Optimizing the #Human Dimension through Education within the Operational Army

The Human Dimension White Paper’s stated purpose is to optimize human performance and build resilient Soldiers, adaptive leaders and cohesive teams.[1] This end state is framed by first reflecting on our current and anticipated operating environment, and then proposing ways and means of achieving the desired end state. The proposed ways include cognitive dominance, realistic training, and institutional agility, while the means span the breadth of doctrinal, training, leadership and education, and policy solutions. As an institution, the Army is well served by implementing their efforts across these domains, but the most agile efforts are likely to be those championed by commanders in the operational Army. Commanders typically focus on training their units, but in the context of optimizing human performance, commanders need to include educational efforts as well.

The terms training and education are not formally defined or compared within Army doctrine and are therefore often used synonymously within the context of learning, but for this discussion the common English understanding should suffice.[2] Training is the process of learning how to do something and conditioning oneself towards a particular behavior or performance. Educating on the other hand is the process of learning why something happens, or more generally, learning how to think. Given these two definitions, and the desire to develop adaptive leaders, it is clear that education must be a significant portion of the Army’s leadership development efforts.

Examining the Army’s training and educational efforts within the operational force, it becomes apparent that the institution’s focus is on training, with few resources available for commanders to leverage to educate their organizations. The Army has created a significant body of written and online resources devoted to training: ADRP 7–0 Training Units and Developing Leaders, Leader’s Guides and the Army Training Network, which includes the expansive and detailed Combined Arms Training Strategy. Most significantly, operational units fill their calendars with numerous ranges, field training exercises, situational training exercises, etc. However, the list of educational resources for use within the operational Army are vastly smaller, and not widely incorporated into unit development programs.[3]

The most common form of education that operational commanders institute is leadership professional development (LPD) classes [or targeted OPD/NCOPDs]. However, many of these LPDs are lectured blocks of instruction in doctrine or administrative systems. In my experience, educationally focused LPDs are much fewer and far between. Examples include reading a given book or article and subsequent reflection and group discussions to understand the “what,” and more importantly, the “why” behind past events or concepts. Reading could include books such as Dave Grossman’s On Killing or Jim Frederick’s Black Hearts or articles from Army professional journals, Harvard Business Review, etc. The bottom line is that this open discussion and time for reflection nurtures cognitive development that is pivotal to enhancing human performance.

The operational force and its commanders must deliberately integrate education into their leader development programs, complementing the efforts of the institutional Army.

When commanders foster open discussion, this shared experience brings about multiple benefits. First of all, the educational experience itself prioritizes higher cognition and adaptive thinking. Secondly, these shared experiences build trust and understanding between leaders and subordinates through open dialogue. These are critical elements to making the mission command leadership approach effective — a key component of the human domain. The benefits of discussion and the subsequent cognitive development are clear, but the menu of developmental techniques needs to be enlarged.

There are other less practiced methods that commanders can use to engender adaptive thinking and cognitive dominance. One method is through Tactical Decision Exercises (TDEs) that provide leaders a general situation and mission and ask them to think through and offer a solution to how they would accomplish the mission. If done as part of a group, other members can then discuss alternate ways of accomplishing the mission and compare and contrast strengths and weaknesses. Armor Magazine recently begun publishing TDEs again in their March-June 2014 edition.[4] TDEs are an example of outcomes-based education, which the Army has incorporated in varying degrees under the titles of Outcomes-Based Training and Education (OBT&E) and, more recently, Adaptive Soldier and Leader Training and Education (ASLTE).[5] These methods of training and education encourage initiative in reaching a desired end-state, instead of traditional “input-based” training that focuses on checklists and analysis of how the leader/unit accomplished the mission. The goal is to advance beyond training what to think towards education, which teaches Soldiers how to think.

The Human Dimension is not a new concept, nor is it something we should struggle to understand; it is simply quantifying a familiar concept. We need to optimize human performance by building resilient Soldiers, adaptive leaders and cohesive teams. The best way to achieve this is through an increased emphasis on education. The operational force and its commanders must deliberately integrate education into their leader development programs, complementing the efforts of the institutional Army. To enable this, we must increase our awareness of the existing educational resources, maximize our use of these resources and identify shortcomings to assist our leaders in their efforts. The Human Dimension and human performance will be more important in future operational environments than ever before and education is the key to our success.

Gary M. Klein is a U.S. Army Officer. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S Government.

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[1] United States Army Combined Arms Center, The Human Dimension White Paper: A Framework for Optimizing Human Performance, Fort Leavenworth, KS, October 9, 2014.

[2] For a more detailed discussion of training versus education within the context of PME/Senior Service Colleges see Johnson-Freese, Joan, Educating America’s Military, Routledge, New York, NY, 2013, Chapter 1.

[3] A non-expansive list of educational resources developed for the operational Army includes: Maneuver Leader Self Study Program (http://www.benning.army.mil/mssp/), Center for the Army Profession and Ethic (CAPE) Case Studies (http://cape.army.mil/case-studies/), the Combat Studies Institute’s Staff Ride material (http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/CSI/) and various professional development sites on MilSuite such as the Company Command Army Professional Forum (https://www.milsuite.mil/book/community/spaces/apf/companycommand).

[4] Unspecified Author, “What’s Your Next Move?” ARMOR Magazine, Fort Benning, GA, March-June 2014, p.59–60. Other sources of TDEs include the MCCC (https://www.benning.army.mil/training/dot/mc3/content/zip/8-%20Leader%20Development.zip) and the Marine Corps Association’s TDG Archive (https://www.mca-marines.org/gazette/tdg-archives).

[5] Chad R. Foster, “The Case for Outcomes-Based Training and Education,” ARMOR Magazine, Fort Benning, GA, November-December 2009, p.19–23; and Holmes, Aniesa, “ASLTE prepares instructors for future training,” U.S. Army News, http://www.army.mil/article/121264/, March 5, 2014, retrieved November 11, 2014.