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Take Five: Major Gen. Gregg F. Martin, Fort Leonard Wood commander

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 18, 2009 - Major Gen. Gregg F. Martin, who heads Fort Leonard Wood, let his soldiers know where they stand with him in an article published in a post magazine last winter, shortly after he took command:

"My intent is that every one of the 90,000-plus soldiers, leaders, and joint warriors who trains or is stationed at FLW -- from private in basic combat training, to colonels in the Precommand Course, to permanent party -- becomes a stronger, healthier, better person in mind, body, heart, and spirit; is grounded in the basics of our profession and the Army values; is expert in their specialty; is adaptive, innovative, and flexible for success in full-spectrum operations; is inspired and passionate to serve, learn, and grow today and in the future; and is built to last and thrive in an uncertain future."

This is not your grandfather's "Fort Lost in the Woods.''

Martin, a general with war experience in Iraq and a half-dozen academic degrees in his duffle bag, is a well-spoken man who discusses his mission with vigor. When he describes the challenges of training today's all-volunteer Army -- where multiple deployments are the rule not the exception -- he repeatedly mentions the importance of building strong hearts and minds to go along with those physically fit bodies. And his goal of producing soldiers "built to last" includes their spouses and children.

"We essentially bring into the military young soldiers and officers who volunteer -- who raise their right hand and take the oath to support the Constitution. Most of them are single. During their first tour, most of them get married. And so you recruit a soldier or a lieutenant, but you retain a family,'' Martin told the Beacon during a recent interview.

"The big step we've taken recently is this idea of a very holistic proactive approach to building strong people: mind, body, heart, spirit, individually -- whether it's the uniformed service member or the spouse and the kids,'' he added.

Top-notch military training is a given, but the Army now recognizes that retaining good soldiers means creating and maintaining a good quality of life for their families, Martin said. That has meant an increased emphasis on social service programs and health care, counseling, housing and working with local communities and school districts to provide attractive environments for military families. This Army-wide pledge of support is spelled out in an initiative started in 2008 called the Army Family Covenant, which is signed by the commanding officers at each installation.

Fort Leonard Wood remains one of the Army's largest intake centers for recruits, but the role of the installation has grown beyond its original mission as a basic training facility. All branches of the armed forces send personnel to this post in the Missouri Ozarks where they attend chemical, engineer and military police schools.

The fort's evolution is detailed in the November issue of Army magazine. The installation will also be prominently featured in a future report on CNN. The cable network is currently following a male and female soldier going through training at Fort Leonard Wood.

(Note: On Nov. 5, the day Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan is accused of killing 13 fellow soldiers and wounding dozens more at Fort Hood in Texas, Martin had been in St. Louis to speak at a Veterans Day luncheon. This interview concluded as details of the shooting began to unfold. Contacted afterward, Mike Alley, a public affairs spokesman for Fort Leonard Wood, said the security level at the post was not changed because of the shootings at Fort Hood, which military investigators called a tragic but isolated incident. Citing the same holistic approach that Martin described, Alley said the installation is always prepared to handle such events, and a chaplain was available for counseling.)

Here are excerpts from the Beacon's interview with Maj. Gen. Martin, who talked about the challenges of training America's military in wartime. It is, in his words, "a hard, hard business."

The nation has been at war for eight years now in Afghanistan and for six years in Iraq. How has training adapted to keep up with the changing landscape of war?

Martin: The wars have changed, and they're going to continue to change. It is a very clever-thinking, adaptive enemy and whatever we do, they will figure out how to counteract it. We have to be studying the enemy always and learn to think like them so we can outmaneuver them.

We know certain enduring things are unchanging: We want soldiers and leaders who are fundamentally excellent people with excellent character, great values, and then we teach them the warrior skills so they can fight, survive and get the job done and come home alive from what is a tough, dangerous fight.

There are also certain principles and fundamentals about how to conduct full-spectrum operations -- everything from war fighting to peacekeeping to nation-building missions to homeland defense right here in the U.S., where we have to be able to respond to terrorist strikes or natural disasters. But at the end of the day, no matter what we do in terms of teaching, training and so forth, our leaders have got to be able to adapt, innovate, imagine and then overcome.

We teach all the basics and also the latest tactics, techniques and procedures based on what the enemy's doing so that we're as current as we can possibly be.

Simultaneously, we partner with academia, industry, think tanks, our other services, and our allies around the world to get the best technology, ideas and concepts into the hands and minds of our people so they can do the best job possible.

How do Fort Leonard Wood's instructors stay current with what is happening today on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Martin: We have liaisons and people who are actually in those units in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Horn of Africa, Latin America and East Asia. We have people from the schools who are attached to and embedded in those units so they can see what's going on. With modern information technology, we're reporting back and forth by email, phone calls, video teleconferences and web-based sharing of information. We have a thing called "knowledge management" that allows sophisticated collaboration online. We're doing that every day.


We do conferences routinely -- in some cases, daily -- where we are studying what happened. We conduct detailed after-action reviews every day, whether it's people on point in the fight or at whatever level of headquarters. We analyze every incident and ask ourselves: What happened? What went right that we can replicate in operations, training and education? What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? Where was the shortfall? What did we learn from that? How do we correct the deficiency? Was it a training error? Was it something we need to educate our people? Was it a technical issue? We learn from it, we bring it back and we develop solutions, whether it is training education or new types of materiel.

We send mobile training teams from Fort Leonard Wood around the world. We sent about 260 of them last year, and these are mobile teams doing everything from counter-IED (improvised explosive device) or detainee operations or military police operations, to how to go after terrorists, hostage rescue, nonlethal capabilities, or chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear -- what we call CBRN -- response and mitigation, both overseas and at home.

It's a huge intellectual effort, and we are a learning organization. We're doing everything we can to learn, adapt, and improve so that we can get ahead of this very adaptive enemy that we're facing around the world.

How do you simultaneously prepare troops for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, two very different theaters of operation?

Martin: First we do basic training in which everyone gets basic skills. Then we do specialized training for the branches we have at Fort Leonard Wood: engineers, military police and chemical. We want people to be experts in their field as well as broader thinkers -- members of combined armed teams where they can work cooperatively with the infantry, armor, aviation, logistics, intelligence and so forth.

Iraq is a more advanced country with a much more advanced infrastructure. The terrain is generally pretty flat. You've got a good roads system, plenty of bridges, a lot of big cities. The educational and societal level in Iraq is really far, far ahead of what you have in Afghanistan. Since the troop surge of 2007 and the Sunni awakening where they essentially turned against Al-Qaeda and cooperated with the Iraqi government and the Americans and the coalition forces, violence has gone way, way down. Iraq, in terms of military operations and outcomes, has turned into a good news story.

Iraq's not perfect. They've got their challenges internally, but in terms of military operation and the role of the U.S. military, the violence and the fighting have gone way down. And of course, the commander-in-chief has announced a withdrawal plan and a timetable, so things are progressing pretty well in Iraq.

Afghanistan is a very different country. It doesn't have nearly the infrastructure, the level of education, the social cohesiveness that you have in Iraq. It's a much bigger country. The terrain is much, much rougher. It's been almost 30 years since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan so they have essentially experienced 30 years of war. The Soviets were there for 10 years, then the aftermath of that war, then you had post 9-11 where we went in and got rid of the Taliban.

They have a devastated infrastructure, a devastated culture, the national psyche has been traumatized. They have got the huge issue with the drug trade. The complexity of the war was compounded by the Taliban, which was essentially pushed out and went over the border into the tribal areas of Pakistan and had sort of a safe haven for a number of years. Now the Pakistani government is pushing hard on them. It's just a very different situation than Iraq.

In terms of training, we teach and train our people in more of a generic sense, and we put together tailored courses depending on which theater they're going to go into. Most of the soldiers and leaders who leave Fort Leonard Wood go to a deployable unit that will do specific training for their mission.

How do you prepare soldiers to deal with the civilians they will encounter in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Martin: Our Army today has to be able to do full-spectrum operations -- which means everything from fighting conventional combat to stability operations, which include infrastructure, economic development, governance and homeland defense. It's what we call civilian support ops. Our units also have to be prepared to respond to emergencies right here in the U.S., whether natural or manmade disasters.

We need to develop a soldier, a leader who is grounded in the fundamentals of how to fight because we put the Army in these very dangerous environments. But we have to have very disciplined, values-based soldiers and leaders who understand that this is a complex fight.

Our enemies hide among the people and fight an insurgency. They don't come out and reveal themselves. It is very difficult.

We have to fight against a determined enemy who has prepared improvised explosive devices, ambushes, booby traps. We have to fight to an objective, conduct conventional operations to kill, capture or destroy a known enemy stronghold. Then once that mission is complete and we've pushed the enemy out, it's time to work with the local leaders. What do they need? How do we establish a safe and secure area? What are the needs of this particular tribe or village or neighborhood of a city? How do we partner with them? These same officers or leaders or soldiers who just prepared for combat and did combat, now they're in stability ops, meeting with local sheiks and village elders.

Typically, what the leaders of the communities will want is better education, clean water, better health care, economic development, a police force that can be trusted to provide security without abusing their people or doing things that are corrupt. So then our military will partner with the host nation, other government agencies and nongovernmental agencies to figure out how to create a stable environment in which the people we're trying to protect will advance themselves to the point where they will be loyal and give allegiance to their government as opposed to the insurgents.

It requires knowledge, education and real discipline on the part of the soldiers to not pull the trigger unless they absolutely have to. Because as generals [Stanley] McCrystal and [David] Petraeus have said so clearly, you can't kill your way to victory in either of these places. You have got to work with the locals.

Essentially, you've got young privates today who are making decisions and have a responsibility in dealing with a host nation and a population -- making decisions on life and death and the employment of force. Twenty, 30 years ago it was colonels and generals making those decisions. Now it's down to the squads and platoons. We are training our troops and our junior leaders not only to be soldiers and warriors but diplomats and peacekeepers who can establish governance and economic development -- things that the Army hasn't traditionally done but because of the nature of this conflict we have to do. If not us, who?

That would seem to be the toughest part. When does the soldier know that today I'm the diplomat?

Martin: You have to be very, very vigilant. You have to always be ready to conduct combat operations. It is what the Marines coined as the "three block war" -- where literally on the same day in the same neighborhood, you could be conducting high-intensity combat operations, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian operations in close proximity both in geography and in time.

It requires tremendous flexibility and agility on the part of our troops. They have to be able to apply deadly, lethal force on a moment's notice to kill a vicious enemy and to stay alive, but at the same time to be restrained and disciplined not to kill innocent civilians because if you kill an innocent civilian, you will probably create 10 new enemies.

It puts huge stress on our troops, but it's the only way to conduct a counter-insurgency operation. The enemy sees our strength. They don't come out and fight us in an open field where they're fighting against our artillery, tanks, aircraft because they would get killed very fast.

So they've adapted and found a way to fight us that is more effective and plays to their strengths. That's the fight we're in. We train, educate, sensitize our troops at all levels. It's hard. This is a hard, hard business.

Major Gen. Gregg F. Martin


* Graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and was commissioned in 1979 into the Army Corps of Engineers

* Holds master's degrees in civil engineering and technology policy, and a doctorate in engineering management and public policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

* Earned master's degrees in strategic studies from the Naval and Army War colleges


* Commanded an expanded brigade of 13,000 soldiers in Iraq during the first year of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003-2004

* Commanded the 130th Engineer Brigade and served as V Corps Engineer in Europe and the Middle East, June 2002 to July 2004

* Served as commander and division engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers in Portland Ore., from July 2005 through October 2007; was a member of the Mississippi River Commission


* Martin, a native of Massachusetts, and his wife Maggie have three sons. Two are serving in the Army and the youngest is a college student.

Martin, who took command in Oct. 9, 2008, concluded his message, which was published in the winter edition of Maneuver Support magazine, with this: "Thanks for all you do and for who you are.''

About Fort Leonard Wood

* 63,000-acre U.S. Army installation in the Missouri Ozarks, about 120 miles southwest of St. Louis; commanded by Major Gen. Gregg F. Martin

* Average daily population: About 40,000, including soldiers, Marines, Navy and Air Force personnel, plus civilians

* Home of the Maneuver Support Center, which houses Army chemical, engineer and military police schools and conducts joint training with other military branches

* One of the five largest reception stations for new Army recruits

* Site of the Army's largest academy for noncommissioned officers

* The fort's groundbreaking was in December 1940, and it served as a major training facility during World War II.

* Named for Major Gen. Leonard Wood, who was appointed Army chief of staff in 1910 by President William Taft.  Wood, who was also a Harvard-trained surgeon, advocated national preparedness and started a number of programs to advance the U.S. military, including the forerunner of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. At the start of the Spanish American War, Wood commanded the 1st Volunteer Cavalry regiment, known as the "Rough Riders." His second in command was Theodore Roosevelt.

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.