Pentagon chief worries military doesn't say 'no' enough on risky training

Secretary of Defense James Mattis said September 18th that he’s going to look into the possibility that the military’s “can do” attitude may be responsible for the recent spate of deadly training accidents.

Almost 100 service members have been killed in training accidents since June, which reflects a definite spike in recent years, and Mattis said he’s examining whether military leaders have pushed troops beyond what they’re able because of a desire to always say “yes” to operational demands.

Also read: Mattis hints at secret ‘kinetic’ military options for North Korea

“I would say, having some association with the U.S. military, we’re almost hardwired to say “Can do.” That is the way we’re brought up,” Mattis said. “Routinely, in combat, that’s exactly what you do, even at the risk of your troops and equipment and all. But there comes a point in peacetime where you have to make certain you’re not always saying, ‘We’re going to do more with less, or you’re going to do the same with less.’”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. (DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. (DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Mattis noted, however, that the military applauds people who decline to continue training precisely because they feel their troops aren’t prepared.

“But my point is that we always look for this and we reward people for raising their hand and saying, ‘No more. I’ve got to stop.’ We’ve had people actually stop training where they thought their troops needed to rehearse before they went forward,” Mattis said. “And that’s not that unusual, tell you the truth. So I am not concerned right now that we’re rewarding the wrong behavior.”

So far, in response to the collisions involving the destroyers USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald, the Navy has relieved six senior officers of duties, including the commander of the 7th Fleet, which is located in Japan. The Navy stated that the 7th Fleet commander was removed because of a loss of confidence in command ability.

Mattis was similarly noncommittal about whether there was a direct line from sequestration and budget cuts to training accidents, but pledged to look into that possibility.

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