Friday, May 4, 2012

The Educated Officer

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The Educated Officer

Throughout a twenty-year career in the military, emphasis was continually placed on tenacity, battle drills, and rote memorization of tasks. Being able to react quickly without thought was a benefit during the early years of my career. This was important in order to move a squad or platoon in reaction to an enemy threat. The study of tactics and military science didn’t occur until my fifteenth year of service during attendance at the Command and General Staff Officer Course (CGSC), and even there pursuing an advanced civilian degree was frowned upon. The common explanation was that the time required to do so would be detrimental to my career. Specifically, I would miss certain career opportunities and my peers would pass me by. Even my branch would discourage getting out of the mainstream to advance my education. It was commonly thought that advanced education of an officer would serve well if he was to teach, but a warrior needed to be tough and courageous.

During the year at the CGSC in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I became interested again in continuing my education. My hope was to obtain a master’s degree through one of the programs available at the school. I was told that this was a waste of time, and I should focus on the required subjects taught by the school while enjoying the time with my family. During a conversation with my branch manager he said that my job performance was the crucial requirement that would pave the way for my career, but an advanced degree had limited to no impact. He even had promotion data to back up this claim.

Since my time at the CGSC I’ve had the opportunity to work with very intellectual civilians and officers from other services. They were able to think conceptually, where I only dealt with manuals and checklists. To plan an air assault operation was simple, but to theorize about the second and third order affects of our actions was beyond my grasp. As I progressed in rank my professional contacts were generally very well educated military contractors, DA civilians, and even politicians. Many times I felt as if I didn’t have the tools required to adequately represent my service or myself. I fondly remember an occasion during Ranger School when I was verbally issuing an operations order and I used the word, synergy. My instructor promptly told me to “speak infantry like a soldier.” I still think of this today as I struggle at times to articulate a point or issue.

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We are not all intellectuals capable of working in the nations top ranked think tanks or teaching graduate level studies, yet only great benefit can come from lifelong education that enhances our ability to think. An officer need not publish a book or be well known for a specific theory or concept, but he should have the ability to understand and grow intellectually. As mentioned in the article, military intelligence is thought of as a soldier taking a thought or concept and making it so confusing that no one can understand, or making a task so difficult no one can complete.

The army has progressed immeasurably over the past 0 years of my career. We have a much more educated army with a high degree of technical expertise. My hope is that time and encouragement be given to our officers to continue their education as they progress through their careers, and that they not be penalized as they pursue this goal. It is apparent that the army officer will work in a very educated environment where he must be able to hold his own. There are several great people within the army who have done this very well, and are worthy of emulation, Secretary of State (General) Colin Powell, Maxwell Thurman, Carl Vouno, and many others. These generals are well known as intellectuals, which may be due to their natural ability to learn, but they represent the finest in the military and are thought of in the highest regards within academic circles. We must ensure that our profession continues to progress and that we provide the best-educated officers possible to work in all facets of military and political operations.

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