Using drones: For today's generation, the training paradigm has changed

      At a recent training conference, we were discussing new recruits and their idiosyncrasies. Most of the attendees were training managers at various academies throughout the state. The conversation began with the texting and gaming mentality...


      At a recent training conference, we were discussing new recruits and their idiosyncrasies. Most of the attendees were training managers at various academies throughout the state. The conversation began with the texting and gaming mentality. Many of the new trainees have "done" things virtually, but really weren't experienced at all. Others had a "game cheat" mentality where this generation didn't think anything of shortcutting, bypassing or otherwise getting around the conventional way of completing tasks.

   I monitored the conversation around the huge luncheon table. My ears perked up a bit when the conversation got around to the "21 foot rule," Three of the instructors related the same series of incidents from two different academies. The students were placed into a force decision-making scenario and they mentally paced off 21 feet before proceeding. The after-action report from the exercise often included, "well I figured that 21 feet was about where the table was. I waited until the suspect got within 21 feet before I shot him."

   As trainers, when these things surface it is important they are addressed during training, lest the training habits surface in real life. The most inexpensive training tools in the business can be used to put our trainees, and in-service officers, under the proper amount of stress to create mental acuity and muscle memory. These tools are drones, imitations of the real thing. Sometimes drones hurt in training. This is also a good thing.

   A drone is a replica of the real object used to simulate the size, weight, deployment and use of the real thing. They are usually called training aids but old-time martial artists used to use "drones" when they had a real knife with the edge ground off. There are also furniture drones, like the products from Dummies Unlimited Inc. to Benchmade's 520T training knife.

   To a Baby Boomer's eyes, the Millennial Student is decision-challenged, sheltered, socially inept and ethically bankrupt. For example, the new generation of trainee can tell you they "know" someone, having never met them in person. They are capable of dating without ever holding a conversation, save texting their BFF in the next booth in a restaurant.

   But as trainers, we must capitalize on their strengths, not dwell on their shortcomings. I first discovered this when I had a training mission for several companies of co-ed soldiers. I was a small arms instructor and our unit needed to get about 500 soldiers through a rifle marksmanship program in about three days. We had a serious strategy planning session. All our instructors had at least 10 years in the small arms business and several on our team had Vietnam time.

   For the record: The soldiers we sent to Iraq and Afghanistan surprised everyone with their strong will and resourcefulness. Where did they practice resourcefulness? RPGs. Not the rocket launchers, but the role-playing games. When I walked up to a group of teen soldiers, I asked them if they had received deployment orders. They had, and several admitted they had volunteered for that very purpose. It didn't take long for me to realize that our country was being represented by some of the most professional soldiering in its history.

   The tank gunnery training team was in the next barracks over from us, the Small Arms Training Team. They were making similar observations. Their gunners could acquire and fire on their targets in record time, the best gunners being gamers. However, the drivers had to be reminded to pay attention to what was in their periphery. In fact, the 5-ton drivers had trouble with anything outside of the windscreen — forget about backing up or looking for the rearview mirror. Our M16 shooters were outstanding, but when we put them on the pop up range, they missed targets that weren't directly in front of them.

   When we taught them how to adjust their sights, none of them did it correctly. What good is it to tell them to turn something clockwise? This generation has hardly seen an analog clock or watch.

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