Best Defense

How to fix the CGSC

Recently “Nonny Maus” wrote an article about how bad the US Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) has become. What his article missed was that there has been an ongoing conversation by those that have attended CGSC as to how bad it really is.



By “Bindar Dondat”
Best Defense guest respondent

Recently “Nonny Maus” wrote an article about how bad the US Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) has become. What his article missed was that there has been an ongoing conversation by those that have attended CGSC as to how bad it really is. (As an editorial note, the Command and General Staff School is the element that trains/educates Army Majors, the Command and General Staff College is the larger organization that CGSS falls under.)

Before I attended CGSS, I had several friends who had already attended. I would try to get any information about what I was going to experience from them. They told me that it was anything but an intellectual challenge. What they also told me was that attending CGSS was a time to take a knee from the fight (this was 2009/2010), reconnect with one’s family and focus on the next job. Not exactly what CGSS touts itself as being — “CGSS educates and trains field grade officers to be agile, innovative and adaptive leaders, who communicate effectively, think critically, and build teams and lead organizations under mission command in Unified Land Operations in complex and uncertain environments.” They also mentioned that it was heavy into the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), which was a good, especially if you were to be headed to a Brigade or Division staff after CGSS.

After I complete CGSS in 2012, I found that my experience was less than what was advertised by the School. I never once found that I was being educated or trained to be an agile, innovative and adaptive leader. In fact, I believe that I already had those traits based on a life long journey of developing them, meaning these were not something I learned from a school, but rather things I learned from my life experiences. As for the communicating effectively, thinking critically and building teams part of their mission statement, well, those things were best introduced and taught in the commissioning program and basic courses, not when someone is at least ten years in the Army.

The fact of the matter is that what CGSS says it does for the Majors in the U.S. Army and what it actually does are two distinctive and different things entirely. What would be a more accurate description of what CGSS does is train (not educate) Army Majors on the MDMP in order to prepare them for positions on a Brigade or Division staff, because the rest of the CGSS claim is just not true. However, there is an Army school that does do what CGSS touts, with a similar mission statement to boot; … “educates members of our Armed Forces, our Allies, and the Interagency at the graduate level to become agile and adaptive leaders who are critical and creative thinkers who produce viable options to solve operational and strategic problems.” You’ve heard of if — the name of that school is the School of Advanced Military Studies, or SAMS.

Frankly, when I first envisioned what I was going to learn at CGSS, I later learned that no, that is what you get at SAMS. Fast forward to earlier this year when a very senior, former director of SAMS, a current CGSS student and I just had this very conversation in that most students were unsatisfied with their education experiences at CGSS. Those students that were unsatisfied went on to apply to SAMS and where thrilled with what they learned and how they learned it. So naturally, the discussion moved to all of us reflecting on the question of, “Why isn’t CGSS more like SAMS”? The former SAMS Director replied that there was an effort a few years back to try and turn CGSS in to SAMS — meaning; seminar format, read, reflect/discuss, write, etc. But the problem was that CGSC and CGSS was so tied to the current way in which they do business that to change would cost losing resources, faculty and staff — something that they were not willing to do.

So what does this all mean? First I think that if the Army were intellectually honest, it would acknowledge that the curriculum at CGSS is training, not education. Next, if the Army were serious about educating then it should address the concerns outlined in the article cited by “Nonny Maus.” Finally, in an era of shrinking resources, it may be worthwhile to revisit the idea of making CGSS more like SAMS. After all, if the intent of the Army is to create agile, innovative and adaptive leaders and if such things as Human Dimension, Cognitive Dominance and Engagement will be driving the way forward as the Army seeks to win in an increasing complex world, then sending Majors through a thoughtful academic crucible like SAMS could be a giant step in the right direction.

“BTDT” knows a few things about this and that, he’s been to a few places and done some stuff. He’s also been to a few schools. His views are his own. He was behind you getting coffee this morning.

Noah Albro/Wikimedia Commons

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 @tomricks1
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