I have been fortunate to have served in positions that enabled me to learn from our Army’s senior leaders in a variety of settings. I have had a tactical command in the U.S. Army Military District of Washington and served on an operations staff in the bowels of the Pentagon, and I am presently serving at the pinnacle of strategic education at the U.S. Army War College. These experiences have given me the opportunity to contemplate the spectrum of training and education in the Army’s professional development program.
The Army’s goal is to develop a force that is properly trained and sufficiently educated to execute Mission Command in a complex and uncertain environment. Therefore, a hard look must be applied to the ratio of training and education at each phase of professional military education and specifically, at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC).
During the Vietnam War, with the U.S. fighting force composed primarily of draftees, leaders focused on training for the task at hand. Training in the science of tactics prevailed over education; draftees were not informed about the art of war for an uncertain future.
For the most part, officers today remain influenced by this “competency theory” approach. This assembly line methodology can produce large quantities of soldiers capable of executing tasks to a consistent standard. However, it often fails to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes required of genuinely professional officers, NCOs and senior leaders.
From May 2011 to May 2013, I commanded the 911th Technical Rescue Engineer Company at Fort Belvoir, Va. The 911th is highly trained to perform rescue operations in the National Capital Region in response to natural or man-made disasters. During my tenure, the Army provided little doctrinal or training material on technical rescue tasks; therefore, the National Fire Protection Agency Manual 1670: Standard on Operations and Training for Technical Search and Rescue Incidents was the key manual we used to develop our training course.
Something Important Missing
Accordingly, we taught soldiers to execute specific tasks that could be applied to a given scenario. For example, they learned how to take an air monitor reading when entering a confined space, and how to rig a lifting system. But something important was missing.
Competency theory is the basis for the familiar training paradigm of task, conditions and standards. The Army is extremely comfortable with that methodology, and so senior NCOs and I trained soldiers by the numbers. Soldiers learned how to perform the task at hand, but few had a genuine understanding of why and whether to execute the task.
We were not educating soldiers to understand that as they conducted air monitoring, gases stratify because of their molecular densities. Also, they did not think about the complexities of a lift and thus, did not anticipate the secondary and tertiary effects of shifting loads.
I began to realize that both training and education were required to develop leaders in my unit. But how much of each, and at what level? And for the military professional, where is the threshold in our careers when we should cross over from being trained to being educated?
Understanding the Debate
To fully understand the debate on training and education and effects on the Army professional military education system, it is useful to gain a better understanding of the terms. According to Army Doctrine Publication 3-90: Offense and Defense, “The art of tactics consists of three interrelated aspects: the creative and flexible array of means to accomplish assigned missions, decisionmaking under conditions of uncertainty when faced with a thinking and adaptive enemy, and understanding the effects of combat on soldiers.”
The publication also states that “the science of tactics encompasses the understanding of those military aspects of tactics—capabilities, techniques and procedures—that can be measured and codified.”
“Mission Command is the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations,” according to Army Doctrine Publication 6-0: Mission Command.
Merriam-Webster provides two useful definitions: Training is the “process by which someone is taught the skills that are needed for an art, profession or job”; and education is “the knowledge, skill and understanding” obtained from “attending a school, college or university.” Importantly, training establishes the foundation for education.
Some studies have focused on the desired goal to determine the correct path to choose when debating education or training. The basic premise is that when learners want to achieve the same status as those above them, they seek to be trained. But if learners seek to surpass their supervisors, then education produces the different mindset and frame of reference to prepare them for exercising leadership.
Deemed by many to be the model of the future, Outcomes-Based Training and Education (OBTE) was created by then-Col. Casey Haskins at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga., in response to changes in the operational environment. Now-retired Gen. Martin E. Dempsey adopted OBTE at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) in 2009. OBTE combined the “competency theory” training concepts of task, conditions and standards with developed tactics, techniques and procedures.
Integral to OBTE is the understanding of “why” based on fundamental principles that enable guided decisionmaking and initiative to achieve a desired outcome. Fundamentally, OBTE enables learners to achieve the commander’s intent without having to blindly follow a prescribed set of procedures. Training by the numbers fell to the wayside.
TRADOC Pamphlet 525-8-2: The U.S. Army Learning Concept for 2015, published in January 2011, presented a learning model in which self-development, institutional instruction and operational experience are blended to facilitate lifelong learning. The Army’s goal is to move away from relying on technology, tactics, techniques and procedures to further facilitate Mission Command so leaders and soldiers can adapt appropriately to a situation.
Creating Lifelong Learners
TRADOC also developed the Continuous Adaptive Learning Model and proposed a career-spanning framework of learning to create lifelong learners. It established guidelines that enable soldiers to exercise the baseline skills that ensure the science of tactical and technical competence in full-spectrum operations, and integrated competencies that develop adaptive and resilient soldiers and leaders who can think critically and act ethically—the art—throughout their career and beyond.
The framework does well in laying out the learning gates during career progression: initial entry and then midgrade, intermediate and strategic levels. However, it is missing a critical guideline ratio of training to education at each gate to ensure the overall intent of the learning process is met.
From what I’ve seen at the War College, the knowledge, skills and attributes needed by successful senior leaders must constantly be developed throughout their professional military education, as identified in the Continuous Adaptive Learning Model. However, to achieve the desired balance between art and science, training and education must be adjusted through the phases of professional military education.
There is an asymptotic relationship between training and education throughout an Army career. At the earliest stages, such as basic training and the Basic Officer Leaders Course, training of specific skills dominates. Education clearly dominates at the most senior of courses. Although the ratio changes, both training and education are always required, and a percentage of each is required throughout the learning process. At the CGSC, the threshold is breached; the ratio of training to education must become more heavily weighted toward education.
TRADOC seeks to consolidate education through the development of Army University. The Army University White Paper Educating Leaders to Win in a Complex World identifies issues that are restricting the growth of our educational enterprise. If Army University endeavors to restore the academic rigor, break the assembly line approach and re-establish the prestige in our education system, the starting point must be CGSC. This also ensures that the proper ratio of training to education needed for graduate-level education is maintained.
As Lt. Gen. John H. Cushman argued in the mid-1970s, CGSC must build the knowledge base for future strategic leadership in topics such as the theory of war and strategy. CGSC must also continue the development of doctrinal skills and tactics required for staff officers while reinforcing attributes required for senior leadership. Conversely, for junior officers, NCOs and soldiers, the ratio should be heavily weighted toward training.
In today’s operational environment in a complex world, we must be capable of assessing a situation and thinking outside the box to develop solutions that account for the complexity of a situation. Mission Command fosters decentralized execution based on decisions and actions made at lower levels of command. Therefore, leaders must be capable of critical thinking and creative reasoning at every level.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley has renewed the focus on developing leaders who are strategically minded and capable of engaging in serious deliberations with the best of our civilian national security advisers and leaders. To ensure, then, that the overall intent of the learning process is achieved at every level in the career span framework, TRADOC and Army University leaders should establish ratios of training to education.