Today’s piece is a departure of sorts from that usually provided for the professional discussion. It marks the first in what will be fairly regular pieces from a new author, whom we will be calling Colonel Panter-Downes. This name is taken from a famous London “correspondent” to America in the early years of WWII, Mollie Panter Downes. She wrote regularly for the New Yorker, describing her view of the life of London and the UK at war for an American public. In our contemporary case, we have a British Army field grade officer reporting from the US in a time of different conflict. We can consider these pieces his “American War Notes.”
Obviously it is a delicate thing for a serving officer to report and remark upon life with the armed forces of an important ally. But if done well, a professional observer able to reflect and comment sensibly can offer a novel and valuable perspective of the institution’s many sides. Our author is more than adequately experienced of service in the combat arms, repeated deployments, as well as the rigours of military administration. That is, our author has a trustworthy voice, the fruits of which are what we hope to bring to Kings of War readers.
Today’s piece was commissioned. I had heard about the program from the author and thought it a fascinating thing to put before the American readers. I shall take a small bow now for my prescience in selecting a topic that would resonate so perfectly with the publication of the Army Operating Concept. Many 1s and 0s have already been spilled on the topic over at The Bridge. Here we narrow the focus to a specific idea.
So, dear #CCLKOW readers, I give you this British idea for your consideration. Read Colonel Panter-Downes’s piece and the accompanying questions and join the discussion on Twitter.
20 years ago as a platoon commander I led the planning and deployment of a small team of British soldiers to the volatile North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.  I was responsible for all elements of the operation, from conception, to execution and then exploitation. I researched and developed the concept of operations, arranged the logistics, selected and trained the team, organized the movement and conducted the follow up briefings. In country I liaised with the Embassy and Pakistani government agencies, recruited the in-country support team, dealt with the unexpected when caught up in an anti-Western riot in Peshawar, practiced the robustness of my contingency plans when we suffered casualties  and conducted numerous impromptu shuras and medical clinics in my area of operations. All this was done in the absence of radio or cellular communications to my higher headquarters. Despite already being operationally experienced from a deployment to Northern Ireland, this was the defining moment of the start of my army career. I learnt more about the art of leadership and the loneliness of command, of logistics and working across cultures in this deployment then I had before or even since in structured training. I was adventurous training.
Adventurous Training (AT) is a singularly British military activity and is a fundamental element of its training ethos and regime. Defined as “Challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk,” AT is invaluable as “the only way in which the fundamental risk of the unknown can be used to introduce the necessary level of fear to develop adequate fortitude, rigour, robustness, initiative and leadership to deliver the resilience that military personnel require on operations.”  There are currently nine core AT activities  and all UK Service Personnel are required to undertake this training as part of their basic training as well as post-operational decompression activities. I had my first taste of AT as an officer cadet and have continued active participation ever since, progressing through experience from participant to practitioner in my chosen disciplines. In all this time I have trained in many different countries, developed new skills and learnt hard lessons; I have been a planner as well as a climber, a logistician as well as a skipper and I have placed myself outside of my comfort zone and to confront my fears on more occasions than I care to remember.
The US Army has recently released its Army Operating Concept (AOC), a conceptual doctrine which “determines how we think about what the Army does”.  Much of the AOC emphasizes the human aspect of conflict and stresses the requirement to develop its human capability, in particular developing agile and adaptive commanders. What is the connection between the AOC and AT? If the US Army is serious about developing its human capability, if it wants to develop leaders who “think critically, are comfortable with ambiguity, accept prudent risk, assess the situation continuously, develop innovative solutions to problems, and remain mentally and physically agile to capitalize on opportunities,”  then it should consider AT as a means to achieve those goals.
Now not everyone is going to undertake a high altitude trekking trip to the Hindu Kush, attempt Everest or challenge the Antarctic.  But year in, year out, U.K. service personnel conduct adventure training exercises in the U.K. and overseas, and in fact most overseas warfighting exercises have an adventure training element incorporated into the deployment. In all circumstances the value is always that this training challenges practical and leadership skills in uncertain environments with real risk. The skills they use are fundamental to soldiering: leadership, planning, and risk management. Conducted out of uniform and in small groups these personnel also often encounter a significantly different dynamic with the locals than when in uniform. Overseas adventure training is by definition expeditionary and physically the conditions are very often austere. Not that the U.S. Army need conduct significant amounts overseas, being blessed with some of the finest adventure training opportunities within its own boundaries, but it can incorporate adventure training into the rising tempo of small scale deployments already envisaged under the AOC.
Important to the training and the value it would offer the needs of the AOC, less specific highly qualified experts, AT tends to be a junior officer and senior NCO dominated activity. This allows these two elements to operate with normally significantly more autonomy than they get in conventional training; it fosters trust up and down the chain of command, that vital and often lacking ingredient in inculcating Mission Command. Significantly AT is also cheap compared to conventional military training. Infrastructure costs are minimal and the expertise can be brought in from a thriving civilian sector. Lastly AT is recruitment and retention positive. Soldiers enjoy adventure training and most activities undoubtedly have an element of glamour to them. 
If the U.S. Army is serious about developing its next generation of leaders to win in a complex world, then perhaps it should consider AT within the AOC framework. If so, perhaps the ‘Ascent of Rum Doodle’  will in future become as well read in the U.S. Army as ‘The Defence of Duffer’s Drift’ currently is.
Questions: Today’s questions are brought to you by the Editor.
First, and simply, what do the Americans think of Adventurous Training as a form of military training?
Second, do the US armed forces have the manpower flexibility to allow the pursuit of such activities? Consider personnel policies and routinized progress of billets and promotions.
Third, do the US armed forces have the institutional flexibility to allow and foster the initiative necessary for such a program? Does it trust junior leaders sufficiently?
Finally, how many of the Americans briefly wondered whether there was an exchange program to get on one of these expeditions?
Join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW and keep an eye out for the Colonel’s next posts.
1 The expedition staged through Peshawar before undertaking high altitude trekking towards Gilgit.
2 Two casualties total; one was bounced over a car in Peshawar and one suffered from altitude sickness.
3 Joint Services Pamphlet 419 ‘Joint Service Adventurous Training Scheme’ 3-1, para 7.
4 Ibid, p 1-1, para 1.
5 Offshore Sailing, Sub-Aqua Diving, Canoeing and Kayaking, Caving, Mountaineering, Skiing, Gliding, Mountain Biking, Parachuting and Paragliding.
6 Army Times, Interview with TRADOC Commander General David Perkins, Oct 13, 2014.
7 TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 ‘The U.S. Army Operating Concept’ page 19, para 3-4 a. (4).
8 Everest and the Antarctic have been recent significant U.K. military AT expeditions.
9 Less caving, in my opinion a strange sport for strange people!
10 A comic novel on how not to run a mountaineering expedition.