Army Focus on Combat Training Center Rotations 'Unsustainable,' General Says

National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin
U.S. Army soldiers assigned to 11th Armored Calvary Regiment, acting as the Opposing Force, engage simulated enemy targets during Decisive Action Rotation 20-04 at the National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, Calif., Feb. 14, 2020. (U.S. Army photo/Nathan Franco)

Army senior leaders announced today that the service is significantly reducing its reliance on Combat Training Center rotations as a measure of unit readiness in an effort to relieve some of the demands on an overburdened force.

For the past three years, the Army has focused on building the readiness of its brigade combat teams by sending them to three-week decisive-action rotations at its CTCs, such as the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

The Army's new "action plan," unveiled on the first day of the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting, will reevaluate the intensive training that units are required to endure prior to their CTC rotation, and reduce the number of CTC rotations the Army and National Guard will have to complete annually.

"Over the last three years, we have increased the numbers of CTC rotations to get at readiness requirements ... but that was not sustainable, and we all knew it wasn't sustainable," Gen. Michael Garrett, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, told a group of reporters at a roundtable at AUSA.

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The Army plans to "eliminate the requirement to conduct brigade and battalion live-fire exercises and field training exercises prior to a CTC rotation," according to the action plan.

"To further reduce the demands of training for and supporting CTC rotations, not all brigade combat teams will deploy all of their battalions into 'the box,'" it adds. "Additionally, units scheduled for non-combat rotational deployments may not require a CTC rotation, especially those units deploying to theaters where they can conduct similar collective training."

For almost two decades, soldiers have shouldered the heavy strain of back-to-back combat rotations to Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations around the world. Active-duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers alike have also been heavily involved in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as supporting law enforcement in civil unrest operations, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said today.

"And what we realized as we surveyed the force is that the op-tempo is still extremely high," McConville said.

"We are taking a look at the rotational deployments; we are working with the [combatant command] commanders to see how we can accomplish the mission in innovative ways and we are going to see that coming out over the next two years."

Reevaluating the Army's approach to CTC rotations will also help, McConville said.

"The intent is to give more time back to our sergeants at the lower level so they have chances to build cohesive teams of highly disciplined, trained and fit soldiers at the squad, platoon and company level -- that is the foundation of our Army."

The new deputy commander of III Corps launched at Fort Hood, Texas cited a similar goal when he paused training for an entire week to give unit commanders the time to repair the "erosion of trust" between soldiers and leaders that likely set the conditions for the disappearance and murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a high-profile case that has attracted national scrutiny.

"Just think about what we did for the last seven or eight days at Fort Hood, Texas," Garrett said. "We didn't shut it down, we stood it up; we basically took seven or eight days ... to focus solely on our people and believe me we don't have seven or eight days of white space on our calendar -- that is going to come at the cost of some readiness-generating event."

McConville pointed to the recent NTC rotation of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team of the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry Division as an example of how units may not need to spend quite so much time preparing for battalion and brigade exercises prior to a CTC rotation.

"They went to the National Training Center right after the peak of COVID-19; those soldiers were involved in some of the COVID response, and they were also involved in some of the civil unrest-type operations," McConville said.

"They came in trained up to the platoon level; they just didn't have time to do much after that, but because they had a strong foundation, they were able to really do a great job out there and they quickly picked up on those skill sets as it went forward."

Army officials said they would likely reduce the number of CTC rotations required annually, but they said they didn't have exact numbers available.

In 2021, the National Guard is "going to lose five CTC rotations," Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, Director of the Army National Guard, said.

"That's three more than what we planned for," Jensen said. "As we look into the future, and we look at approaching the CTC rotations ... I think really what we are going to see for the Army National Guard is really more opportunity where we can plug and play with our active-component formations."

One option would be to take specific Guard companies or battalions and join an active brigade CTC rotation, Jensen said.

Ultimately, McConville said the Army is telling unit commanders to prioritize the importance of foundational, small-unit readiness.

"What we are doing is giving instructions to the commanders: make sure you have your soldiers trained," McConville siasd. "You've got to give time to your junior leaders for the chance to develop their cohesive teams at the lowest level."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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