Army University: The Educational Component of the #Human Dimension

The Army’s new Human Dimension White Paper describes a world that is rapidly changing, and one where operations are increasingly difficult. To operate successfully in this world, the Army must produce officers that have the ability to think, plan and adapt quickly. The white paper introduces “Army University” as a way to retool our education system. In 1972, Admiral Stansfield Turner, then President of the Naval War College, commented on the Navy’s education system, stating:

“If we trained you for a particular assignment or type of duty, the value of this college would be short-lived. We want to educate you to be capable of doing well in a multitude of future duties...Your objective here should be to improve your reasoning, logic, and analysis.”[1]

The Human Dimension White Paper describes refocusing Army schools into “Army University,” described as an “agile institution that provides world-class educational infrastructure, optimized to prepare leaders for the changing operational environments.”[2] Turner’s description of education is the only way to prepare leaders for the future described by the white paper. The Army University Concept should transform Army schools into an education process throughout a career, which reinforces basic skills, and provides rigor to its students in areas where the current model falls short.

A typical officer will attend two Professional Military Education (PME) courses within their first five years, but following this, the officer is away from the Army’s institutional school house for a protracted period of time.[3] Once an officer attends the basic course and the captain’s course early in their career, the next educational opportunity is the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) between nine and eleven years of service. CGSC recently became selective again, only accepting the top half of Army officers to its resident program. This leaves 50% of Army officers who will continue their career without coming back to the Army’s education system. An officer who does not attend resident CGSC could retire at 20 years having not attended a resident educational program for his/her last 16 years of service. Even attendance to the War College does not occur until almost 20 years of service, a decade after these officers attended CGSC as majors.

Army Professional Military Education should be a continual process, not just episodic.

To make matters worse, during the War on Terror, numerous officers deferred their attendance to CGSC, increasing the number of officers who have not attended mid-career education. Taking advantage of all opportunities to develop junior to mid-grade officers is paramount to ensure they are successful during their following ten years of service. A gap in this development is reminiscent of Vietnam-Era generals like GEN Westmoreland who attended neither CGSC nor the Army War College despite rising to General Officer ranks.[4] If the Army believes in a true military education system, it will be a program that will assist officers throughout their career, an enduring experience verses episodic bursts in the professional timeline. Having leaders who are alumni of the Army’s internal education system is essential and Army leaders must recognize internal education as important. The Army system does more than educate officers on key skills and doctrinal changes. PME provides an excellent opportunity to discuss issues in an academic setting, professionally dialogue with peers, and reflect on personal experiences-all of which are critical in the leader development process.

An Army University system must better address basic academic skills that are deteriorating throughout the force, including writing, research, and briefing skills. The declining ability to communicate effectively in writing is not solely a military issue. Only 27% of U.S. high school seniors score at the “proficient” or higher rating in writing, and many employers rank writing ability as one of their most sought after skill.[5][6] An officer’s writing skills should continue to develop as they progress through the Army. Several branches require multiple writing assignments during their Captain level courses, but the requirements should be more rigorous, standardized across all branches, and begin at the first officer education level. All military education should demand graduate level writing and force our officers to write proficiently. Simply put, we need more writing professors in military education. This is not the first time the army has recognized the need for better writing. In the 1980s, General Maxwell Thurman became increasingly frustrated at the lack of officer writing ability, and in 1983 started a traveling team designed to improve Army writing.[7]

The efforts of this program were finally encapsulated in DA Pam 600–67, “Effective Writing for Army Leaders,” in 1986. As a force, we should be concerned that this guide is older than most Captains and hasn’t been updated since it was written. Written communication is not the only skill that has suffered in recent years. PowerPoint has become a staple to communicate in the Army, and the poor briefing ability of company and field grade officers illustrates our reliance on technology. As a former Captain’s Career Course instructor, I saw countless Captains struggle to brief a plan off a map without the use of electronic equipment. Many officers lack the ability to stand and articulate their point of view. Composing white papers and conducting desk-side briefs should return as critical skills and reinforced in our Army education systems.

An improved program should place more emphasis on developing and arguing a thesis, applying higher order critical thinking, and further developing written communication skills.

None of these problems can truly be addressed unless the Army embraces rigor in an academic setting. As the Human Dimension White Paper suggests, the Army University system should have a mix of civilian and military professors and an increased emphasis on academic performance. Field Grade officers, whether acting as a congressional staff, preparing reports at the Pentagon, or serving in a brigade combat team are expected to operate at the graduate level. However, CGSC is still not independently accredited as a master’s program, leaving the Army as the only major service not to award a master’s degree for completion of their field grade program. Army officers would benefit significantly from an accredited program that emphasizes education over training and has sufficient civilian faculty. An improved program should place more emphasis on developing and arguing a thesis, applying higher order critical thinking, and further developing written communication skills. The Army is already selecting their top officers to attend; these students should be the group we develop the most. The civilian expertise at Leavenworth should be incorporated down to the smallest class size and the Army should invest in its faculty, ensuring it has a mix of current academics and experienced officers.

Several changes should be adopted to help build Army University:

1. Education should be enduring, not episodic:

Develop an intermediate course between the Captain’s Course and CGSC. The audience should be post-company command captains and can reinforce the concepts that were introduced in the Captain’s Course. This course would cover the skills that are currently trained at Leavenworth and allow CGSC to focus more on education than staff training. For example this would be the course that trains on critical skills like the military decision making process, allowing CGSC to focus on elements like strategy, military history and civil-military relations. This course would include all officers regardless of prior performance and allow for the continued education of officers not selected to attend CGSC later in their career.

2. Attack weak writing in our force:

Initially, create mobile training teams focused on writing and briefing skills to travel around the Army and offer instruction. This should focus at the unit level and assist with staff training. Writing should be taught as a skill that is reinforced as a unit comes back from deployment.

Each PME course will have a writing component that will build from one course to the next, increasing in difficulty and requirement, for both officers and NCOs. As an Officer moves throughout his/her career they will be introduced to more strenuous writing instruction.

Officers should receive a grade for their writing ability that goes on their Officer Record Briefs. Enlisted personnel have their General Technical (GT) score on their records, why shouldn’t officers have the same scores for their writing ability. Each post can offer writing centers that can help those in need raise their scores. This will prevent further degradation of critical communication skills and stress the importance of writing requirements.

3. Embrace Army University as an educational system:

Seek accreditation for CGSC. Design a program where a master’s degree is earned, not just given at the completion of the course. Critical to this is the hiring of the correct faculty. The army should spend the money to attract civilian expertise and bring back our best Army officers to teach. Leavenworth currently has some great personnel focused on different initiatives, but the focus should be instruction. As Turner stated, this is about education of leaders beyond their next assignment.

Army University should train throughout the force. The university should sponsor reading programs and on-line collaborative lectures. Army University has the opportunity to educate the entire force through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These courses are being conducted in higher education throughout academic institutions across the country and offer the ability for anyone to listen to leading professors. Army University can provide this to the entire force and not limit talented professors to a particular course.

Furthermore, the academic performance at these schools should be given the same amount of consideration for promotion as regular officer evaluations. If we truly want a generation of officers who embrace education, there should be no distinction between performance at a unit and performance at a school. The leaders of our Soldiers should be the best academically and militarily.

Officers must prepare to share these thoughts orally and in written form with higher level analysis.

These changes would represent a major shift in PME and the way our Army views education, but this needs to happen. Education stays with us, it affects the way we view the world and gives us the ability to quickly adapt when we are tested. Our Army education system must develop our officers throughout a career, not just as short spurts in a classroom but lifelong reflection. Furthermore Officers must prepare to share these thoughts orally and in written form with higher level analysis. We have no guarantee that our next conflict will closely resemble the last one and there is no way to train for every type of potential situation, but you can prepare leaders to make educated decisions when complicated situations arise. This is the challenge for Army University, not just fixing the problems that currently plague our force but educate our force to defeat the myriad of issues that we will face in the future.

Aaron Childers is an infantry officer currently serving at the Naval War College. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the US Army, the Naval War College, or the Department of Defense.

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[1] Turner, Stansfield. “Challenge: A New Approach to Professional Education at the Naval War College.” Naval War College Review 240th ser. XXV.2 (1972): 1–9.

[2] “The Human Dimension: A Framework for Optimizing Human Performance.” United States Army Combined Arms Center (2014): 9 Oct. 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.

[3] Based on Maneuver Officers Timeline, Pamphlet 600–3: Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management. Washington D.C.: Department of the Army, 2010.

[4] Ricks, Thomas E. The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. New York: Penguin, 2012.

[5] “The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2011.” Nations Report Card. U.S. Department of Education, 2012. Web.

[6] Adams, Susan. “The 10 Skills Employers Most Want In 20-Something Employees.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

[7] Casimir, Carey C., I. “Gen. Thurman’s Impact on Army Writing.” Army (May 2002)