- By Thomas E. RicksThomas 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Nicholas Murray
Best Defense guest columnist
“The only thing that we can actually guarantee is that in the future we’re going to have to have very well-developed leaders that can lead in very ambiguous situations and very challenging situations and can really pull a team together to do very difficult things with maybe not a lot of time to think about it or a lot of guidance ahead of time.” — Lt. Gen. David Perkins, speaking to a group of students at the Maneuver Captains Career Course at Fort Benning, June 25, 2013
Lt. Gen. Perkins is spot on. To create the leaders he is talking about logically requires a first-class military education system. Yet the new QDR hardly mentions it. In times of declining budgets one of the key things armed forces have done historically to enable continued success or to reform after failure, has been to focus on the education of their future leaders. This has proven time and again to be a cost-effective combat multiplier for armed forces. Indeed, the role of education is prominent in the previous two QDRs (2010 and 2006), yet it is mentioned only in passing in the current version.
Given all of the arguments of the last few years over the state of military education, it should continue to feature prominently. Yet this is not the case. The current QDR does recognize the need to develop service leaders when it states: “Above all, we will need to invest more in finding and developing leaders of consequence at every level, men and women of both competence and character.” Clearly, then, the failure to discuss the role of education in the preparation of service personnel to meet an uncertain future is an oversight (whether deliberate or not). If it was deliberate, it implies that education is not considered important to the future preparation of the services. Alternatively, it was a curious error.
So, what should the services do about this? After all, many senior service leaders have identified high quality education as a crucial component in the development of the type of critical-thinking adaptive leaders the services will almost certainly need. To that end, a thorough review is needed of the quality and output of the services’ education systems, along with an analysis of where military education fits in with the country’s national security strategy over the longer term.
To facilitate the process, this author has four main suggestions:
1) Clearly identify and describe the purpose of military education writ large.
2) Create an overarching education policy for the services as a whole, one that leaves room for the needs of the individual services.
3) Identify what programs are in place right now, or are being implemented, to address the criticisms of military education regarding its quality and the development of adaptive strategic-minded critical-thinkers.
4) Have military education monitored by an external committee who report directly to the OSD (P&R).
Once the above has been accomplished, the services will have a better grip on what needs to be done to educate its servicemen and -women to meet requirements (whatever they might be), why it needs to do them, as well as how well it is actually doing.
Dr. Nicholas Murray is an associate professor in the Department of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and Staff College. He is the current Educator of the Year for History at CGSC, and recently received the Department of the Army’s Commander’s Award for Civilian Service. His book The Rocky Road to the Great War (Potomac Books) came out last year. He recently published “The Role of Professional Military Education in Mission Command” in Joint Forces Quarterly. This article represents his own views and unless otherwise stated does not necessarily represent those of the CGSC, the U.S. Army, or the Defense Department.