Colonel Douglas Orsi, USA, is a Faculty Instructor in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College.
I was fortunate in serving three years at the Army War College, 1937–1940, one year as a student and two as an instructor.
—J. Lawton Collins,
Lightning Joe: An Autobiography
In today’s Army culture, professional military education (PME) is a critical factor for promotions and advancement.1 For future Chief of Staff of the Army (CSA) General J. Lawton Collins, attending the Army Industrial College and Army War College, and subsequently instructing at the latter, broadened his horizons and prepared him for future assignments and responsibilities.2 The Army is at a point in its history where it is inconceivable for an officer to attain high rank without attending formal PME, as was the exceptional case with former CSA General William Westmoreland.3 By design, the Army selects its top performers to attend resident intermediate and senior PME. Currently, selection rates are 52 percent for intermediate and 40 percent for senior-level education.
French army instructor teaches squad movements to U.S. Soldiers attending French Jungle Warfare School as part of annual, combined, joint military exercise Central Accord 2016 (U.S. Army/Henrique Luiz de Holleben)
Yet a faculty assignment in those same PME institutions is seen as sidelining an officer’s career or, even worse, putting him or her at risk for nonselection for command or identification for Selective Early Retirement.4 This trend has gradually developed since the end of World War II thanks to a generation of leaders who deployed to war as junior officers, came home senior in rank, and neither attended nor saw the need for PME.5 However, having top-tier officers attending PME institutions and instructing other officers benefits the military profession as a whole. This article argues that instructing at intermediate and senior PME institutions improves officer development and the ability to operate at the strategic level of leadership. By examining how the Army addressed PME between the world wars, this article offers a framework that improves leadership development within the current officer ranks. Accordingly, changing the current PME and broadening assignment paradigm face significant difficulties. To prepare for future challenges, the Army must change its culture and prioritize commonsense guidelines to train and educate versatile leaders for tomorrow’s force.
PME and the Value of Teaching
According to Department of the Army Pamphlet (DA PAM) 600-3, Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management, PME expands knowledge, skills, and attributes required of a leader to accomplish current and future military missions. PME is “progressive and sequential” across an officer’s career and, linked with civilian education, develops the leader attributes of “character, presence, and intellect.”6 Officers can progress through five levels of military education during their career. These begin with precommissioning before transitioning to Primary (for lieutenant through captain). Majors learn at the intermediate level, also known as intermediate level education (ILE). The Army conducts this primarily at Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC) or other Service-equivalent schools. Senior PME is for lieutenant colonels and colonels and taught largely by the senior Service colleges (SSCs).7 The Army War College conducts this course along with other military Service colleges and the National Defense University for joint PME.8 The final PME is for general/flag officer level and has recently been restructured under the Army War College–led Army Strategic Education Program.
Retired Lieutenant General Richard Trefry noted that a part of being a professional, or a “great soldier,” is being a “great teacher.”9 Defining the difference between training and education is essential: according to Trefry, teaching how is “training”; teaching why is “education.”10 Likewise, when the Army rebuilt itself after the Vietnam War, General William DePuy, commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, focused on “teaching the Army how to fight” while simultaneously, his subordinate at CGSC, Major General John Cushman, directed “teaching Army officers how to think about fighting.”11 The Army trains Soldiers entering the military, then educates them to progress in rank and responsibility. In the period between the world wars, the Army saw PME and broadening assignments, such as instructor duty at Service schools, as an important means to develop leaders. As a result, those officers who rose to high command during World War II not only attended PME but also served as instructors or faculty.
The Interwar Army PME and Instructor Paradigm
Reviewing the PME and assignments of future general officers before World War II reveals leaders serving in a fiscally constrained period, strikingly similar to the present day. On November 11, 1918, at the end of fighting in Europe, the Army contained almost 5 million Soldiers. Within a year, Active-duty strength numbered 224,000. The National Defense Act of 1920 further reduced the Army to 135,000 by 1925, leading General George C. Marshall to remark, “The cuts, and cuts and cuts came.”12 The Crash of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression led to further slashing of the military budget, thus guaranteeing the Army would not purchase new equipment and weapons but instead would have to rely on its vast stores of World War I surplus.13 Between 1932 and 1933, the Army hit its low point in force structure, readiness, and preparedness. According to the Army’s official history, the Service was “unbalanced, insufficiently equipped, and insufficiently trained.”14 The Nation faced military expansion in the South China Sea concurrent with conflict and instability in Eastern Europe, eerily similar to today. Only the onset of a global war in Europe finally resulted in more funding to the Army and increased preparedness by the late 1930s.15 Despite this resource-constrained environment, the Army sustained its PME to ensure the professional development of its officers.
Officers such as Marshall, Collins, and Dwight D. Eisenhower not only attended PME but also served assignments as faculty at those institutions.16 Dr. Robert Berlin studied the careers of 34 officers who commanded Army corps during World War II. The study shows that all but one officer attended the Command and General Staff School,17 and 14 (41 percent) later served on the faculty. Twenty-nine also graduated from the Army War College; one, Collins, served on the faculty.18 Berlin’s research found that within this cohort, all those in the Regular Army “served as instructors somewhere in the army educational system” prior to World War II, including 11 officers at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and 15 in Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs.19
During this period, low manning levels of operational regiments led large numbers of officers to serve as PME faculty. Additionally, units were dispersed to small posts and camps (typically at the battalion or company level), resulting in a lack of available operational command and staff positions. Thus, Service schools developed officers while serving in staff and faculty positions.20 For the officers who attained corps command during the war, PME and assignments as instructors and faculty were a common thread in their overall leader development. Instructor duty served as a means to open their minds to new ideas, questioning the status quo, and working in an environment (such as the Infantry School at Fort Benning under Marshall) that encouraged “open and free discussion” for instructors and students alike.21 To maintain PME, the Army should follow this effective and relatively inexpensive model used between the world wars. During that extended period of fiscal constraint, the Army developed its leaders through PME and sent its best performers back to instruct in those same schools.22 Many of these officers later commanded at the corps level; as PME instructors, they educated a generation of officers who led the Army to victory in World War II.
The Current PME and Instructor Paradigm
As mentioned earlier, the trend for rising officers’ careers to include tours as PME instructors declined after World War II. A recent review conducted by this author evaluated the PME and broadening assignments of 36 officers who served as corps commanders since 2001, a period of continuous war for the Army. While the World War II cohort had 97 percent CGSC and 85 percent SSC graduates, the current group was 100 percent for intermediate and senior level PME.23 These officers, whose careers span the end of the Vietnam War to the present, reveal a different picture than their World War II predecessors when it comes to broadening assignments. While the previous group of corps commanders, 44 percent of whom taught at CGSC and SSC, were all experienced instructors in the Army’s educational system, in the post-2001 group only 16 officers (44 percent) served as PME instructors, with the majority (9, or 26 percent) teaching cadets at either West Point or ROTC. While the majority served as instructors of cadets, only a few served at intermediate and senior PME levels. Just one officer served as a seminar leader at the School for Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army CGSC, one as a doctrine author at CGSC, and one as a professor of joint military operations at the Naval War College.24
The differences are stark. Whereas 15 of the previous officers had served as faculty at CGSC and the Army War College, the current group has 1. Seven of the officers served as instructors and faculty as captains and majors at West Point prior to attending CGSC, and four had some instructor duty as captains at a branch or specialty school.25 Only two taught in Army ROTC programs, one as a professor of military science.26 Based on this current information, it may be easily deduced that assignments as instructors in intermediate- and senior-level PME institutions were not common in the career paths of Army corps commanders and, subsequently, the senior leadership of the Army. What has changed, and why is attendance at PME sacrosanct while assignments instructing at CGSC and the Army War College are not? If it is so beneficial to have officers attend PME during a resource-constrained environment, how does the Army make assignments as instructors and faculty at these same institutions career-enhancing? How does the Army implement this now?
PME Instructor Talent Management versus Army Culture
Mixing diverse assignments and sending officers with the potential to become senior leaders as faculty in PME institutions will improve leader development of the officer corps. Experienced officers will serve as role models for the next generation of leaders and shape the generals of tomorrow. Anecdotally, officers who serve as PME instructors or small group leaders attest to learning and growing as much as students do during the teaching, coaching, and mentoring process. In The Generals, Thomas Ricks describes the need for senior military officers to improve critical thinking and writing skills.27 Senior officers also recognize that instructing in the PME environment makes better leaders. General Robert B. Brown, former commandant of the Command and General Staff College, listed the benefits of serving on PME faculty: “Improved communication, critical thinking, and research skills.”28 Brown’s assignments included serving as an Educational Technologist and later Assistant Director for Performance Enhancement Program at West Point. These are the same skills needed by senior leaders to operate at the strategic level. So how difficult would it be to implement this cultural change to the Army’s talent management system? Extremely.
Since the announcement of budget cuts in 2011, the Army has shown a commitment to sustain PME across the force.29 As demonstrated by the Army in the interwar years of the 20th century, PME should be the last line item cut when resources become tight. The next order of business that the Army’s leadership must address is the deep-seated culture that regards faculty assignments in PME schools as a career inhibitor or a path to nonselection for command and/or promotion. To change the Army’s culture, the institution must implement sustainable and realistic change into the Service, ensuring irreversible momentum behind all initiatives so that changes do not languish.30
As in all institutions and bureaucracies, Army culture is strong and tends to be extremely resilient and resistant to change. It will take years to modify the mindset of midgrade and senior leaders. According to John Kotter, implementing change for a company takes from “three to ten years.”31 It could take a generation before the Army changes certain aspects of its culture. Senior leaders frequently fall into the trap of believing there is nothing wrong with the current assignment path of successful officers who attain high rank. If the current promotion system selected them due to their career path and performance, it must be good for everyone else. How can a system be flawed that selected them for such high rank and position? This post–World War II tendency to discount PME instructor-broadening assignments is not new. In a 1998 article in Joint Force Quarterly, Leonard Holder and Williamson Murray stated, “The low priority attached to teaching and the tendency of promotion and command selection boards to ignore or even penalize teaching experience mean that few officers seek such [PME] assignments. This indifference does not preclude some talented people from serving on faculties, but it does not reward them.”32 Again, cultural resistance to change persists.
In June 2006, the Army’s Review of Education, Training, and Assignments for Leaders Task Force addressed this aspect of Army culture and assignments. The task force report found that “officers aspire to the highest positions of responsibility by selecting narrow career paths at the expense of development in the skills needed in the non-kinetic spectrum.”33 This lack of broadening assignments in the career path of senior officers, to include CSAs, and lack of strategic thought and vision have come under criticism by numerous authors.34 If the Army wants high-quality officers with the potential for promotion to serve as PME instructors, this mindset must change.
The Army must also change the paradigm of post–Central Selection List (CSL) command positions. Presently, the Army assigns officers who complete CSL billets, such as battalion- or brigade-level command or key staff officers, to specific positions after completing their 2- or 3-year tour. Current guidance in DA PAM 600-3 states that those officers will be “assigned to positions designated as requiring the skills of former battalion commanders.”35 Additionally the CSA designates those positions for former brigade level commanders.36 Who better to teach, coach, and mentor junior field grade officers who aspire one day to command a battalion or brigade than a former commander?
Including faculty instructors at ILE institutions and SSCs as post-CSL positions will begin this process and “seed” those institutions with former commanders and key leaders. This is similar to a proposal made by Richard Kohn recommending that instructing at a PME institution be required for promotion to flag rank. He believes that “teaching a subject or discipline to college and graduate-level officers provides time for reflection, sharpens critical thinking and rigorous, precise writing,” which are skills critical at the flag rank.37 Likewise, retired Major General Robert Scales, former commandant of the U.S. Army War College, suggests that “no officer can be selected for flag rank without first serving a two-year tour as an instructor at a service school.”38 This forcing function is an initial step that raises the importance of PME and has those selected for flag and general officer educate the future leaders of their Services.
Some may argue that the current Army promotion schedule will not allow for this “insertion” of time to serve as instructors and faculty at ILE schools and SSCs. If the Army now has time to place officers in high-visibility positions after command while awaiting the next promotion board, why not place them where they can influence the next generation of senior officers? By simply sending officers selected to attend intermediate- and senior-level PME earlier in their careers, the Army would allow them to serve as faculty and still have the opportunity to command at the battalion and brigade level without affecting career timelines. This also addresses a cultural issue within the officer corps: “improving tactically” rather than “improving strategically,” and serving in a PME environment where reading and writing for professional journals are encouraged.39 The PME environment provides time to think and collaboratively address issues dealing with national security policy, strategic leadership, joint and combined operations, and larger defense enterprise.
Marines and Sailors with Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, and 12th Marines attached to Alpha Battery, 3D Battalion, make final preparations before heading to field in Hijudai Maneuver Area, Japan, February 24, 2017 (U.S. Marine Corps/Christian J. Robertson)
As these changes take root, multiplying opportunities for post-CSL tours to sister ILE schools and SSCs would further enrich the professional development of future senior leaders and reinforce the importance of faculty membership at these institutions. The Army is making headway in changing the culture of instructor and small group leader duty. Currently, DA PAM 600-3 states that “PME instructor positions are critically important as developmental experiences that shape individual career success, and effectively disseminate shared operational experience.”40 Who better to impart operational experience than former commanders and key leaders from operational units? The pamphlet professes, “Positions as platform instructors, small group leaders, doctrine writers or other positions in the institutional Army are critical broadening opportunities for our officers that will enhance an officer’s standing in competition for command, key billet or senior executive-level positions.”41 This guidance will only bear fruit if promotion rates for officers who serve in these positions are consistent with those serving in other, more traditional post-command broadening assignments.
At head of table, General John E. Hyten, commander, U.S. Strategic Command, listens to students of Air University’s Air War College, Blue Horizons, and School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, May 5, 2017, at Maxwell Air Force Base (U.S. Air Force/Melanie Rodgers Cox)
Supporting this second point is paramount, but it requires the Secretary of the Army to give guidance to promotion and CSL boards. Faculty instructor or small group leader positions must be on par with more traditional post-command assignments. These include lieutenant colonels assigned as deputy brigade commanders, division G-3, or key staff positions. The same must hold true for post-CSL colonels serving as chiefs of staff or G-3s for a major command or corps. This recommendation must synchronize with any proposed changes to the Goldwater-Nichols Act concerning post-CSL personnel filling joint duty assignments. Additionally, this guidance must go out to the Human Resource Command and Senior Leader Division offices that manage the Army’s majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels.
Board guidance from the Secretary of the Army and CSA and an update of DA PAM 600-3 to show these PME broadening positions as billets for former battalion and brigade commanders will also be necessary. Similarly, proportional promotion rates and selection for higher command at the same rates as their peers who took the former traditional positions will serve as cues for junior officers. The Army must reinforce the idea that serving as an instructor or faculty at PME institutions is part of the roadmap to promotion and advancement. The Army must monitor promotion levels and selection for higher command for those officers who fill these intermediate and senior PME faculty positions. Additionally, the Army must continue to assign Active-duty officers to serve as faculty at PME institutions. The reason is twofold: first providing officers who have relevant knowledge in operational warfare,42 then providing successful senior leaders to teach, coach, and mentor future Army leaders. Major General Scales also recommends that Active-duty officers continue to serve as faculty at Service PME institutions.43 Making these officers serve as instructors is necessary, but also having officers who volunteered with a clear path to success will entice them to serve in these crucial positions.
When the U.S. Air Force approached the problem of talent management of PME instructors in the mid-1990s, it followed an approach similar to that taken by the Army in the interwar period. The Air Force offered officers on track to attend SSCs to serve as faculty members at the Air Command and Staff College prior to attending the Air War College. Promotion rates rose for faculty at ILE institutions, and instructor quality increased as word spread. This approach benefited not only the PME institution but also the officer corps.44 The Army also has a program for enticing recent SSC graduates to attend doctoral programs and return to serve that institution as permanent faculty.45 Additionally, the Army War College manages a Faculty Tenure Program to keep qualified and talented military faculty on staff.46
Senior Enlisted Advisor for U.S. Naval War College performs service dress white uniform inspection of enlisted personnel in Newport, Rhode Island, April 19, 2016 (U.S. Navy/James E. Foehl)
Reduced and uncertain defense budgets have influenced the Army over the last 5 years, and while the election of Donald Trump may alter the fiscal defense landscape in the near term, the Army must stay the course and aggressively promote PME for its officers. Standards must be set and expectations must include fostering an environment that brings former battalion- and brigade-level commanders and key leaders back into the PME system to instruct and develop future leaders. One of the simple and inexpensive ways to improve leader development is to make service within the PME system valued and career-enhancing, improving the overall professionalism across the force. By bringing former CSL commanders and key leaders back into its PME institutions, the Army will enhance the education of future leaders. The Nation will expand or contract its military due to a world crisis or an economic downturn, but the Army must have leaders who are trained and educated, ever waiting for the call to serve.
Finally, the most important aspect of bringing back former commanders and key leaders to serve as faculty at CGSC and the Army War College is mentorship. Senior leaders must encourage and guide those officers who will be the future battalion- and brigade-level commanders and key leaders to seek out instructor positions at intermediate- and senior-level PME institutions. At the critical juncture in an officer’s career, senior mentors must tell these up-and-coming officers to “do as I say and not as I did.” If not, the Army will continue to struggle with narrow career paths to general officer, which do not include instructing and educating our future leaders. JFQ
1 Department of the Army Pamphlet (DA PAM) 600-3, Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management (Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army, December 3, 2014), 37.
2 Joseph Lawton Collins, Lightning Joe: An Autobiography (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979), 86–87. The Army Industrial College is now the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy.
3 Thomas Ricks, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today (New York: Penguin, 2012), 235. Westmoreland never attended Command and General Staff College or the Senior Service College.
4 Thomas A. Kearney, “The War Colleges and Joint Education,” in The United States in Military Education: Past, Present, and Future, ed. Gregory C. Kennedy and Keith Neilson (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002), 151.
5 Leonard D. Holder and Williamson Murray, “Prospects for Military Education,” Joint Force Quarterly (Spring 1998), 83. The U.S. Army War College closed in 1940 due to personnel shortages in the war effort and reopened in 1950.
6 DA PAM 600-3, 5–6.
7 Ibid., 7, 22.
8 The other Service war colleges are the Air War College, Naval War College, Marine Corps War College, and National Defense University, which comprises the National War College and Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy.
9 Richard G. Trefry, “Soldiers and Warriors; Warriors and Soldiers,” in American Warrior, ed. Chris Morris and Janet Morris (New York: Curtis Brown Ltd., 1992), 50–51.
10 Ibid., 51.
11 Ricks, 337–343.
12 Edward M. Coffman, The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1968), 357–361.
13 During the 1920s and 1930s, defense spending was between 1 and 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and is currently 4.5 percent of GDP; see <www.usgovernmentspending.com/defense_spending>. Also see Charles E. Kirkpatrick, “Orthodox Soldiers: U.S. Army Formal Schools and Junior Officers between the Wars,” in Forging the Sword: Selecting, Educating, and Training Cadets and Junior Officers, ed. Elliot V. Converse III (Chicago: Imprint Publications, 1998), 99.
14 Mark Skinner Watson, United States Army in World War II, Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations (Washington, DC: Historical Division, United States Army, 1950), 3–5, 15–17, 24.
15 Ibid., 4; Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland, U.S. Army in World War II, China-Burma-India Theater: Stilwell’s Mission to China (Washington, DC: Historical Division, United States Army 1953), 4–6.
16 Robert H. Berlin, U.S. Army World War II Corps Commanders: A Composite Biography (Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1989), 12; Jason Warren, “The Centurion Mindset,” Parameters 45, no. 3 (Autumn 2015), 36.
17 Known as the Command and General Staff School, this course has changed names over the years to include Command and General Staff Officer Course and now back as the Command and General Staff School as part of the overall Command and General Staff College.
18 Collins, 90–91.
19 Berlin, 12.
20 Kirkpatrick, 99, 106.
21 Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall: Education of a General (New York: Viking, 1963), 256.
22 Coffman, 361; Berlin, 9–12.
23 Berlin, 10–12.
24 The author reviewed the military biographies of the 34 officers who commanded or served as acting commanders of I, III, V, and XVIII corps from 2001 to 2016 via “Resumes,” U.S. Army General Officer Management Office, available at <www.gomo.army.mil/ Ext/Portal/Officer/MasterPrint.aspx>.
25 Ibid. This included Ranger, Recondo, and the Infantry School.
27 Ricks, 458.
28 Robert B. Brown, “The Army University: Educating Leaders to Win in a Complex World,” Military Review (July–August 2015), 25.
29 Andrew Feickert, Army Drawdown and Restructuring: Background and Issues for Congress, R42493 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, January 3, 2013), 1–3.
30 Jason Sherman, “Momentum, Mo’ Money,” Armed Forces Journal International, October 2000, 46.
31 John Kotter, Leading Change (Cambridge: Harvard Business Review Press, 1996), 13.
32 Holder and Murray, 89.
33 The United States Army Review of Education, Training, and Assignments for Leaders Task Force Officer Team Report, June 16, 2006, 7.
34 Ricks, 236; Warren, 36; Andrew J. Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (New York: Random House, 2016), 196–197; Senate Committee on Armed Services, “Global Challenges, U.S. National Security Strategy, and Defense Organization,” 113th Cong., October 22, 2015.
35 DA PAM 600-3, 17.
36 Ibid., 8.
37 Richard H. Kohn, “Beyond Sequester: Improving National Defense in an Age of Austerity,” Joint Force Quarterly 70 (3rd Quarter 2013), 52–53.
38 Robert H. Scales, “Too Busy to Learn,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 123, no. 2 (February 2010), 1284.
39 Ricks, 450, 458.
40 DA PAM 600-3, 14.
42 Joan Johnson-Freese, “The Reform of Military Education: Twenty-Five Years Later,” Orbis (Winter 2012), 151.
43 Scales, 1284.
44 James W. Forsyth, Jr., and Richard R. Muller, “We Were Deans Once . . . and Young,” Air & Space Power Journal (Fall 2011), 93. The Air Command and Staff College and Air War College are collocated in Montgomery, AL.
45 U.S. Army War College Regulation No. 621-1, “Professor, U.S. Army War College (PUSAWC) Program,” October 20, 2014.
46 Carlisle Barracks Memorandum 351-6, August 16, 2004, “U.S. Army War College Military Faculty Tenure Program.”