US Army Can’t Fix its Human Terrain System: How can it win multiple wars?

This nonsense needs to end. Over 40 articles on HTS have been written over a two-plus year time frame and there is no end in sight–though there should be. These articles are based on 90 sources with more communicating.  U.S. Army civilian and military leaders involved with the U.S. Army Human Terrain System need to take control and stop the madness that leads to KIA’s and WIA’s and personnel warfare within the HTS program. First, they need to make peace with their own people (the harshest critics of HTS) and treat them like professionals. Second, they need to make amends with the academic community. Third, they need to drastically improve recruiting, training and retention of personnel. Fourth, they need to be frank about the purpose of the program which is to understand and pacify/terminate indigenous threats to U.S. national security interests whether one or many.

Is this task beyond U.S. Army capabilities?

Jack Wittman and Kristin Quinn of the C4ISR Journal reported on Colonel Sharon Hamilton’s remarks at the 10th Annual C4ISR Journal Conference.  Hamilton is the current U.S. Army Human Terrain System Director and former Director of Concepts Development at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca.

According to Wittman and Quinn, Hamilton indicated that “there is no accepted framework in the military or academia for analyzing socioeconomic, cultural considerations… Our data is non-structured…Our data has quality and is very rarely quantitative…How do we understand the people that we’re operating with and among? We have to understand what they’re motivated by and what they want.”

They reported that Hamilton asked defense industrial base contractors at the event for help in building a knowledge base that would allow HTS information to be easily stored and shared with all users along with a modeling and simulation system for scenario-based training.

“We need a way to bring that training very realistically to our soldiers before deploying… We need to set in their minds the stress level, the complexities they will face in theater.”

Hamilton’s remarks seem to promote the Training Brain concept as envisioned/practiced at JTCOIC, the Joint Training Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Operations Integration Center (JTCOIC). Her comments would seem to indicate an admission by U.S. Army TRADOC that training within HTS is poor and needs to be reworked yet again  JTCOIC’s purpose is to rectify shortcomings in traditional paper-based, classroom training by employing immersive modeling/simulation programs that include the latest data from US combat zones around the globe. According to the US Army’s 2010 Posture Statement:

“Through its creation of the Training Brain, the JTCOIC has had a profound impact on replicating the operational environment. Existing data at training centers was inadequate, both in volume and content, to support the training environment. The pre-deployment exercises were composed of hand-scripted significant activity reports as background to develop the scenario presented to a rotational unit. Units worked through these reports in short order and were left wanting for additional data (and reporting) that did not exist. Because of its mission in the counter IED fight the JTCOIC has access to today’s operational data, including the most current changes to our adversary’s tactics, techniques, and procedures. As the hub of the Training Brain, the JTCOIC has developed a way to bend that data to replicate the operational environment. It then integrates it across multiple platforms to provide an unprecedented depth to training scenarios and a common framework for centers and schools. Using an enterprise approach, the JTCOIC engages government, industry and academic partners to analyze emerging threats and create innovative solutions.

“Through the operational integration of training, intelligence analysis, and technology, the JTCOIC enables units to employ Army, Joint, and interagency capabilities to conduct operations to defeat IED networks and other emerging asymmetric threats…The JTCOIC continues to expand its ability to replicate the operational environment by integrating data from the Human Terrain System (HTS) into its operational and knowledge framework. Employing the power and reach of its extensive information technology architecture, JTCOIC supports the understanding and replication of the operational environment for application across all Joint and TRADOC core competencies. This has included the creation of the Training Brain which is designed to take actual events from current operations and overlay them on the terrain on which units are training at the combat training centers.

About Time!

This comes not a moment too soon as recent reports indicate that HTS training (and recruiting) continue to plague the program. Apparently, sources indicate this reflects poorly on Jeff Bowden who oversees HTS training and the HTS Director who has “lost control or never had it” said a source.

According to another source, “You’ll love this. How about posting people who have already been to Immersion Training for one country to an entirely different country?  Perhaps if the Human Resources Director for the program had ever been in either of the warzones, she would be able to make competent decisions. They are still short of Social Scientists, so much so that the June Class ended up with none and the program had to jump July students forward.”

Other sources indicate that, “Students voiced great concern that there is no training that prepares them for their future assignments. The Sensing Sessions were held prior to the Terminal Learning Event so the real complaints about the training program would not be measured by any real training. In one of the Sensing Sessions, a student with extensive military experience said that after nine weeks of training only four or five days were worth the time.”

Observers complained that the “three week Research Methods Course is of no value except to make the contractor rich.”

Apparently, one HTS principal had to admit himself into a hospital for stress, “after weeks–actually 2+ years without out any results–of nonsense trying to redesign the program.”

“Success is just around the corner, they say. We just need a little more money,” said one source.

“Just when we thought there was light at the end of the tunnel,” said another source.

5 thoughts on “US Army Can’t Fix its Human Terrain System: How can it win multiple wars?

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  2. Bedouin

    John, how do you expect people who don’t know what they’re doing to reform this program? Take a look at people who have commented here in defense of HTS. When you ask them what their credentials are, they fade into the woodwork with a snide remark or two. It’s the same with the HTS Staff. The contractors working underneath the “Mexican Restaurant” (they know what I’m talking about) have little or no experience in the topic, so how can they reform the program?

  3. John Stanton


    I am thinking here what I once was told by a US Army 3-Star (LTG) long ago. “John, never confuse rank or position with brains or common sense.” It’s good advice particularly as it relates to the HTS.

    Think of it, were not the best and brightest from America’s top universities at the helm of HTS design and execution? If our illustrious elite, grand brains can’t figure it out, what are we wee-little-people to do?

    McFate from Harvard and Yale; Fondacaro, Rotkoff, Greer from West Point; Petraeus from Princeton/West Point. Then there is Maxie McFarland (University of TN) who oversees it all. McFarland is the “Army’s lead for Red Teaming, Culture and Language Strategy, Human Terrain System, Foreign Military and Cultural Studies, and the Army’s Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Integration Center.”

    And what about the CG’s of TRADOC?

    Terminate the program and push the $250 million into CA units.

    Here are a couple of ideas in the interim.

    How about settling Americans and Europeans in both nasty countries on a large scale. There is a model for that that American Indians are very familiar with. Let’s just start building infrastructure/residences everywhere in Afghanistan and Iraq as fast as we can. What a great jobs program that would be! Imagine some 8 million unemployed, angry Americans with an opportunity to get paid to stake a claim in Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps send non-violent prisoners along with the 8 million unemployed. What’s a few more trillion to the US government to make the effort succeed. Why not bring the Palestinians along too? What would Arab countries and Israel do without the Palestinians–pawns as they are in Palestine.

    While the above is going on, here’s a non-kinetic, COIN idea: let’s carpet bomb Iraq and Afghanistan every day with Pop Tarts, bags of rice/grain, chickens and goats (dead but still feathered/furred), antidepressants, translated copies of Fear and Loathing by Hunter S. Thompson, Milky Way bars, Club Soda and Coca Cola, Lady Gaga CD’s and Queens of the Stone Age CD’s, and MD 20-20.


    1. Bedouin

      I couldn’t agree with you more. We needed to pour the assets currently wasted on HTS into CA. CA expanded greatly post-9/11, because the need was realized. We didn’t need a new program run by people, who are trying to pay off their McMansions on the road to Leavenworth. As for the creators of HTS being the “supposed” best and brightest, just look at the people you’ve written about. Prof McFake a counterinsurgency expert? That’s about a plausible as her ex being an expert in peacekeeping. I’ve done three tours as a peacekeeper and haven’t heard his name once (whichever one he’s using this week). Yet, somehow he’s on the staff at NDU. Go figure. I guess the adage “Those who can’t do……..” applies. As for the others, I won’t even comment.

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