Learning the Lessons of Lethality: The Army's Cycle of Basic Combat Training, 1918-2019

  • February 22, 2019
  • Dr Conrad C Crane, Dr Michael E Lynch, Shane P. Reilly, Jessica J. Sheets


This study analyzes the initial entry training programs for Army inductees for the last 100 years, to identify the patterns that have shaped that training. Technology has changed over the years, and training has adapted, but technological change has been a less important factor than the oscillation between wartime and peacetime methodologies. Changes in technology have not changed the core functions in which the Army trains its new Soldiers: lethality and survivability. The unvarying trend for the last century shows an increase in lethality and survivability skills after the nation enters combat, often learning harsh lessons. As soon as the conflict ends, however, the training emphasis reflexively moves back toward garrison-type activities. The length of initial entry or Basic Combat Training (BCT) has also waxed and waned over the years, ranging from as long as 17 weeks (1943) (not including OSUT) to as short as 8 weeks (1980). There were always external factors that affected the amount of training time available, such as budgets, force structure, institutional infrastructure, and end strength. This study focuses largely, however, on how the Army used the time allotted. The analysis focuses primarily on infantry skills, but also examines other training where necessary for clarity. (Non-infantry, especially sustainment MOSs, have traditionally received less marksmanship training.) The unifying concept is that all initial entry-training categories have remained the same for Soldiers throughout the period, while time spent on each category has fluctuated. Soldiers received different training in specialties.