Josh Linvill has served in 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment as a regimental planner, rifle company commander, and headquarters and headquarters troop commander. He is assigned to the 10th Mountain Division and serves as a planner for Operation Resolute Support in Kabul, Afghanistan. He can be found on Twitter @josh_linvill. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: The U.S. Army is transitioning its number one priority from readiness to people. Part of the transition is an attempt to reduce the operational tempo (OPTEMPO) so units can focus on dedicated periods for mission, training, and modernization.
Date Originally Written: November 7, 2020.
Date Originally Published: January 4, 2021.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is a graduate of the U.S. Army’s School for Advanced Military Studies whose research focused on how the Army can learn from Rotational Training Units’ (RTU) experiences. The author believes a lower OPTEMPO by focusing the purpose of Combat Training Center (CTC) rotations or reducing the number of CTC rotations will increase learning for the Army and therefore increase readiness.
Background: In October 2020, the U.S. Army published its Action Plan to Prioritize People and Teams. The plan describes how the focus on readiness, “resulted in an unsustainable OPTEMPO and placed significant demands on units, leaders, and Soldiers and Families and stress on the force.” The action plan describes two ways the Army will reduce OPTEMPO; specially designed rotations where the entire brigade will not deploy to a CTC and potentially not requiring CTC rotations for units scheduled for non-combat deployments.
Significance: Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) provides a model, figure 1, the Army can use to increase learning while reducing OPTEMPO. Theorist David Kolb explains the dialectic nature of ELT, “learning is defined as ‘the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.’ Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience.” The ELT cycle consists of four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. In ideal circumstances the learner grasps and transforms knowledge while progressing through each stage of the cycle. As Kolb writes, “immediate or concrete experiences are the basis for observations and reflections. Theses reflections are assimilated and distilled into abstract concepts from which new implications for action are drawn. These implications can be actively tested and serve as guides in creating new experiences.” Changing the current design and/or rate of CTC rotations, or concrete experiences for units, enables the Army to give primacy to the other stages of the ELT cycle. By implementing different options for CTC rotations the Army can learn more by harnessing the power of a complete ELT cycle.
Option #1: The Army focuses CTC rotations on Army learning, not just the RTU. In this option, the Army can treat each CTC rotation as a means to an end by assessing and integrating the needs of the RTU with the overall needs of the Army. In other words, each CTC rotation can serve as a new concrete experience in the ELT cycle of the Army. The Army can use lessons learned from current conflicts or previous War Fighter Exercises and CTC rotations to tailor rotations focused on one unit or warfighting function. For example, division cavalry constructs, the use of armor in an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaisance saturated environment, or consolidation area operations.
Risk: The primary risk to Option #1 is that the experiments fail and a fiscal risk in that rotations are extremely expensive. If there is no balance between active experimentation and training the fundamentals of warfighting and therefore readiness will suffer.
Gain: Rather than using similar rotational constructs for each Brigade Combat Team, in this option the Army will benefit from using the ELT cycles that begin with different experiences to test (ELT active experimentation) a theory or hypothesis (ELT abstract conceptualization) developed by reflecting on pervious experiences (ELT reflective observation). In this option ELT cycles that begin outside of CTCs will directly influence CTC rotations. By linking ELT cycles at CTCs the Army can develop new ideas following a variety of experiences.
Option #2: The U.S. Army slows down to speed up learning. A certain level of detachment from experience is required to progress through every stage of the ELT cycle. An organization consumed by events cannot effectively learn. By reducing the number of CTC rotations the Army can learn more by focusing on the other stages of the ELT cycle and exploit the knowledge of other organizations who shared the experience with the RTU. Organizations like Operations Groups and the Opposing Force (OPFOR) are just some of the key players to extending the learning process. More time between rotations would allow these organizations time to progress through their own ELT cycles and share that knowledge directly with other units.
Risk: Although quality over quantity is important and in-line with the Army Action Plan, this option risks leaders in key positions not having any CTC experience at all. Fewer events mean fewer concrete experiences to initiate the learning.
Gain: Fewer rotations means CTC Operations Groups will be able to focus more time observing and coaching units through the entire ELT cycle instead of focusing on the concrete experience of each rotation. Fewer rotations will enable members of the Operations Groups to follow up with previous RTUs and coach them through the reflection on, conceptualization, and experimentation of ideas that began during their rotation, extending the learning cycle that started at the CTC. This same process could take place for units training for upcoming CTC rotations. Members of the Operations Groups would have the time to share the reflections and observations of previous RTUs and their own observations and ideas to support commanders training their units for a CTC rotation. Fewer rotations would also enable other CTC organizations, like members of the OPFOR, to take part in the process and further enhance units’ learning cycles.
Other Comments: None.
 U.S. Army, Action Plan to Prioritize People and Teams. Army.mil, October13, 2020, accessed October 25, 2020, https://www.army.mil/article/239837/action_plan_to_prioritize_people_and_teams
 David A. Kolb, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2015), 51.
 Dr. Robert Foley examines the process of horizontal learning, using the experiences of other units to learn, is his article, A Case Study in Horizontal Military Innovation: The German Army, 1916-1918. Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01402390.2012.669737