The Army is eliminating online training programs and a leave planning requirement as part of a broader push to reduce tasks that take away from time spent on combat readiness.
Army Secretary Mark Esper ended three online mandates this month: media awareness, combatting trafficking in persons and the accident avoidance course. He also lifted several requirements related to unit safety programs and inspections.
Esper and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said in an April 13 memo that mandatory training cannot be available only in online formats and that web-based instruction is not a substitute for training conducted by leaders.
Commanders are free to make "prudent risk-informed decisions" to cut tasks that don't involve combat, the first of four related memos said.
The memos eliminated some headquarters-level requirements, such as the use of the Travel Risk Planning System, or TRiPS.
Esper and Milley cited TRiPS as a "burdensome requirement" that "unnecessarily weighs down our Army from focusing on its core mission." A leave form and safety briefing should be sufficient, they said.
TRiPS travel risk assessments were among the documents many soldiers had to submit when requesting leave, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brent Ely, a helicopter pilot trainer deployed to Kandahar Air Field told Stars and Stripes earlier this year.
In all, eight documents were required to take leave in the States, four times the paperwork he had to file to fly missions over the largely Taliban-controlled Kandahar province.
The streamlining is an "encouraging development," said Leonard Wong, a professor at the Army War College and a retired Army officer. Wong co-authored a 2015 study that found a widespread trend of Army officers "fudging" or "pencil whipping" tasks or reports, often because they had too many requirements and insufficient time to complete them.
Senior leaders seem to now be pushing back against a bureaucracy that has gradually expanded at the expense of military professionalism, Wong said.
"What we're seeing now is a concerted effort to restore a correct balance," he said via email Tuesday. "We're shifting away from trusting checklists and charts and going back to trusting leaders and leadership."
The Army directives also called on commands to nix any requirement for subordinates to generate reports related to soldier records and proficiencies. Instead, it said commands would rely on existing Army data systems.
Esper and Milley also called on commands to make leaders aware of earlier policy changes meant to reduce the burdens many units face.
The changes were greeted cautiously by soldiers and veterans on the online forum Reddit, where some users identifying themselves as soldiers mentioned forging training certificates in the past. Others ranted about time-consuming difficulties with computer-based training systems.
"Less mandatory training and reports for your commander, more time spent doing the rooty-tooty point and shooty," said one Reddit user named ColonelError, summarizing the Army directives.
Some worried the burden would simply shift to the tasks of recording training or wrestling with the electronic systems.
Wong was more optimistic.
"With these signals coming from the highest levels of leadership in the Army, subordinate leaders will hopefully feel empowered to use their judgment in taking prudent risk and exercising disciplined initiative," he said.
Formal policy regulations will soon be issued, according to Army documents.