Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Staff college now or war college later?: Our FSO civilian arrives at his decision

The Foreign Service Officer who asked for advice on whether to go to a military staff college or to wait for a war college has decided to go to staff college. Here he explains why: The answers favoring the staff colleges make the most sense for FSO’s looking to work the pol-mil area, as well ...

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The Foreign Service Officer who asked for advice on whether to go to a military staff college or to wait for a war college has decided to go to staff college. Here he explains why:

The answers favoring the staff colleges make the most sense for FSO's looking to work the pol-mil area, as well as the POLAD jobs. An FSO who has the staff college experience would stand a better chance of contributing and fitting in at a command or HQ.

War colleges would seem to be more about networking and exposure to intra-agency topics. FSO's get a lot of that stuff through OJT. Also, in some ways they would not be able to use what they learned at a WC since there's still lots of layers of decision-making and authority above them. They'd be able to better describe and explain the foreign policy process, but that's about it.

The Foreign Service Officer who asked for advice on whether to go to a military staff college or to wait for a war college has decided to go to staff college. Here he explains why:

The answers favoring the staff colleges make the most sense for FSO’s looking to work the pol-mil area, as well as the POLAD jobs. An FSO who has the staff college experience would stand a better chance of contributing and fitting in at a command or HQ.

War colleges would seem to be more about networking and exposure to intra-agency topics. FSO’s get a lot of that stuff through OJT. Also, in some ways they would not be able to use what they learned at a WC since there’s still lots of layers of decision-making and authority above them. They’d be able to better describe and explain the foreign policy process, but that’s about it.

I know that I would have had a more productive and meaningful work experience in Iraq if I’d had the staff college experience. I’m pretty sure that lots of military staff officers scratched their heads after leaving meetings with State Department officers. FSO’s as a group are held to the loosest and vaguest of standards when it comes to staff work or planning. In fact, I would make the case that ambiguity and keeping all options available is what the State Department is all about, while the military is all about “right now” taking precedence over “right”. I remember one meeting where the O-6’s brightened whenever any civilian made a declarative statement or promised a deliverable.

Since I expect to have sand in my mid-future, I’m thinking the staff college would be a better use of my near-future time. I’ll try to sort out the WC eligibility issue at a later date.

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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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