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Preliminary Summary Analysis

of the

Conference on Professional Military Education for the 21st Century Warrior

sponsored by the

Naval Postgraduate School and Office of Naval Research


On January 15, 1998 the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and the Office of Naval Research hosted a historic two-day conference on professional military education (PME). Representatives of virtually the entire PME community met for the first time to examine the most fundamental issues confronting military education as the defense establishment moves into the 21st Century. In addition to senior officers from the PME schools, attendees included several members of Congress and congressional staffs; personnel representing the Secretary of Defense, each military department and service, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and a number of defense intellectuals from academe and defense-oriented institutions.

Analysis of this Conference Proceedings reveals a number of insights on the major issues of concern to the conferees. Although the following observations, findings and conclusions are based upon a preliminary analysis of the text of the Proceedings, not a poll of the participants, the presentation of each issue attempts to stay within the bounds of the views of the conferees.

Principal Observations, Findings, and Conclusions

A. Professional military education is important - crucial - if the United States is to continue to develop the world-class professional officer corps required to maintain the nation’s preeminent standing among the world’s militaries. Analysis of the Proceedings leaves little doubt about the importance the conferees placed on maintaining a healthy, vigorous regimen of professional military education for the officer corps.

Officer individual development. Professional military education is a key element in the development of individual officers who possess the characteristics needed at the outset of the 21st Century. The Proceedings yield a valuable catalog of the attributes required of the 21st Century officer, a spectrum that includes:

Officer corps development. Professional military education is critical to developing and maintaining an officer corps throughout the armed forces with collective attributes that make it capable of responding successfully to the challenges of the present and future national security environment. Based on the Proceedings, those attributes can be summarized as follows:

The officer corps should be composed of leaders prepared to meet the challenges of the future. It should contain the requisite number of strategists. It should be prepared to cope with the interactive nature of warfare as a consequence of its knowledge of military history and military art. It should be capable of maintaining the U.S. armed forces’ operational and technical superiority over other nations’ militaries. It should understand and support the subordinate position of the military with respect to civil authority in a democratic society. It should be linked internally through a network of inter-service personal contacts that foster trust and facilitate coordinated multi-service operations. In sum, it should be an officer corps whose education, training, and experience are force-multipliers in and of themselves.

Learning from "old warriors" is especially important in a period when combat experience of the officer corps in increasingly limited. PME is the principal means of imparting the knowledge and experience of "old warriors" to "young warriors". PME serves as the surrogate to pass on and inculcate crucial combat values, skills, and tactics. It teaches what has worked. And it emphasizes what has failed, including past failures to respond to emerging conditions that led to military disasters: failures to adapt to technology, to recognize the necessity to understand foreign cultures, and to take account of geopolitical, economic, and other factors.

Professional military education can also be a means of fostering innovative thinking about the future based on the experiences of the past. Particularly important today, it has the potential to foster thinking about how new technologies affect military operations - how to match doctrine, organizational structure, and weapons development and acquisition.

Professional military education facilitates the adaptation of large organizations such as the services and the Department of Defense as a whole to the challenges of the future. Organizations of this size cannot be changed through top-down direction; educating their future leaders about the challenges of the future and the implications of evolving changes in their organization’s external environment is the key to making these organizations responsive to change.

Professional military education provides conditions conducive to the development of inter-service contacts among officers and the resulting trust that facilitates joint action of the armed forces as a unified team of land, sea, air, and marine forces.

B. The PME community is not in agreement on what Professional Military Education is.

Structural issues. Is PME, as it has been traditionally regarded, confined to the curriculums of the intermediate and senior military schools? Or is it "cradle to grave", extending from ROTC and the academies through the panoply of service training and education courses, including post-graduate studies, undertaken by each officer? Or is it the career-long individual study of military affairs? Should it be focused on a select few officers or should it be made available to as many officers as possible?

Until questions such as these are answered it will be impossible to develop a coherent framework for professional military educational development.

Questions concerning the substance of PME. Is the subject matter of PME properly confined to the study of the history of warfare, strategy, tactics, operations, the international environment, and the U. S. defense establishment or should it include technology, peacetime contingencies, and the cultures of allies and potential adversaries?

Conferees disagreed on these questions, particularly with respect to the study of technology. A few believed that the traditional history-strategy-operations approach remains preferable. At the other end of the spectrum, some conferees believed that technical studies should be considered to be PME and that those studies must be completely independent of the traditional courses. General Sheehan, former ACOM commander, opined that the legacy characteristics of the PME system might be an impediment to providing the education officers need today. Those favoring more emphasis on technology faulted the current approach for its inability to cope with the requirement that all officers today should be technically "literate" and for failing to fulfill the expanding needs for technically skilled officers. Most conferees endorsed the validity of the traditional approach but in varying degrees acknowledged that PME should devote more attention to equipping officers to handle the technological challenges of the revolution in military affairs.

Admiral Blair, the Director of the Joint Staff, suggested that the traditional approach be modified to focus on recent military history (which has been heavily influenced by technological change). Representative Skelton acknowledged the need to devote more attention to technology but disagreed that the treatment of the lessons of military history should be shortened to cover only a few decades of the 20th Century.

Representative Skelton proposed that the Naval Postgraduate School serve as a test bed for developing an intermediate course that combines the traditional approach and a focus on technology into an integrated PME program.

C. The current officer career development systems are seriously flawed. The current service systems fail to provide sufficient time for officers to complete the requirements for operational and command experience, joint duty, post-graduate and professional military education, and service staff assignments expected of them.

The Proceedings suggest that a large portion of the conferees believed that the service personnel systems, shaped in and immediately after WWII, need to be changed not only to allow sufficient time for PME but also to make room for other, fundamentally important career experiences. Some participants indicated that the personnel systems hurry officers through assignments too quickly and they fail to obtain the needed command, staff, and operational experience. Admiral Oliver, Chief of Navy Personnel, stated that we don’t have the right educational paradigm; for example, officers are forced to obtain their graduate degrees in the narrow career window between six and eleven years of service when they face crucially important career operational demands. Other participants noted that the Goldwater-Nichols Act added requirements for joint PME and a joint duty assignment to already over-crowded careers. At least one conferee suggested that the current officer career systems are developing the wrong kind of human capital for the future.

The conferees suggested a number of approaches to improving the career development system.

With respect to military education, one participant suggested reducing the proportion of officers attending PME schools. Other participants who favored making PME available to as many officers as possible suggested consideration of a "bookend" approach with relatively short in-residence periods at the beginning and end of PME programs. One conferee suggested "frontloading" PME as much as possible to ROTC and academy pre-commissioning programs.

With respect to the career development systems in general, Admiral Oliver suggested that consideration be given to lengthening careers or allowing a "time-out" (i.e., sabbatical) for post-graduate education. He also suggested that more advanced education might be required as a condition of accession. Mr. Harry Thie of the RAND Corporation also emphasized the need to lengthen officer careers. Other suggestions included adopting multiple paths to career development and overpopulating the officer corps to allow time for education and other non-operational career requirements.

D. The Department of Defense has not established a joint career development program, including provision for PME, for the Reserve Components as envisioned in the Goldwater-Nichols Act.

E. In a period of severe cutbacks in the Defense budget, PME is seriously under-funded and over-stretched.

F. Senior leadership, military and civilian, service and joint, should become more involved in PME in order to correct its deficiencies. A vision of what the defense community wants the output of military education to be and a corresponding plan to achieve that vision is needed. Senior leadership should ensure that PME is emphasized appropriately and adequately funded. The unified and specified commanders should become more involved in PME, especially in the schools’ exercises and war games.

G. Additional problems voiced by one or more participants:

Intermediate and senior PME programs should be more rigorous. All vestiges of the cultural problem of viewing the PME programs as so-called "gentlemen’s schools" with loose academic requirements and ample time to lower the golf handicap should be eliminated. Representative Buyer

PME faculties need to be improved. Talented officers who have the potential to be future service leaders should be assigned to the faculties. Today, assignment to a PME faculty can jeopardize a career. One participant suggested board-selecting officers for faculty positions or extending Goldwater-Nichols promotion incentives to PME faculty positions. Another conferee suggested establishing an exchange program for civilian faculties in order to make them more "joint." More investment in faculty education was also recommended.

Performance in PME programs is not linked to career success. General Holder emphasized that if PME is to be valued the reward system must be altered. He suggested tying future assignments and promotions to PME performance. Corollary measures include requiring PME as a prerequisite for promotion to flag/general officer rank and establishing entry requirements for PME schools.

The Armed Forces Staff College Phase II joint PME course does not provide sufficient "value added" to the service Phase I joint courses. This shortcoming is amplified by the scheduling problem that requires many officers to leave their joint assignments for twelve weeks to attend AFSC.

Attrition of academy graduates is far too high. Representative Buyer

There is an overage in the number of ROTC programs that should be corrected. Representative Buyer

One participant suggested that there is a growing schism between societal ideals and those of the military. The PME schools, he indicated, should play a key role in eliminating any differences that might undermine the preeminence of civil authorities with respect to the military. The PME schools must stay in touch with the American people. In this context, a conferee also suggested that officers attend civilian universities for graduate education.


The Conference on Professional Military Education for the 21st Century Warrior was a remarkable event in that it convened representatives of the entire PME community for the first time and facilitated the identification of the issues of major concern to that community. Its Proceedings provide a valuable discussion of the attributes that will be needed in the 21st Century officer corps. The Conference also elucidated the crucial role professional military education must play in developing that officer corps. Finally, the Conference highlighted a number of problems that currently detract from professional military education, not least of which is the absence of an agreed understanding of what constitutes PME.