Small Wars Journal

Thoughts on Professional Military Education: After 9-11, Iraq, and Afghanistan in the Era of Fiscal Austerity

Sun, 01/01/2012 - 5:50am

The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.

General Sir William F. Butler


These are wise words to consider as we enter a new era in a complex national security environment.  As we have departed from Iraq and will drawdown in Afghanistan within a few short years, it is time to consider the way ahead for Professional Military Education (PME).  We need neither fools nor cowards and hopefully we will have the wisdom to fight for the education we need to be successful in the future national security environment.

It is fashionable to tout the blogs with their critiques of the war colleges, the admonitions that everyone should go to civilian graduate schools or that the military is anti-intellectual and that while PME is a necessary block to check for advancement, few really desire to attend (except for the break from operations it provides) and fewer still desire to teach (at least while in uniform).  While there are many areas that could (and should) be considered for reform this paper will focus on two: A common core focus on the five fundamentals for professional military education and the development of an educational framework that separates education level from advancement in rank.  Although the emphasis is on military education this proposal may also have application to a broader professional education for national security professionals as well.

First some assumptions: 

Despite the charges of anti-intellectualism it is assumed that education of military leaders and national security professionals contributes to successful strategy, campaigns, and tactical operations and the nation desires and requires its leaders to be well educated professionals capable of thinking and acting tactically, operationally, and strategically to ensure US national security.

Clausewitz’ concept of coup d’oeil (the “inward eye” of Military Genius) is a trait worth striving for in our leaders and the concept of education combined with experience to develop this will require more emphasis on education by those with experience as the military draws down from the extensive combat operations of the post 9-11 decade.  Fundamentally the nation requires military and national security professionals who have that “inward eye” who are capability of cutting through the fog, friction, and complexity of war and crisis to be able to plan and make decisions without perfect information.[1]


Fiscal constraints are going to require a “less is more mindset” and funding for education will unfortunately be reduced to some degree along with cuts in military expenditures across the board.  These constraints will require evaluation of the professional military education process to determine what efficiencies can be gained and what are the most important subjects to be taught at all levels of the process.

Each service and branch within the service has unique requirements for training and educating their personnel and historically they have met these requirements in exemplary fashion as evidenced by the high performing organizations that exist throughout the military.  In addition, the services have emphasized these unique (and often tactical) requirements at the expense of operational art and strategy particularly at levels below senior service college.  However, even in times of fiscal constraint it is possible to correct this imbalance without necessarily sacrificing tactical proficiency.

Finally, it may be assumed that grounding in operational art and strategy in a common core curriculum for all military leaders at all levels (and national security professionals writ large) will enhance critical thinking, problem understanding and problem solving and the ability to execute tactically as well as think strategically.  Again, Clausewitz concept of coup d’oeil, if developed, can provide our military with leaders who will execute effectively across the range of military operations.

Is there a need for a Core PME  Curriculum?

The simple answer is yes.  A core curriculum is key to ensuring that the joint military has a common basis for understanding joint and combined military operations and strategy.  A common, foundational educational experience can provide the basis for career long interoperability in the joint force, the ability to have a common understanding for the American Way of War and most importantly provide the basis for development of successful campaign plans and strategies.  Ideally, such a common educational experience should be provided to national security professionals, military and civilian alike; however, the civilian aspect is beyond the immediate scope of this paper but should be considered.

In addition to a common core curriculum there may be value in a common educational framework for career military personnel.  The US military has been known as an institution that provides excellent educational and training opportunities to allow military and civilian personnel to develop to their full potential.  This should be sustained and built upon. The remainder of this paper will outline a framework and recommend a common core curriculum upon which military service schools providing professional military education should consider building.

An Educational Framework

All the services have some form of basic, intermediate and advanced training and education levels.  There are basic, advanced and career courses, intermediate level education, advanced operational warfighting schools, and finally, senior service colleges.  There are a myriad of other service and joint educational opportunities for commanders and staff at all levels as well.  The vast majority of these courses provide outstanding training and some of the higher level ones a good education as well.  Selected personnel also attend schools of the other services, particularly at the intermediate and senior levels.  Additionally there are Joint education requirements as mandated by Goldwater Nichols and also opportunities for civilian and foreign schooling. 

However, most of the educational opportunities are provided based on rank and time in service.  While promotion timelines are mandated by law, attending school is a function of service regulation and to a certain extent, service custom.  In order to increase the intellectual capacity of the services it may be time to consider education separate from rank and conventional or traditional timelines.  An educational framework separate from rank may provide the services with the opportunity for individual military personnel to develop intellectually at a rate that may better support operational art and strategic thinking.  A straw man educational framework may be designed as follows:

  • Journeyman:  Initial entry training and education. Completion of the traditional basic entry level courses would make military personnel apprentices with the basic foundational knowledge necessary for initial assignments and to work for and learn from senior mentors.
  • Practitioner:  Completion of Advanced level training and education of officers and non-commissioned officers (NCO) usually associated with branch and service specific training tactical for officers and NCOs; e.g., Captain’s Career Course or Advanced NCO Course (ANCOC).  Completion of this level of education and training qualifies the officer and NCO as practitioners of their professional discipline in their specific branch or military occupational specialty.
  • Expert Practitioner:  Usually associated with Intermediate Level Education. Military personnel who possess superior intellect and education in operational art who can plan and support campaigns and lead tactical operations conducted by US Joint and International/Coalition forces.
  • Master Practitioner:  Usually associated with Senior Service College education.  Strategic level thinkers, planners and leaders who have the demonstrated ability and educational background to support the development and execution of National Security and Theater Level Strategy, work within the US interagency and international coalition communities and oversee the planning, development, and execution of campaigns to support theater and national strategy.

Although this framework is linear and progressive, movement up the “ladder of education” should not be based on the current timelines and central selection boards but by demonstrated intellectual capacity to excel at the education level and the potential for making contributions to US national security commensurate with the level of education vice rank.  Command of specific organizations would still be based on appropriate rank, experience and demonstrated potential to command at the designated level; however, staff and action officers and personnel at each level could consist of a mix of those with the requisite education level and others of the traditional rank and time in service.  Within this educational framework that is divorced from rank and timelines, it would be possible to have Majors or even senior Captains attend the Master Practitioner education level if they were identified to have the requisite intellectual capability and demonstrated potential to effectively contribute after receiving the education. 

Furthermore, within the national security community there are many talented professionals in their twenties and thirties with graduate level educations serving in key policy and strategy positions in Defense, at State and throughout the interagency to include on the National Security Council.  If these professionals were serving in the military they would be Captains and Majors.  It is very rare that a military person of such rank would be serving in a similar position at the same age because of the traditional military hierarchy, though there are some who are fortunate to be exposed to these positions through select internship and fellowship opportunities.  The fact is however, that Captains and Majors are as equally talented as their civilian peers and the military in some cases is wasting those young officers with the aptitude and desire to serve in such positions because the personnel management bureaucracy does not support such assignments.  However, if the military were to provide a master practitioner level of education to the right officers it could provide such military talent to the national security community sooner in their careers and such talent could enhance the military's ability to provide more effective support to national security decision making.

Proposed Core Curriculum

Again, although the educational framework is linear and progressive, it is necessary to have a fundamental core curriculum to be able to not only prepare military personnel and national security professionals to progress, but also to ensure linkage, coordination, and synchronization between the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.  In short, even Journeymen must have sufficient strategic level understanding in order to plan and execute effective tactical operations in today’s complex security environment.  The connectivity from Journeyman to Master Practitioner would be provided by a fundamental core curriculum taught at each level but adjusted appropriately for the level of education and experience of the military personnel attend the school.  This core curriculum would consist of the following “Fundamental Five”:

  • History – Military, Civilization and Cultural and Political History.  Military personnel must be well grounded in history and be able to use the lessons of history to inform how to think about the future.  Even Thucydides remains relevant in the 21st Century as does Sun Tzu and Clausewitz as well as the contemporary histories of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Non-US and Western History must also be studied as well. Continuous use of the case study using examples from throughout history and the range of military operations from irregular and insurgency to large scale conventional state on state war and the evolution (and even revolution) of conflict over time is critical to preparing for the future.
  • Theory – Military, Political and International Relations.  Students must continue the study of military theory and the full range of theories from insurgency to state on state warfare to deterrence and nuclear theory from Mao to Mahan to Douhet to Brodie.  Note that there is a strong tie between military theory and military history; one really cannot be studied without the other.  Of course there is overlap with Thucydides, Sun Tzu and Clausewitz between history and theory but one imperative is to ensure understanding of the enduring nature of war and conflict with the evolving character of war and conflict.  In addition, Political and International Relations theories must be examined and understood from the Realist to the Idealist schools.  Finally, emerging concepts (that have not reached theory stage) should also be examined to include as examples Joseph Nye’s Soft and Smart Power and Ann-Marie Slaughter’s Responsibility to Protect.
  • Geography – one of the most overlooked and neglected subjects in PME today is the study of geography and specifically military geography.  "Military geography, one of several subsets within those broad confines (of geography), concentrates on the influence of physical and cultural environments over the political-military policies, plans, programs, and combat/support operations of all types in global, regional, and local contexts.  Key factors directly (sometimes decisively) affect the full range of military activities: strategies, tactics, and doctrines, command, control, and organizational structures; the optimum mix of land, sea, air, and space forces; intelligence collection; targeting; research and development; the procurement and allocation of weapons, equipment, and clothing; plus supply, maintenance, construction, medical support, education, and training." (from Military Geography by John Collins, COL, US Army RET)  The study of military geography is necessary to be able to bridge the civilian, cultural, physical and military divides in all forms of conflict.
  • Operational Art - The critical study of campaign planning and the orchestration of battles, engagements and operations and their linkage to strategy.  Again, the study of operational art will be heavily dependent on and overlap with history, theory, and geography.  Effective use of case studies is also a critical component of the study of operational art.
  • Strategy - The art and science of attaining balance, coherency and linkage among ends, ways, and means in support of policy.  Strategic studies must include policy development and execution and understanding the interagency processes and organizations and international institutions.  It will also depend heavily upon history, theory, geography and operational art and rely on relevant case studies.  Most importantly it will include the understanding and integration of all the instruments of national power: diplomatic, informational, military, and economic.

These fundamental five would be taught at all four education levels of the educational framework.  They would form the common core curriculum upon which services and branches would add their additional educational requirements that would develop personnel with the unique military skills required for their branch or occupational specialty.  This common core curriculum would provide two critical capabilities to military personnel and national security professionals.  First, it would provide a common educational experience with a common tactical, operational, and strategic vocabulary that would facilitate joint and interagency integration and operations. Second, and most important, this type of curriculum would develop the always sought after but rarely realized “how to think” mindset rather the easier “what to think” outcome of most training environments.  Finally, the fundamental five would be the basis for a career long learning process, to include self study, that will provide the intellectual foundation for military and national security professionals.

Some will question why there would need to be such a reliance on the fundamental five and in particular history and theory.  In 2010 while at the National War College a US Navy SEAL officer was asked at the completion of his first oral examination what books he had read in the fall term that were among the most relevant and his response is illustrative and yet not unique.  He answered, “Thucydides, of course.”  He said he had never studied the Peloponnesian War until he was a student at National and did not look forward to having to read such ancient history that could have no apparent relevance to today’s national security environment.  However, as he read the book he found himself realizing that the work is relevant and that national security practitioners are making the same mistakes today as were made by the Spartans and Athenians.  The lessons are enduring.

Others may argue that this reliance on these fundamental five core curriculum overlooks so many modern subjects and topics that are believed by many to be required for study.  While these fundamental five would be taught at all levels elective courses can be offered for areas requiring more specialization.  However, one of the advantages that such a curriculum may provide is the ability of the US military to overcome its sometimes counter-productive search for new terms and concepts that in the end are merely repackaged historical concepts and the proverbial reinvention of the wheel. Two quotes from Colin Gray illustrate both one aspect of the American way of war and the reason why every military officer and national security practitioner should have a thorough grounding in history and theory.

"The American defense community is especially prone to capture by the latest catchphrase, the new-sounding spin on an ancient idea which as jargon separates those who are truly expert from the lesser breeds without the jargon."

“If Thucydides, Sun-tzu, and Clausewitz did not say it, it is probably not worth saying.” 

Another way to look at this is to prevent the idea of "concept shopping."  Since 9-11 the US military has reinvented Irregular Warfare (which has existed in the US military since at least the American Revolution) and developed redundant concepts such as Security Forces Assistance (SFA), Building Partner Capacity (BPC), Train, Advise, and Assist (TAA), Organization, Training, Equipping, Rebuilding, and Advising (OTERA) all designed to do achieve similar effects with the already existing Foreign Internal Defense doctrine. It also rediscovered the works of Mao, Galula, Thompson, Kitson, Sarkesian, and McKuen among many others.  Had the military been more thoroughly grounded in History and Theory there would not have been a need to invent new names for reinvented concepts that have historically existed nor the need to rediscover theorists, historians, and practitioners who had relevance to current security challenges.  And even with the rediscovery of such theorists the military continued the idea of “concept shopping.” A friend and colleague, Dave McHenry, sums it up best when he commented on the latest discussion of mission command, the use of "mission type orders" and the German concept of Auftragstaktic:

"Auftragstatick is also part of the American military's history of concept shopping. We LOVE to reach out to the world and grab their coolest buzz words and culture/context centered ideas and try to make them plug-and-play within our armed forces. Operational Art, Systemic Operational Design and Mission-Type Orders all fall under the 'other guys good ideas that we'll just steal and not reinterpret to our cultural or contextual requirements.' Auftragstaktik in its purest German form worked really well for the Germans (up to the point that they lost the war). Ignoring doctrine and writing orders more to "cover our ass" than to dictate action (because as a planner the one thing I KNOW is that the commander on the ground will do whatever he wants to do regardless of what his Tasks to Subordinate Units paragraph directs him to do) is probably the uniquely American interpretation."

Again, a grounding in history and theory can help the military to prevent the reaching out for the latest "buzzwords" and instead focus on understanding security problems and properly adapting relevant historical concepts and theories to modern conditions because of a thorough understanding based on comprehensive career long study.

An educational framework that is delinked from the promotion process and traditional timelines can contribute to reducing the perception of anti-intellectualism and allow those personnel with the demonstrated intellectual ability to think and operate at the appropriate level to maximize their skills and ability sooner rather than later in their careers and for longer periods of time.  A common core curriculum can and should provide the intellectual foundation for military and national security professionals to be able to deal with the complex global security environment that exists today and will continue to exist in the future.

This paper has recommended two new concepts for consideration for professional military education.  There are of course many details that would need to be worked out and numerous obstacles that would need to be overcome.  However, if these two ideas spur critical thought about the current professional military education system that leads to increased emphasis on and respect for education and critical thinking within the military and national security community it will have accomplished an important objective. But just as we do not need fools and cowards to be our fighters and thinkers we should keep in mind this adage when we think about our professional education:


The history that lies inert in unread books does no work in the world.

If you want a new idea, read an old book.

`Tis the good reader that makes the good book.

A book is like a mirror. If an ass looks in, no prophet can peer out.[2]


Even if these ideas are not feasible, one of the most important things the US military must do is to ensure that in the times of fiscal austerity that is to ensure that it continues to invest in the most important resource it has: its people.  And the best investment that can be made in people is through education.


David S. Maxwell is the Associate Director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies and the Security Studies Program in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University. The opinions he expresses in this paper are his own.

[1] Carl  Von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1976), p. 100-103.

[2] The "maxims" quoted come from Clark Becker, Lord Lytton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Georg Lichtenberg in Jay Luuvas “Military History: Is It Still Practicable?” Originally published in Army War College's Parameters, March 1982 Jay



About the Author(s)

David S. Maxwell is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Previously he was the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.



Tue, 02/07/2012 - 10:51pm

I wold agree for the most part with this approach as a way forward under an unconstrained world. The first problem which will hold up something like what is described is purely the size of the Army which we have had for the past 18 years. The Army needs "well rounded" officers which fill both a command track and a staff track because there is no other choice. Examples like the German model are not really comparable to the Army which we find ourselves in today. We also only have 20 years of use out of the average officer prior to retirement. I have searched, but could not find the definite retirement timeline for the German military prior to WWII, but I assume that they were in longer than 20 years. Bundeswehr officers are not eligible for retirement until age 50, and you have to make the decision to retire when you are a CPT. One last point about comparing things to the Germans. The current score board shows the same military as the recipient of the most complete and devastating defeat by a major world power in recent history. This defeat changed the very culture of the German nation. Maybe it is vastly more important that national leaders understand Strategy so as not to place effective combat forces into conflicts they are destined to loose.

As a current ILE student I'll give you my brief observations thus far. They try to hit on all five of those elements mentioned, but there really isn't time to do much more than scratch the surface, mile wide and inch deep. The best way that I can think of to narrow down the focus wold be to direct the classes towards the projected threat environment. Go deeper into History, Geography, and Nat Strategy on places like China, Iran, or Venezuela. We spun our wheels quite a bit in Iraq and AFG because we just didn't understand the environment. the last major think which I wold change is that the time spent on planning "exercises" would be much better used in other areas. They are of little value added for many reasons ranging from lack of time, lack of ILE instructor planning, and lack of a realistic environment.


Tue, 01/10/2012 - 10:58am

Mr. Maxwell,
Thank you so much for this article, it is truly what is needed right now. Really, this is long overdue. I really admire the way you covered the fact that far to often orders are written to cover someone's ass and what seems to be our inability to apply outside military ideas to our culture, they are both really on point.
It seems that we also need a PEM/Professional track for the enlisted side too though. The SOF Community is starting to go this route with it's recent addition of the Joint Special Operations Forces Senior Enlisted Academy but that is just one "block" and a small group in the big picture. The conventional military enlisted professional training seems like it relies to much on business models for leadership and cover very little in the areas of tactics, operations and at the E9 level, strategy. Not that E9s should be designing strategy but they should have a better grasp of it and how it works so they can be of more use if they are not going to be a tactical leader anymore. Any suggestions for an enlisted PME track? The USMC seems to be doing a good job of this at the lower levels but not at the senior levels(E7 and up). Is it a model to use to form a foundation perhaps?
Here is the big question though, how do we actually get these ideas implemented?
Thanks again for this article, gives me some hope.


Mon, 01/02/2012 - 10:23pm

One other comment....the rigor of all PME needs to go up. We need a system that we are proud of. We don't have it; and the sure indicator of this are the multitudes of CPTs that tell LTs 'more doing, less thinking'; MAJs telling CPTs they have no right to discuss doctrine or regs until they've been to ILE; COLs telling MAJs they don't know the mysteries of the world because they haven't commanded a BN or BCT yet, and so forth. If our PME system was something we were proud in, I highly doubt we'd have to deal with those comments or sentiments.

I think a better PME system would also assist our woeful attempts at mentorship, which is just awful right now. A good, logical, system that build upon itself in a challenging and rigorous manner would enhance the discussions held between mentor and the mentored, among many other things.

I was one of the bloggers who favorably compared military graduates from Harvard and Yale to those who graduated from war colleges based on personal observations in the field; however, in all fairness it is not the institution, but the individual that makes the difference. There is ample opportunity to learn in our war colleges if one commits themselves to do so. Many simply do not put as much effort into their education as they should. This time is seen as time to reconnect with family, and after years of grueling optempo that is understandable. However, a true education requires hours of disciplined study, which is one reason why getting a degree and getting an education are not always synonymous. This is nothing new, since there has always been a performance differential within our ranks despite the efforts of the political correctness movement to teach us that we’re all the same. That isn’t true, and for those of among us who are superstars, we should find ways to compel them to stardom.

I do hope Dave is wrong about the reduction in defense spending equating to a reduction in profession education spending for the military. More than ever we need creative thinkers who are well versed in military history and theory among other topics. While I agree with Dave’s five core categories, I also believe it is essential to add science and technology as a category since its rapid evolution is significantly changing; the world, the threats we face, and how we can mitigate those risks. That doesn’t lessen the importance of the other core topics, but I feel being well versed in the military classics and largely ignorant on cyber for example would result in a historian instead of a military professional ready to engage effectively in discussions on current and future threats. I agree that history and theory must inform this discussion, but not limit it. Dave is correct that what we are now calling security force assistance (SFA) has always been a core DOD task, and is helpful to understand the history associated with it, but on the other hand there are serious problems with SFA now due to the emergence of more and more policies that have greatly reduced our ability to be effective. Calling military assistance a new term isn’t helpful, but we also have to understand the shortfalls with the current processes, which require a thorough knowledge of the current challenge. A professional who understands the history of how we evolved to the current the state is better prepared to argue effectively the need for change, than someone who has only been exposed to the latest military chic concept SFA.

One of the biggest shortfalls we have with our education system now is that we present the education to late in the member’s career, and we often hear complaints that I wish I knew this prior to my “last” assignment! Dave touches on this when he separates the level of education from the endless block checking system, but on the other hand we still need to educate our members for the positions they’re going to fill. Those who demonstrate the capability and desire to pursue more advanced training should be offered the opportunity, but we still need a mandatory for all education system that prepares members for various levels of command and staff positions.

Dave touches on a point that I have seen again and again, and that is the military recognizes rank over talent. In other organizations talent is often recognized with greater responsibility. I have seen several young people in the State Department (under 26 y/o) fill jobs with significant responsibility because they had the ability to do so, while a capable SFC, CW3, or MAJ in the military wouldn’t be considered even if they were the best qualified based on their rank. Until we find a way to reform our caste system I have little hope that separating our education system levels from rank will significantly better the force. Not only is this problem still resident, it is increasing. We’re increasing FO/GO billets, we want to send more senior officers downrange to fill staff positions or leadership roles they’re not qualified for, but someone somewhere wants a FO/GO or COL there, as though that alone will make it work. If the military is going to truly reform we need to start my recognizing the talent of our younger members, and instead of stifling their initiative, seniors need to create conditions to enable their success, while quietly providing mentorship in the background.

Great article, I hope it is widely read.


Tue, 01/10/2012 - 9:35am

In reply to by bumperplate

If you have a Kindle or Ipad with the Kindle App you can get
"The Enlightened Soldier", "Stormtroop Tactics", "Frontsoldaten" and a lot of the other books that would go a long way to explaining how the Germans seemed to be able to actually professionalize their military. They are still VERY expensive but cheaper than the hard or soft covers and available instantly. I cannot promote "The Enlightened Soldier" enough, it is an eye opener, especially when taken into the context of the times it was written in.


Mon, 01/02/2012 - 10:08pm

In reply to by Scott Kinner

Thanks for the references. I've looked for the White book, hard to find, you're right (unless you spend $100). Hadn't heard of the Bucholz book or the Hughes book. I've read some smaller pieces devoted to Moltke, but nothing substantial.

Scott Kinner

Mon, 01/02/2012 - 12:37pm

In reply to by bumperplate

Good point - I'd fogotten about the warrant officer example - there is also the specialist example from the Army, and then the Marine Corps has a dual SNCO track beginning at 1stSgt/MSgt...1stSgt and SgtMaj are "command" tracks and MSgt and MGySgt are "staff" tracks. So, there are definitely functioning examples...and why couldn't you have a BGen "staff" guy at the appropriate HQ?

On of the single best books (I think) is probably also the hardest to find...but if you can find "The Enlightened Soldier" by Charles Edward White, it is a quick read which looks at the very genesis of what would come to be the German general staff and the philosophies of manuever warfare.

A good overview of the German general staff system, its successes and failures, would be "Moltke, Schlieffen, and Prussian War Planning" by Arden Bucholz. You get to learn about Moltke the Elder (brilliant) and Moltke the Younger (not so much) and how the general staff functioned (which is instructive).

Finally, if you have absolutely nothing to do with your time, and you feel that life is passing you by so you may as well read more arcane academic literature, try "Moltke on the Art of War" edited by Daniel J. Hughes. This is Moltke the Elder.


Mon, 01/02/2012 - 11:04am

In reply to by Scott Kinner

I can't comment on the German examples you give and honestly I didn't know anything about those specific examples. I feel like some reading is in order for me (if you have some good sources, please feel free to drop them in).

You are correct about the 'cultural endorsement'. I don't think the Navy has a problem with it- if their O4 that is in charge of aircraft maintenance says something needs to be done, I don't believe they have a problem with the O5 squadron commander following through. But, I'm an outsider to that.

We already have this, kinda sorta. It's our Warrant Officers. But that population is so small that the size adds some confounding variables there. In any event, I think our best and brightest would appreciate the flexibility of the tracks. Some guys want to stand on the high ground in their best Patton pose and be the guy. Others want mud on their boots and a rifle in their hand. Best and the brightest won't be lost on either side, in my opinion.

Scott Kinner

Sun, 01/01/2012 - 9:24pm

In reply to by bumperplate

The key, of course, is making the "non-line" track attractive enough to retain the best and brightest who know, by definition, that their careers are pegged in a certain manner. Importantly, the "non-line" track must have enough merit and respect to weather the cultural opinion of the institution that highly prizes and values the role of the commander. Having a "professional" LtCol who is a number of ranks behind his year peer group, and is considered an "also ran" will negate any amount of education you give that individual.

Going back to the German General Staff model, members of the staff were given responsibility ahead of their peers - for example the infamous LtCol Hentsch, as a representative of the General Staff, was responsible for the German retreat from the gates of Paris in 1914. His orders overrode the desires of both the 1st and 2d Army Commanders (von Kluck and von Buelow).

This example represents a highly selective education model where members of the General Staff was prized, and in turn, was respected by the rest of the force. There were great staff officers who never commanded beyond a certain point, great commanders who were never general staff officers, and a few who received both prizes - General Staff qualification and command.

Any dual track system, perhaps beginning at Major, that has a staff track and a command track must receive a cultural endorsement to succeed. Not sure if America's current military culture is in a position to accept that LtCols can override general officers at the point of decision.


Sun, 01/01/2012 - 2:57pm

This is an excellent piece and I'll need to read it a few more times. I like the concepts expressed, but I have some initial concerns.

1. With budget cuts I anticipate a lot of "online" training, perhaps attacking core fundamentals, where classroom time at the CCC site, or ILE site etc will be on the group work and evaluative tasks. I anticipate a slippery slope where we start trimming these courses down to such a degree that they end up becoming vacation trips, not school attendance.

2. Currently a common theme is that BOLC doesn't teach more than 50% of what we expect LTs to tackle once they get to the force. That's not good. The other themes are that the CCCs don't teach anything new, since everyone is deploying and tackling logistics, legal, MDMP and other items during their time as PL, XO, Staff, Cdr and so forth, before they attend. Many NCOs tell me their training at NCOES simply sucks. They bring it up and the training doesn't get adjusted but the training expectations are, meaning the schools tell them it's not going to be productive for them. We have courses that don't teach nearly enough and other courses that are of little to no benefit. The way to fix this is to implement much of what's discussed in this article, with come caveats such as those expressed by COL Gentile. However, with budget cuts, time to attend training just won't be there. TDY costs a lot of money. PCS moves cost money. So I suspect we will have a template that looks good, but the real dollars needed to make it happen won't be there.

Somewhat off topic, but related in the sense that I believe it would allow us the flexibility to implement a solution closer to "perfect" would be the following:
Adopt something akin to the Navy model of officer branching. Two Navy officers may be O-4s, but one may be a "line" officer and one not. The line officer is on a path to command at high levels, such as a base, a ship, a squadron, etc. Non-line officers are not on that track. Perhaps the Army should adopt a similar system. I can, for instance, be an Infantry officer, get promoted to CPT and attend a robust career course. At the conclusion of the course I go to a board and I apply for a "line" or "non line" track. Those line tracks get schooling to set them up for those commands leading to GO rank. Non-line tracks stay at the Co, BN, and BDE levels, and don't command above company level and they don't go up for MAJ nearly as fast either. We end up with CPTs and MAJs and some LTCs that spend their career mastering life at the tactical and operational levels, and then a few that move through command tracks. I think this allows us to create separate training and schooling where the long, in depth schooling can be applied to a smaller population which saves money. As it is, trying to implement a perfect solution for the entire officer pool is untenable, in my opinion.

Scott Kinner

Sun, 01/01/2012 - 2:22pm

Perhaps I am overreaching here, but is this a variation on the "classic" German General Staff and education system as envisioned by Scharnhorst and carried out with varying degrees of success in the 19th and into the early 20th century?

A competitive education system which seeks to identify and cultivate the best and brightest, producing a highly competent staff that augments (or in some cases counterweights) the commander? I don't think that the "shadow" command system of the General Staff is what you propose - but certainly the portions regarding education, retention, and the exploitation of the talents and skills of the participants.

That said, the key remains making education a key centerpiece both culturally and institutionally. For that to be the case, it must be rewarded and resourced in a manner that those who would seek to grow in their military careers would seek out and perform in such a manner as to earn further educational investment by their services. This is certainly not the case...

You touch on the other major point, which is proper utilization of the education. I would wonder if you might further your thoughts on who receives what education, when, and to what purpose? Certainly the wastage that occurs through Monterey by the naval services (time spent there makes you unpromotable) is a case in how not to exploit talent and skill. That said, certainly, there is something to be learned from the fact that there are phenomenal artisans who do not desire or need a college education while there are outstanding mathematicians for whom education in other vocations would be a waste. The military possesses both. How best to educate and utilize them?

I guess this brings me to my touch point on the German model that endeavored to promote and identify natural commanders, identify and promote natural staff officers, and provide some flexibility for those individuals who possessed both qualities.

How would you envision that occurring?

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 01/01/2012 - 9:18am

In reply to by gian gentile

Thanks, Gian. I should have made it more clear when I said that the core curriculum will be adjusted appropriately at each level based on experience and education level. That needed more emphasis.

Also, I agree on grading (though I did graduate number 2 at CGSC along with the other 1100 majors who graduated number 2!!) But since I think education has to be a priority, it must be challenging and therefore properly evaluated. It is an especially critical component when delinking education level from the time line of promotions because it is a necessary evaluation criterial if young officers are going to progress faster along an education track rather than the normal timeline of promotions. I should have added that. Thanks for the feedback and all the best in the New Year as well.

gian gentile

Sun, 01/01/2012 - 8:56am


Nice and thoughtful post.

A few things come to mind after reading it. For one you say the the "fundamental five" should be taught at all levels, but to be sure the emphasis and resourcing depends on the level, yes? That is to say I would think we want our infantry lts in their basic course to be learning the essential competencies first of being a good infantry lt (five paragraph field order, c2, map reading, coordination of fires and maneuver, etc). In an oversimplified way it would be a mistake for an infantry lt at the basic course to be spending half of his entire time there reading about strategy and operational art and theory, yes?

Also Dave, I have always thought that one simple but effective way to improve PME (especially at the war college level) would be to grade students as they deserve, and not have any problem failing students out of a course and college if they underperform, and have their gpa or something equivalent reflected on their oers. thoughts?

happy new year and thanks again for this thoughtful post.