Best Defense

Another view from Leavenworth: We’re doing better than Professor Murray thinks

By Col. Steve Boylan (U.S. Army, ret.) Best Defense guest respondent I have some feelings towards the article that Dr. Murray wrote that is up on Best Defense. I saw this article the other day and it has garnered a bit of discussion here among some of the faculty. There are a few things I would ...


By Col. Steve Boylan (U.S. Army, ret.)
Best Defense guest respondent

I have some feelings towards the article that Dr. Murray wrote that is up on Best Defense. I saw this article the other day and it has garnered a bit of discussion here among some of the faculty. There are a few things I would like to point out, if I may.

First, the furlough did not have a major impact on the students or faculty (expect pay for the civilian faculty and some early prep issues for classes on Monday vice later in the week where we would have had Friday to prep and some additional research time). Had it continued for longer, unknown — but suspect it would have started to have significant impact on students and faculty.

Second, to say the students should come to CGSC with the knowledge/understanding of what they get here is inaccurate and a bit disingenuous. Up to this point, most of the captains (promotable) and new majors have only worked at the direct level (meaning company), some at battalion and higher, and if so, for only short periods of time. They know the direct level of leadership and that of direct level operations/tactics, logistics, etc.

Here is the difference: We are not talking direct level anymore. We do not want them to be company commanders anymore. We are focusing their education and thinking on the organizational level (battalion level), which could be considered the cusp between direct and organizational and brigade and higher. Our previous students over the past few years had more experience in that area, but the new classes we are receiving have not. It is going back to the way it was before 9/11 where very few, and soon, if any, will have had battalion level jobs.

Third, as for this being a graduate school like its civilian counterparts — to some degree, yes, but not as much as the article led its readers to believe. The graduates do not automatically receive a graduate degree. Only those that put in the extra effort for their Masters of Military Arts (MMAS) or are part of the joint efforts between University of Kansas or K-State. But to equate it to a civilian university/college is again a bit false since our students are on a different path and the military is different. CGSC is a professional school for a professional education at a specific point in the officer’s professional development. The Army is going to be only sending 55 percent of a specific year group to attend the resident CGSC course. The officers that do attend will have been board selected and are expected to be the top 55 percent of their year group.

Many are not aware of the dynamics of the class makeup. Each class is broken up into teams with four staff groups to each team. Each staff group of 16 officers consists of one international officer, one or two sister service officers, and the remainder U.S. Army officers. We also have at times interagency civilian members that make up the staff group of sixteen. The mix of branches from the Army is carefully constructed to ensure there is, as much as possible, a representative from each branch or functional area in attendance to have a well-rounded staff group, including female officers. It is not always perfect, but the mix is usually pretty good. 

CGSC instructors who are a mix of active-duty officers and civilians (civilians are usually but not always retired lieutenant colonels and above) take great care in facilitating discussions among the students. This is not a lecture course. Granted, in some of the classes from each department, there at times are more instructor-based discussions due to the topic, but the goal is to have the students, after doing their homework (readings), using what they have read, coupled with their experiences and using critical and creative thinking, have a thoughtful discussion on the topic(s) being covered.

In several of my staff groups from the past, the students have maintained after they graduated an email distribution list to keep in touch, provide lessons learned, and to seek assistance from each other as well as some of their instructors as needed. The networking and relationship garnered during the academic year can be with them for a lifetime.

A key point is that during their initial discussions from their staff group advisor and many of the instructors, the students are informed that this may in fact be the last professional military education they receive. In this manner they need to take advantage of all that is offered.

CGSC is in constant change with the curriculum, schedule, new electives being developed and offered, guest speakers, and updates that occur from the field. I would venture to say that we are as different from a civilian college as Harvard is different than high school.

Could there be more open space on the schedule? Sure. Is there a lot for the students to do? Oh yes there is, but why is that bad? Could we provide more time for student reflection? Probably so, and that would not be bad, but human nature what it is, there would be those that would not take advantage of the time. Would the faculty enjoy a bit more time for research and writing? — overall probably a majority would say yes, but I have seen over time there no lacking for those that take the extra time and effort to put forth articles for publication.

A common error happens when we continually compare civilian education to that of military education. They are different and have different purposes and desired outcomes. There is always room for improvements in any organization, CGSC included, and I daresay any other civilian academic institution.

Steve Boylan is a retired colonel having served as both an Army aviator and public affairs officer, and is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Command and Leadership at CGSC. These thoughts are his own and do not reflect the official position of CGSC or the U.S. Army.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at

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