The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Ender’s Game: Tactics, Strategy, Training, and Critical Thinking in Science Fiction

Ender’s Game is a recognized sci-fi classic and my intent here is not to review it. There are over 2,000 positive reviews of it on Amazon (as well as over 60 negative reviews) and I encourage that all who are interested in the book graze over what the Amazon readers have opined. Despite the few very critical reviews, I found the book a quick, easy, and interesting read. I recommend it strongly to those interested in sci-fi in general, military sci-fi in particular, and training military leaders.

My interest in Ender’s Game is that it is a sci-fi novel that is mostly about training for battle. The actual war is wrapped up in the last 30 pages of the book. I think the important points that the book makes are about training; and the most important points about training that it makes are the importance of immersion in the training environment and the focus on creative solutions. It also makes the point that it is absolutely critical to focus on the development of individual leading and thinking skills. Acquiring knowledge, technical skills, and collective training are important but secondary educational requirements. The leader is the single point of failure in military endeavors. Knowledge, skill, and collective training mean little unless uniquely trained and exceptionally competent leaders employ soldiers and units correctly and most effectively. Ender’s Game makes the point that leaders make two vital contributions to military success: first, effective decision-making and second, maximizing the abilities and potential of subordinates.

The most intriguing aspect of the book is the use of simulation and technology to train critical and creative thinking and decision-making. Written in 1985, this book advocates many of the training characteristics I did in my article “Training Tactics in Virtual Reality” ten years later.

What I think is still frustrating is that, though the technology is there to support it, the military in general still has not made the leap to using technology to train individual thinking and decision making skills. Ender’s Game demonstrates that military sci-fi can be a creative inspiration for how we should be thinking about and using technology to make our military more effective.

Click here to go to Orson Scott Card’s Website.

Click here to see my article on training in virtual reality.

November 19, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Sir,

    Having some experience with multiple simulation programs, I feel that they are value added, provided that they are placed on the calendar in an appropriate location.

    As a 2LT, we used the Abrams Vehicle Drivers Simulator, the Close Combat Tactical Trainer (CCTT) and the Unit Conduct of Fire Trainer (UCOFT). All of these simulation exercises were conducted prior to deploying to the field to conduct any training exercise such as Tank Gunnery, or the 10 day “Gauntlet” at Fort Knox, KY.

    At the Maneuver Captains Career Course at Fort Benning, GA, students use a combination of the CCTT, Virtual Battlespace 2 (VBS2) and Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation (JCATS). These opportunities enabled students plan, prepare and execute a “plan” and then assess the operation once it was complete. During my time at Fort Benning, we coordinated for a select population of students to conduct a combined operation using the CCTT at Fort Benning, and students in simulation centers at both Fort Rutger and Fort Sill. This training event enabled the “Company Commander” from Fort Benning to plan with his assigned Fire Support Officer from Fort Sill, and then interact with an aviation element from Fort Rutger during the mission execution. Though I cannot accurately comment on the cost associated with any of the three simulators, I have to imagine that it pales in comparison to the amount of money it would cost to deploy all three units to a training area and conduct the same exercise. Not to mention that the “simulated” Class V does not detract from a units annual allowance.

    Another benefit to the simulation exercises, is that it allows for other needed events such as equipment RESET to occur, while still making forward progress towards tactical ability. The scenarios create the tactical environment that requires leaders to make decisions and communicate effectively. Reporting, establishing SOPs, and basic understanding of unit and equipment capability can be obtained without ever leaving the motorpool.

    I am curious to see what changes come about after LTG Robert Brown (Senate confirmed him as the new CAC-CG on 5 November 2013) as he is a big proponent on the Live, Virtual, Constructive, Gaming (LVCG) training.

    Comment by Matt McCarty, SG 17A | November 21, 2013

  2. My apologies to the Aviation community. I intended to include Fort Rucker, Alabama, in my previous comment, not Rutgers, which is in New Jersey.

    Comment by Matt McCarty, SG 17A | November 22, 2013

  3. Sir,

    I agree with Matt, the simulators are of value for training. I think it’s a great tool to develop our junior leaders (LTs, team leaders and squad leaders) and teach them how to react during certain situations. I think the shortfall of the lack of use of simulators for training is two-fold: 1. Time needs to be allocated to use them in the training calendar. This means any other training event that pops up, should not replace the simulator training event. 2. Lack of education of the existing simulators to leaders. While stationed in Germany, I learned there are leaders out there who are not aware of the different existing simulator tools available to train their Soldiers.

    Coming from JMTC, I saw that Training Support Activity Europe (TSAE), an organization who has a lot of simulators that units are not taking advantage of using. Units could benefit from the use of these simulators to develop SOPs, TTPs and for overall junior leader development. A simple simulator such as the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 (EST2000) could improve their Soldier’s proficiency in markmanship and teach them the right techniques without wasting bullets. As of February of this year, the Army published ALARACT 027/2013 which directs units to use EST2000 for markmanship qualification of the M9, M16, M249 and M240 qualification. I think this is a step forward to start the education of leaders about the existing virtual simulators.

    While in command in Germany, I ensured my Soldiers used the Virtual Battlespace Simulator 2 (VBS2) to develop TTPs in convoy operations and to enhance the decision making skills of my junior leaders in preparation for an upcoming deployment. This was a great tool to use to show the platoons what mistakes were being made and how they could improve their operations during the crawl/walk phase of training. It also helped to build the team cohesion and develop the trust needed from the Soldiers to their leaders.

    There are other great simulators out there such as the Virtual Clearance Training Suite (VCTS) which instructs Soldiers on Route clearance operations and helps them improve on their skills, teaches them the latest TTPs and allows them practice on how to employ the various route clearance vehicles in their operations. This is all done in a simulator type event without having to worry about putting young Soldiers behind the wheels on route clearance equipment that they are not yet proficient in. Leaders from the team level to company level can ensure their Soldiers are properly trained on the equipment prior to licensing on a specific vehicle.

    Comment by Yovana Cardenas, SG 17A | November 23, 2013

  4. Sir,
    I think one of the biggest issues facing the use of simulators is the lack of corporate knowledge regarding what’s out there (i.e. what is actually available) and how to use it. We have some awesome simulator technology, but it is not very well advertised at most duty stations and is woefully underutilized. I believe, especially as the budget crisis continues, that units will soon be forced into simulations and I actually think this is one of the few areas of the Army that could continue to see growth in the coming years. Leaders will soon have to acknowledge the usefulness in simulated training events, if for no other reason than the sheer cost-effectiveness.

    I did a TDY trip last year to a place called the “Institute for Creative Technologies”, which is a DOD-sponsored, university affiliated (USC) research center that is literally on the cutting edge of some of the most amazing simulations (besides DOD, Hollywood is one of their largest customers). What this trip taught me, is that the technology is out there and there are at least some initial efforts to get it into use as quickly as possible. The CSA had visited ICT the month before my visit and seemed to be pushing hard for the word to get out to the rest of the Army on what was available now for units to start using.

    All of this being said, I think it is important to recognize that simulators are not, in of themselves, sufficient for fully preparing Soldiers and leaders for combat. While they can be helpful, the generation of Soldiers and leaders entering our Army now are VERY comfortable in a gaming (simulator) environment, and I would argue that their performance would likely be quite different when they are physically out on the ground having to make tough decisions when bullets are flying and rounds are impacting around them.

    I think a healthy balance is what will be important as we move forward and I’m actually somewhat optimistic that in the next 5-10 years, simulator use will only continue to grow. As a Field Artilleryman who spent the first part of his career with the ridiculous CFFT (Call-for-Fire Trainer… built on ’80s technology), I was encouraged to see that they’ve upgraded to an all-new system and have already put it to extensive use (especially in the instruction for the Joint Firepower Observer Course). Ultimately, I think our shrinking budget will be a forcing function to make simulators more relevant, accessible, and utilized in the coming years.


    Comment by Jeff Pickler | January 30, 2014

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