By Luke Hutchison
Best Defense department of military education reformation
When West Point was founded over 200 years ago, it was created
to fix a key problem in the Army, the lack of officers with engineering
skills. Without officers who knew how to
build roads, construct forts and fire artillery accurately -- the Army would be
completely ineffective. With no engineering programs at other American
universities and a problem that required more than basic training, Colonel
Thayer set out to make a rigorous academic program based on an engineering
curriculum. Today, West Point needs to
assess just like Colonel Thayer did over 200 years ago, what is required of its
graduates so that they will best contribute to the common defense.
Today education in Strategic Studies -- understanding how to
develop and execute strategy in complex and protracted conflicts that go far
beyond just tactical symbols -- is seriously lacking. The U.S. Army in Iraq had to pull a complete
180 degree turn in strategy, scrapping up a "victory" by the skin of its teeth --
losing many more lives in the process and fixing American combat power in Iraq
while the insurgency in Afghanistan regrouped.
Today in Afghanistan, as over one hundred thousand ISAF soldiers fight on
in their 11th year in that country, they find themselves in a much harder and
far longer fight than anyone anticipated. How was a better trained, better equipped, and more numerous army
ensnared twice in a decade and nearly defeated by poorly trained and equipped
insurgents? A lack of Strategic Studies
education at West Point certainly may be a place to start. Just as Colonel Thayer identified engineering
as the key area of study graduates needed 200 years ago to provide for the
common defense, today it is Strategic Studies that needs to be focused on.
West Point's faculty have done a tremendous job adding
relevant Strategic Studies related courses such as: Advanced International
Relations, Counterinsurgency Operations, Terrorism and Counter Terrorism,
Information Warfare, Winning the Peace, and Negotiation for Leaders. Yet outdated
policies bar the vast majority of cadets from taking courses such as
Counterinsurgency Operations, which has space for less than 10 percent of cadets. In
particular, West Point still requires all cadets who are not engineering majors
to take an additional three course Engineering Sequence, adding an additional
120 class hours. Cadets complete this
watered-down engineering minor with no additional credentials, except being
more "aware" of engineering. I am hardly
the first to question this Engineering Sequence. West Point's dean from
2000-2005 attempted to remove the Engineering Sequence, but was only successful
in trimming it from five courses to the three it is today.
Replacing the Engineering Sequence with three required
courses in Strategic Studies could have real tangible benefits to mission
success. Had more cadets taken
Counterinsurgency Operations, perhaps the chaos in Iraq could have been
avoided. Instead of requiring an
insurgency of officers within the Army to make an about-face in strategy, the counterinsurgency concepts would have already been broadly understood. Advanced International Relations would allow
graduates to better explain to our allies why the United States is "tilting" to one region
of the world instead of another and critically assess the strengths and
weaknesses of such a shift. The Conflict
Resolution, Analysis, and Negotiation course would help officers understand
that the conflict in Afghanistan is probably driven much more by regional
forces than by internal ones. Negotiation for Leaders would have made an
effective Key Leader Engagement second nature, instead of being awkward and
counterproductive. Or a platoon leaders'
first time visiting a mosque wouldn't have been in Iraq, but in Winning the
Peace, where they would have already visited a mosque and learned about the
intricacies of other world religions.
Organizations outside of West Point have already embraced
West Point's robust Strategic Studies courses. The FBI, NYPD, and members of
Congress rely on the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point for some of their
education on terrorism. Navy SEAL teams
and Special Forces groups fly teams from the West Point Negotiation Project
across the country to teach them how to improve their negotiation ability. How
is West Point missing this great opportunity right under its nose?
The world has changed a lot in 200 years, and so has what is
required of Army officers -- it is time that West Point catches up. Removing the Engineering Sequence
requirement, and replacing it with courses on Strategic Studies, seems like a
good place to start.
Luke Hutchison is a cadet in the class of 2013 at West
Point. The opinions expressed herein are
his alone and do not represent the official position of the Department of
Defense, United States Army, or the United States Military Academy.
ISAF Troop Numbers
Latest USMA policy found
in the USMA academic guide the "Red Book"
Operations course #s
This academic year there
are 74 openings (Red Book). Spread over four years this would be a total of 296 openings for the 4,624 cadets enrolled at
West Point, or 0.064 percent. There are many ways to calculate it but I think that is about as
hi-balled as a number as you could make, giving West Point the benefit of the
Dean from 2000-2005
attempting to remove requirement.
Email from a USMA
No other engineering programs
at West Point founding.
Existing Courses at West
USMA academic guide the
Winning the Peace course
visiting a mosque.
FBI and intelligence
community using Combating Terrorism Center.
Navy Seals and Special
Forces using West Point Negotiation Project.