Redress of Professional Military Education

Redress of Professional Military Education:

The Clarion Call

by Colonel Charles D. Allen

Joint Force Quarterly has kindly granted Small Wars Journal permission to publish this forthcoming JFQ article.

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In 1908, the American short story writer O. Henry penned "The Clarion Call." This title has become synonymous with a powerful request for action or an irresistible mandate. As the Nation looks to the institution of the U.S. Army during an era of persistent conflict and after 9 years of war, it is time to recapture professional military education (PME) as part of our profession.

The Army is arguably the largest and best educational and training institution in the United States. It has a strong, established educational program that seeks to provide the right Soldier with the right education at the right time. Without doubt, even as we have fought two wars, there have been laudable advances to include an expanded graduate school program, increased numbers of international fellows at our schools, and an effort led by the Chief of Staff of the Army to broaden the experiences of the officer corps with more opportunities to serve in think tanks, interagency positions, and world-class universities.

For the officer corps, this PME program is ingrained from pre-commissioning through promotion to general officer. Unfortunately, even with the advances mentioned above, what is presented in official policy as an espoused value does not always translate into what is valued within the Army in the real world. More importantly, the gap between espoused and enacted values is significant and growing. Without action to arrest this trend, the Army risks the professional development of its senior leaders as well as its competency as a force to meet the Nation's needs in the years ahead.

Developing promising senior and strategic leaders is an obligation of the military profession. At a recent Military Education Coordination Council meeting in Washington, DC, several uniformed members asked questions about the types of conflict that we should prepare our senior officers for. In the contemporary operating environment, the focus has understandably been on the curriculum within the colleges: what is taught, how it is delivered, and by whom (faculty) in order to provide relevant education to senior officers. Two essays from the National War College and Naval War College, respectively, captured the discussion of the joint PME and Service-specific senior PME content and methodology in a recent issue of this journal. As important as curriculum and faculty are, they are moot issues if those officers who have the greatest potential to serve as strategic leaders deem attendance at one of our war colleges unnecessary and are allowed to bypass it.

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Colonel Charles D. Allen, USA (Ret.), is Professor of Cultural Science in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College.

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This article suggests that PME institutions are structured appropriately but the system is not supporting the institutions. The fact that people vote with their actions should cause these institutions to conduct a self examination of their relevance, accessibility and content. During a period of sustained combat operations these academic institutions need to examine courses of actions to get the education to the personnel not necessarily the personnel to the education. This may be painful, but if the content of these courses are vital to our leaders then we need to examine alternate courses of action. We are a military in a decade long war and our education systems need to evolve or it will be reduces to a check the block tradition. This would be disastrous for our military. Its incumbent upon these institutions to change what they can control, not a personnel system reeling from 10 years of war. Who bears the responsibility? Maybe its the institutions themselves...