Congress wants troops to focus on academics
WASHINGTON — A new congressional study calls for more emphasis on professional military education in officers’ careers, saying such experience helps create the great battlefield strategists of the future.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee who worked on the study, released Thursday, said scholarly work is still not widely regarded as advantageous to the career of a potential flag or general officer. In fact, trading warfighting missions for higher education can often be a detriment to promotions.
"You want to encourage strategic thinking in our top folks, but formally it hurts their career," said Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., one of the lead authors. "That needs to go away."
The study advocates senior officers should be afforded more opportunity to pursue higher degrees, both at Defense war colleges and outside institutions.
Today, those programs are mostly reserved for future faculty members, not potential battlefield strategists.
Lawmakers mentioned that one notable exception is U.S. Central Command commander Gen. David Petraeus, who earned his master’s and doctorate degrees while serving. They credited his leadership in Iraq at least in part to lessons he learned earning international relations degrees.
"You want to educate that certain person who has a bent toward strategic thinking, and fill them with knowledge and leadership ability," said committee chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo. "MacArthur. Eisenhower. These are big examples … where they can lead and make decisions that lead to victory."
The study authors said they believe most senior leadership is willing to support scholarly pursuits among select officers, but the demands of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have limited those opportunities.
Still, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., said joint military education courses provide critical insight even for lower-level officers, but they aren’t being used fully.
In recent years, the Army War College has developed an exchange program with the State Department, allowing a small number of soldiers to train with workers with the U.S. Agency for International Development or similar agencies while some members of the diplomatic corps attend military classes alongside officers.
The program has drawn high marks from both sides, but when lawmakers asked if similar programs were at work in the Navy and Air Force, they found officials there had no knowledge of it.
The study calls for improving communication between the defense war colleges and the department’s education oversight, but stopped short of recommending legislation to make such training a priority.