In an absolutely clear bit of messaging from the top, Army leadership is now telling soldiers not to complete the dozen or so online courses it requires them to take. 

At a press event on Tuesday at Fort Benning, Georgia, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston was very blunt, instructing commanders to not assign the courses the Army made mandatory for service members. 

“Don’t do it,” Grinston, the top enlisted soldier in the Army, said to commanders at the event. “Set priorities for your organization and fight for it.”

Grinston, along with Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and others, spoke as part of the opening day events for the Maneuver Warfighter Conference. first reported Grinston’s comments. The three-day conference is geared around “Focusing on Tomorrow’s Fight,” which includes not just new technologies, but how the Army handles its recruiting, a field which it has been seriously struggling with this year. 

Preparing for the future may also mean ditching some of the Army’s current policies such as the courses, which Grinston was quick to encourage commanders at the briefing to do. Right now soldiers have to complete roughly a dozen online classes each year, in fields such as ethics, safety, and training. Since they’re mandatory, commanding officers often have to deal with an administrative burden in making sure soldiers go online to complete the assignments.

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The online lessons, run through a Department of Defense website with a history of crashing, can be seriously time-consuming. The Army’s leaders want to free up that time so it can be spent on more useful objectives — such as preparing for training exercises, keeping up with exercise, or maintaining unit readiness ahead, and during, deployment. This is especially important for the service as it shifts its strategic focus away from the Middle East and counterinsurgency and toward more conventional, larger-scale conflicts with superpowers. 

Encouraging leaders to stop making life difficult for their soldiers is something of a theme for Grinston, who made a similar recommendation in 2021 when he advised leaders to stop coming up with random training events just for the hell of it.

Other Army officials were even more dismissive of the courses, which again, the Army made mandatory for all soldiers. McConville seemed shocked that the required online classes are actually being completed as ordered, saying he never did them when leading a division.

“People actually do this stuff?” McConville said at the news conference. “You don’t have time.”

McConville has been clear this year that his priority is overall Army readiness. Along with Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, he has said the Army has a problem bringing in and retaining soldiers, and has focused on new initiatives to better prepare soldiers. That includes a preparatory course for under-qualified applicants to take before taking boot camp, as well as a series of enlistment bonuses aimed at getting new recruits to deploy sooner. 

This year Grinston has been going around the Army soliciting feedback on how to improve conditions for soldiers and improve the force’s readiness. He’s been asking soldiers about issues tied to barracks conditions, sexual harassment in the Army, morale and time management. 

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