Australian Army What to Expect in Basic Training

Fitness program for recruits

The Ministry of Defense received an anonymous letter earlier this year. In the special training company 209 in Pfullendorf, the author reported, an instructor drove the soldiers on a cross-country run until six of them gave up exhausted and one soldier collapsed unconscious. The media then reported on the “forced march” and “drill” in the “scandal-ridden barracks” and drew parallels with the “Munster case”. There, in July last year, several officer candidates fainted during an acclimatization march and were hospitalized with symptoms of heat stroke. One of them died a little later of multiple organ failure.

Investigator in Pfullendorf

Three days after the letter was received in Berlin, the army sent a team to Pfullendorf to investigate the allegations. The results of the investigation report were presented to the Defense Committee. They are symbolic of the difficulties the Bundeswehr is facing today in training. Then the 36 soldiers who had started the run stood at the beginning of the three-year "course for command sergeants and paratroopers sergeants". Command Sergeant Candidates are soldiers who, at the end of their training, want to take the one-week entrance exam at the Special Forces Command (KSK).

The elite force demands

The physically extremely demanding aptitude test for the elite troops includes, among other things, a marching performance of up to 170 kilometers with a weapon and around 30 kilograms of luggage. Those who do not have the absolute will to endure these hardships will fail. Nevertheless, the investigation team concluded, a 15-kilometer run in a sports suit and sneakers within 90 minutes was not appropriate at such an early stage of training. Some of the soldiers just came out of civil life, others had already served in other units of the Bundeswehr. According to the investigation team, greater account should have been taken of the different levels of performance of the individual soldiers.

Young people's stamina decreases

The incident in Pfullendorf once again highlights a problem that the Bundeswehr is increasingly dealing with. The average physical resilience of young professionals has decreased significantly compared to previous years. A study by the University of Adelaide, Australia five years ago found that for decades young people's stamina compared to their parents has been falling worldwide. This assessment is in line with the experience of Bundeswehr trainers. They report a growing discrepancy between the official requirements for fitness and the actual performance of young soldiers. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen drew her conclusions from this four years ago. She explained that not every soldier, no matter what job he or she is doing in the Bundeswehr, actually has to be able to cope with a long march with heavy luggage.

The integrity of the soldiers is a priority

The German Army has now reacted to the physical collapse of soldiers and the troops' increasing fitness problems. The training command in Leipzig recently issued an instruction that instructs instructors to stop physically hard training immediately if a soldier indicates that he could no longer continue. This, writes commanding chief Norbert Wagner, applies even if the individual wants to bite through and express that clearly. The individual integrity of the soldiers must have absolute priority, explained Wagner and made it clear what awaits those who do not follow his instructions. If soldiers collapse and suffer physical damage, he announced, criminal and disciplinary investigations would be started against the responsible instructors on suspicion of negligent physical harm.

Do you feel fit?

But the case in Pfullendorf shows that failures cannot always be clearly attributed to the instructors. There, the trainer asked the course participants before the 15-kilometer run whether they felt fit. Instructors now have to do this before each lesson. However, it turned out that one of the soldiers was weakened due to illness, but had not stated this. He collapsed after 20 minutes and a distance of about three kilometers.

Appeal to the will to perform

According to instructors, one consequence of Wagner's instructions is that in future none of them will dare to contradict a soldier who claims to be exhausted, even if he is obviously simulating. Norbert Wagner definitely sees this problem. The instructors, writes the head of the training command, should appeal “to the soldiers' initiative and willingness to perform” in order to prevent the pretense of illness or attacks of weakness. The training participants should be advised that they have to meet certain requirements in order to meet the required career goals.


Problem of all armed forces

But these “requirements” are constantly being adapted to the falling stress level of the soldiers. In order to meet its personnel requirements, the Bundeswehr is now hiring applicants for the careers of regular and professional soldiers whom it would have rejected earlier due to insufficient physical or health aptitude. Five years ago, the "Wehrmedizinische monthly magazine" quoted from a research report by NATO, according to which exhaustion syndromes and illnesses caused by obesity are growing in all Western armies. Declining performance and lower resilience of soldiers developed into a central problem in all armed forces of the Alliance, according to the contribution of a group of doctors from the German Armed Forces Hospital in Koblenz. The medics came to the conclusion that a considerable proportion of the German recruits “obviously cannot cope with elementary military demands”.

Who is towing the machine gun?

That is why the Bundeswehr reduced the requirements for the sports test that every applicant has to take a few years ago. Interested parties already pass the 11 × 10 meter pendulum run if they do not need more than 60 seconds for it. This is followed by a chin-up for at least five seconds. For the final bicycle ergometer test, the candidates then have six and a half minutes to cover a distance of 3,000 meters. These requirements have to be met even for unsportsmanlike applicants. The result is that more and more overweight people are being hired. He is now having a hard time finding soldiers in his training groups who are physically able to tow machine guns, reports the instructor for a telecommunications unit. Nevertheless, he says, they are urged not to fail any soldier due to insufficient physical fitness.

Fitness training before the "green training"

According to Defense Minister von der Leyen, the Bundeswehr should grow from 180,000 today to 200,000 soldiers by 2024. Anyone who is there once should stay with it if possible. The army therefore wants to make the recruits physically fit in the future before the combat training ("green training") begins. A newly structured basic training will soon be tested in a pilot project in Hagenow. After that, sport is on the roster for the first six weeks. The soldiers are divided into different performance groups and, under the guidance of sports instructors, are introduced to the physical requirements of combat training. So far, sport has only been part of the three-month basic training, which primarily focuses on imparting military rights and duties, formal service and training in weapons. The duration of the basic training should not change in the first six weeks, despite the focus on sports.

With wrong ideas about the covenant

However, even more fitness training at the beginning of the service period will not solve a core problem facing the Bundeswehr. The incident in Pfullendorf at the beginning of January showed that young people sometimes come to the military with wrong ideas. Two soldiers, exhausted, had to break off the run after a few kilometers. According to an army spokesman, they quit duty after returning to the barracks and declared that they did not expect such high physical demands. In this context, a trainer from Pfullendorf criticizes the advice given in the Bundeswehr career centers, the former district military replacement offices. He accuses the employees there of incorrectly informing the applicants. Anyone who wants to become a command sergeant or paratrooper sergeant must know that a very physically demanding training awaits them.

Pfullendorf: demanding training has an impact

The soldier who passed out during the cross-country run has since continued the course. It wasn't so easy for his instructor. He was transferred to another unit because there is a suspicion that the run was designed as a "selection run" and that at least the overburdening of some of the recruits could have been intended.
In fact, the demanding training in Pfullendorf is having an impact. Around half of the command sergeants trained there pass the aptitude test at the KSK.