Train the way you Fight, Fight the way you Train

I recently read an article on the benefits of “interleaving” when trying to learn a new skill. Interleaving is the concept of interspersing or mixing different subjects while learning versus the more typical method of block training on one subject for a period of time. This truth has been demonstrated in physical activities as well, like weight lifting. My son, an exercise physiologist, notes that varying the amount of weight and volume is important in making effective gains. In my own training, I’ve noticed that interleaving has strengthened my stability muscles providing more real-world application to big lifts.

A deeper dive into the subject would have us understand that by varying the specificity of learning, we are making it harder to recall information. Neuroscience shows that the more difficult something is to recall, the stronger we reinforce those pathways.

Another example I read is a pitcher who only practices fastballs and then only practices curveballs. This is useful in honing his technique but fails him in switching pitches during the game. That reminded me of the Air Force adage “Train the way you fight, fight the way you train!”

This adage came about after the Vietnam war when we realized that pilots had to develop new capabilities and skills in combat that they hadn’t prepared for in training. The Air Force (and Navy) soon realized that once pilot’s achieved 10 combat missions they were more likely to survive their missions. The Air Force established a combat training exercise called “Red Flag” to give pilots 10 missions in the most difficult and challenging missions; while still providing a level of safety, experimentation, and training.

As a side note – a similar issue was found during the Korean War which spawned the Air Force “Fighter Weapons School” of FWIC or the Navy’s similar but more limited duration Fighter Weapons school nicknamed “Top Gun.” Both Red Flag and FWIC (now WIC) are based at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas.

Prior to Desert Storm, I was lucky enough to fly my first Red Flag missions. We flew against an advanced “red air” adversary and were engaged by the most sophisticated surface-to-air missile simulators (they would shoot Estes rockets at us to show we were being engaged. This practice proved invaluable five months later when I found myself flying missions over Iraq in Desert Storm. I felt confident in flying in large force packages of over 100 aircraft and while being engaged by anti-aircraft guns or surface-to-air missiles. When I think back, I was probably over-confident or naive in regard to those missions (my WSO – McMissile might disagree).

So, no matter how it is applied, our actual “game-day” results will always reflect how we our training day practice; “Train the Way You Fight, Fight the Way You Train!”

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