Analysis: Educating the Brass

July 6, 2012

Professional military education has an inside baseball stigma that is hard to shake. The topic often receives a "so what" shake of the head when it comes up for discussion at conferences. And it rarely comes up on Capitol Hill since Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the strongest advocate of professional training in the military, lost his seat in 2010.

Yet it was Congress that required two-tiered professional military education at the command and general staff colleges, war colleges, National Defense University and Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Thousands of officers eligible for promotion must complete specific education requirements before moving up in rank. This was a key ingredient in the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols reform law that emphasized unified mission objectives over service parochialism and the need for the military and civilian arms of government to work together to educate the nation's armed forces.

During the last 10 years of war, waivers of these requirements have been routinely given to officers focused on battlefield assignments, setting the military's academic programs adrift. The services insist there will be no more waivers. While combat experience is important, officials are saying service members must learn how to lead in other situations and will have to go to school to be promoted. We'll see. 

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