Improving Reservist Refresher Training: Feedback from Wartime Company Commanders on Refresher Training Exercise „Okas“


  • Robert Kase
  • Aivar Pilv
  • Svetlana Ganina




Estonian Defence Forces, military training, reservist refresher training exercise, quality management


This article provides an overview of the insights provided by wartime company commanders for the purposes of improving the overall quality of refresher training offered to reservists. To that end, two research questions were formulated: 1) What are the main problems reported by wartime company commanders with regard to the organisation of training provided to reservists in the framework of refresher training exercises? 2) What kinds of activities and procedures do wartime company commanders recommend adopting in order to ensure the quality of training provided to reservists in the framework of refresher training exercises? The research was based on interviews with company commanders who had taken part in the Okas refresher training exercises in 2017 and 2018, and were engaged in the planning or conducting of training during the exercises in question. The data was analysed using qualitative inductive content analysis. The article covers both the main problems reported and the solutions offered to those problems. In order to answer the first research question (regarding the main problems with the organisation of reservist refresher training exercises), the authors conducted a survey, which found that the training provided to reservists in the framework of refresher training exercises was not prepared or conducted at the level of quality expected by either commanders or reservists. Thus, the results indicate that the main problems are directly related to the preparation and planning of such training. Furthermore, the results also indicated that while some problem areas do not fall under the purview of company commanders, their poor quality nevertheless affected the other processes managed by company commanders (e.g. the clarity of the message contained in the call to training sent to the reservists; the arrival of the reservists to the battalion and the related administrative activities, etc.). According to the interviewees, the main problems were the lack of training guidance and that training objectives were not prepared or poorly prepared. For example, some commanders pointed out that the battalion had not formulated specific training objectives for the training, or that the main objective was not clearly understandable. However, the company commanders themselves had also failed to set training objectives for themselves; if they had done so, it could have contributed to some extent to the improvement of the overall quality of the training exercise. The answers to the second research question (regarding the kinds of activities and procedures that should be adopted to ensure the quality of reservist refresher training exercises), demonstrated that the use of available peace-time resources for war-time activities should be made less complicated; training topics need to be prioritised; and training materials should be specially adapted for refresher training exercises and tailored specifically for reservists. In addition, any changes related to equipment and technology should not be forgotten in the planning process. The lack of instructors was also mentioned among the reported problems, and that problem was solved by recruitment of reservists. Since that solution proved viable, and in order to improve the competence of reservist instructors in the future, the company commanders proposed that the Estonian Defence Forces should consider engaging those reservists as assistant trainers or providing opportunities for work shadowing in the process of training conscripts. Maintaining closer contact with reservists was also considered important. Actually, some company commanders have already begun implementing some of these recommendations. With regard to the problems related to the arrival of reservists to assembly areas, the company commanders pointed out that although they are unable to influence this process as such, they can, however, direct the platoon and squad level commanders to consider formation as a matter of priority, in order to engage them in the training process at the first opportunity. The results also indicate that while the participants place high value on the quality of training, currently, there is no systematic approach in place to ensure that. Although company commanders do not implement quality management principles, the research showed that the elements addressed in Oakland’s1 total quality management model would be useful to adopt for the purposes of achieving that goal. In addition, compliance with NATO’s SAT (Systems Approach to Training) model, continuous assessment and self-assessment could also help prevent the problems identified by the interviewees. In conclusion, this article highlights the problems and bottlenecks that company commanders should take into account when planning, preparing and providing training in the framework of reservist refresher training exercises. In addition, the article also covers recommendations on how to prevent and avoid these problems in the future. Further research is warranted on the topics of setting training objectives and choosing priority topics by company commanders in the planning and preparation stages of these training exercises. Another point of inquiry could be to specify the quality requirements for training materials to be prepared specifically for reservists and how to modify existing training materials so that they could be used by reservist officers and non-commissioned officers in the process of teaching and training their own units. Furthermore, the possibilities of involving reservists as instructors in the training of conscripts should also be explored.


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