SCOTT SIMON, host:
The United States Army is overhauling its basic-training program for the first time in 30 years. The military says the process of transforming civilians into soldiers needs to keep pace with the new realities of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a new generation of soldiers whose experience with fighting is usually limited to video games.
Lieutenant General Mark Hertling is in charge of updating the Army's basic-training program. He joins us on the phone from Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. General, thanks very being with us.
Lieutenant General MARK HERTLING (U.S. Army): Well, thanks very much for having me.
SIMON: So how has nearly - really, nearly a decade now of U.S. combat in Iraq and Afghanistan informed the military's approach to training?
Lt. Gen. HERTLING: Well, we - as a military, we certainly always learn things from combat experiences. But I think particularly during the last eight years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan - and in other places as well that maybe don't see as much headlines - we've learned quite a few things about what we were doing right, and what we needed to polish in terms of improving our forces.
We also have really found a new generation of soldiers, what some may call the millennial generation, who are advanced in terms of their use of technology, and maybe not as advanced in their physical capabilities or ability to go into a fight. So we're taking that into consideration as well in doing this holistic review of how we do training.
SIMON: You just used the world holistic.
Lt. Gen. HERTLING: I did.
SIMON: I wasn't expecting that from an Army general.
Lt. Gen. HERTLING: Well...
SIMON: And that might be what you're talking about.
Lt. Gen. HERTLING: It is, it is indeed. What we've done, in fact, in part of the basic training review is change the amount of hours we deal with what I think the uninitiated would call hand-to-hand combat, but what we call combative - how to fight. And it's including things like the use of weapons - knives, bayonets, sticks; even the rifle can be used as a weapon without shooting it - and how we use skills like kicking, punching, holds, a combination of martial arts and fighting, and just advantaging different moves as we're in close combat situations, which we think we'll be in for a very long time.
SIMON: Well, do some recruits, when they get to you, are they - if I might put it this way - are they marshmallows compared to the, you know, the Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg generation?
Lt. Gen. HERTLING: I think we are seeing a decline, across the board, in America. And in fact, it concerns many of us in the military, and we're watching it very closely. This isn't a decline in our recruits; this is a decline in our American society in terms of their physical capacity. It's just a softer generation. But we can't afford to accept that. I mean, we've got to train soldiers to climb the peaks of Afghanistan, or subside in the deserts of the Middle East or anywhere in the world.
SIMON: General, are recruits these days less inclined, to use that old phrase, to salute smartly and charge up the hill when ordered?
Lt. Gen. HERTLING: I would say we certainly have a generation that is not as disciplined when they enter the military. And some of the things that we are doing, which has always been a part of our profession, are very different than what many of these young men and women are seeing on the block. So whereas they might have what they believe is a form of courage or discipline, it's not what we expect of a soldier in very tense and difficult situations.
SIMON: So what do you think of this generation of recruits?
Lt. Gen. HERTLING: I think they're magnificent, and I'm not saying that just because I'm supposed to be politically correct as the guy who's in charge of training all these young men and women. But I got to tell you, Scott, I talk and walk and listen to these young men and women. They're different. They have a technology edge. I think they're smarter than any generation we've ever had before.
They certainly ask a lot more difficult questions. They team differently. They have loyalty and - but I think the most important thing about this generation, this generation of millennials, as I said we call it, is the fact that they want to change the world. They want to contribute to something that's bigger than themselves.
SIMON: Well, general, hoo-ah.
Lt. Gen. HERTLING: That's very good. You can join up if you'd like.
SIMON: Doesn't sound like I'm tough enough, but thanks very much. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.
Lt. Gen. HERTLING: Thank you, Scott. Appreciate the interest.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.