... well, that's usually an easy choice."

The Modern Soldier

"The insurgents were firing from the other side of the bridge," Sgt. Sinque Swales told the Washington Post in February 2006. "We called in a helicopter for an airstrike. ... I couldn't believe I was seeing this. It was like Halo."

Swales, a combat engineer who served in Iraq with the 276th Engineer Battalion, represents the modern soldier: technically proficient, well-equipped and trained in military tactics long before ever entering boot camp.

"Soldiers that come in today aren't like the soldiers from when I joined," says Master Sergeant (Retired) Guy Williams. "They've been playing these videogames since they could hold a joystick. Technology doesn't intimidate them in the slightest."

Williams has been retired from the active military for several years, but still works as a consultant for the military and regularly travels to Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous overseas locations to lend his expertise and help train younger soldiers. Most of his enlistment was spent in the Rangers, where he helped train the new generation of Special Forces.

The military usually designs its equipment with a "lowest common denominator" mentality - the idea being that any piece of equipment should be useable by the most technologically-impaired soldier. But in an era when everyone has a cell phone and at least a passing familiarity with the Internet, even the least tech-savvy soldier is now better prepared to handle complicated equipment.

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