The Best Defense

10 things I don't get about PME

By Harun Dogo

Best Defense guest columnist

1. Why do we send field grade officers to two or three separate, year-long schools over the course of a decade? In fact, why do we send so many of them for a year of schooling a few years before they retire?

2. If the Army can teach the staff college core at their satellite campuses in 15 weeks, what do we get from the in-resident students for the other eight months of residence that makes the added cost worth it?

3. The objective of both SAMS/SAASS and the War College is to teach strategy. In fact there is much overlap in their reading material. If we really need a number of "Jedi" strategist majors running around, why not just send them to War College early?

4. The Air Force in particular has long had a bit of schizophrenia about whether its officers are required to have a master's degree completed before they meet their major's board. As a result, many of those officers pick up an online master's degree somewhere along the way -- oftentimes those degrees are in a subject area very similar to PME -- see some of AMU's offerings or even the AU's own online programs. With the staff and war colleges both conferring the master's degree too -- is it really necessary for officers to pursue up to three master's degrees in the same subject area over the course of a decade?

5. With the sole exception of the Eisenhower School at the National Defense University (the former Industrial College of the Armed Forces -- ICAF), PME core curricula do not seem to include serious instruction in resource management, economics or statistics. Can strategy that does not consider resource implications still be called a "strategy"? Particularly since DOD might be a tad more resource constrained in the future than it has been in the past...

6. Why does everyone have to study the same thing? Social psychology literature tells us that a greater diversity of experiences and backgrounds makes us better at innovating and avoiding groupthink, despite a greater proclivity for clashing opinions. Why not allow officers to pursue a diversity of graduate opportunities instead -- MBAs, MPPs, master's degrees in social science, engineering or (gasp!) basic science? DOD's corporate universities (NPS and AFIT) could pick up some of it, while still enabling students to complete the core staff/war college courses. For those going out to a civilian university, they can take their indoctrination at a distance or spend the summer re-militarizing their thinking...

7. If the goal of war college is to ensure we have senior military leaders who are familiar with strategic thought, rather than trying to identify those with flag potential among PME students when they are majors, why not wait until they are selected for flag rank and then have them attend whatever strategy education we deem to be necessary? Between the four services there are approximately 100 new flag officers per year, and all of those officers already have to attend the CAPSTONE course. Making war college only a general's course or making it six months like the NATO course in Rome might be a more efficient way of making senior officers more strategic...

8. Why not let promising officers attend PME earlier? George Marshall attended staff college six years into his military career. He seemed to do OK in the long run...

9. We already send a fraction of eligible officers to detail with other government departments, non-profit organizations, or businesses in lieu of attending PME. If those experiences are just as valuable as in-residence education, then why not make them more pervasive at the intermediate level? It might help with that pesky retention problem, or serve as a bridge to that sabbatical idea folks want to see...

10. All that said, it appears that attendance of in-residence PME is (at least in certain services) a signaling device for promotion and a reward for top performers. It can also be seen as an opportunity for a frequently deployed force to rest and recuperate and spend some uninterrupted family time. But the current PME framework has been around since the 19th century -- the world and the military have both changed a bit since then -- is this still the best system we can come up with?

Harun Dogo is a doctoral fellow at the Pardee RAND Graduate School and is currently based in Washington DC. He also hangs with his homeys in the CNAS Next Generation National Security Leaders 2012-2013 cohort.

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