Producing military officers

I have commented, before, about the need to get the foundation (base) of the military’s leadership pyramid right and I made some suggestions about, especially, the non-commissioned officer ranks and the rank and trade structure. Today, following on from my thoughts (of a few days ago) about military education and training, I want to focus on the junior officers.

For many centuries, even millennia, the only reason to have junior officers was to give them exposure (to “blood” them, as it was often put) in order that they might become senior officers – legion and later regimental, brigade and division commanders. This is, to some extent, still the system in continental Europe and, to a lesser degree, in the United States where junior commanders are often directed and closely supervised by regimental staff officers. The British had, especially in India and in North America, in the 18th and 19th centuries, a very different colonial/military experience and the idea of the very junior officer as a real leader, in his own right, was born. By the end of the 19th century, after the Cardwell Reforms, the British Army looked, simultaneously, a little more and a little less Prussian: it was more fair and efficient and had a trusted “reserve” component at home (lessons from the Franco-Prussian Wars) but it also pushed real leadership “down” to lower and lower levels (a lesson from Britain’s Navy) and this empowered the sellarrommelmost junior officers and required that they have more and more professional training. Without, for a moment, questioning the skill and raw courage of the German officer corps, I feel confident in saying that, generally, the Australian, British and Canadian armies were better led at the bottom and that top rate (Anglosphere) junior leadership often compensated for much better (German) generalship. (By the way the Canadian junior officer was then (October 1944) Lieutenant Gordon Sellar commander of of the Calgary Highlanders’ sniper platoon; he retired as Brigadier General Sellar after a distinguished career that included command of the Black Watch. I was proud to have known him.)

In any event the Canadian system has been, almost exclusively, based on adaptations of the British model – it has proven to work in battle from 1885 until now. There is not, I think, any good argument for migrating further away from it. In fact I continue to argue that our current (heavily Americanized) staff structure should revert towards the simpler, clearer, lower ranked staff system and superstructure that we began to abandon circa 1970.

There are, broadly, two sorts of officers in the Canadian Armed Forces:

  • Specialists, like doctors, lawyers, psychologists, nurses, social workers and dentists who require specialist (college) certification to serve in their professional capacity; and
  • General service officers who may be subdivided by either ~
    • Occupation –
      • Combatant officers in the Navy, Army (infantry, armoured (tank), artillery) and Air Force (air crew),
      • Engineers, also in all three services, and
      • Support officers including e.g. logisticians and administrative officers, or
    • By entry programme –
      • Commissioned from the ranks, usually directly from, say, chief warrant officer to captain,
      • Direct entry, which means that the offi er candidate already has ca university degree, and
      • Officer training plans in which the Canadian Forces provides both post secondary education and military training.

Campus_2I believe that all officers, every single one, including chaplains, should pas through one (and only one), single “gate:” The Royal Military College (RMC) of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. Some officers will spend years at RMC earning a university degree and learning to be officers, others might spend only a few weeks (specialists and officers commissioned from the ranks), being “oriented” and introduced to the military, or, at most, months (direct entry officers) being given basic and common officer training.

There is always an attempt to turn back the clock in the Canadian Armed Forces and one 66-BEAUVAIS-image22011-12-21pet project of a  certain number of generals and politicians is to resurrect the Collège militaire royal (CMR) de Saint-Jean in Quebec. It is neither necessary nor, even, desirable. Unity is more important that language rights ,and one military college, one “gate” through which every officer passes negates any perceived requirement for CMR St Jean. In fact, the very best thing that could happen to the Canadian Forces would be to transfer both CMR St Jean and the so called “Megaplex” the Canadian st-jean_buildingForces Leadership and Recruit School complex to a Quebec university. Quebec needs something akin to Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute more than it or the Canadian Forces needs the schools at St Jean … everything done at St Jean can be done as cheaply and, almost certainly, better in other places.

I must emphasize here that I am not a graduate of the Royal Military College, nor of Royal Roads or Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, either. I joined the army as a private soldier and was commissioned under a different officer production system.

The Royal Military College should, as I said, conduct three programmes:

  • Introductory (basic) military training and orientation for specialist officers ~ probably a six to twelve week programme leading into more training at service schools;
  • A longer course, possible something in the order of 10 to, even, 40 weeks for direct entry officers who are going to be general service officers; and
  • A full, four year degree programme for some general service officers.

In the past few years it appears that the Canadian Armed Forces wants to train more and more (most? almost all?) general service officers at RMC. I’m not persuaded that this is a good idea. Let me say, at the outset, that RMC is a good university and produces good officers ~ but equally good officers come from the University of Manitoba, Western (London, ON) and Memorial University (Newfoundland). I’m not convinced that a “one size fits all” education system is best for the Canadian Armed Forces. I am persuaded that every general service officer should undergo the same “common core” programme (that 2lbbznn10 to 40 week thing I mentioned above) at the Royal Military College. It should be an unforgettable experience that will, unite all general service officers throughout their career and will act as a bkg-rmcfoundation-academicsgreat leveller: each officer will know that every other officer underwent the same experiences ~ hard, tiring, even, sometimes, frightening ~ as (s)he did. That’s why I would, personally, favour a five year programme for many general service officers: a first year (40± weeks) for everyone* at RMC in Kingston followed by three or four years at RMC or a four year degree programme at an other university ~ at anywhere from Royal Roads on Vancouver Island to Memorial in St John’s. But those are personal preferences and I’m not any sort of expert in the field of education, proper ~ but my vision is that RMC would run only a few engineering programmes and would focus, instead on five degree programmes:

  • Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Military Arts and Sciences;
  • Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Military Logistics and Management; and
  • Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical, Combat and Marine Systems Engineering.

Students might be able to finish the BA in Military Arts and Sciences (something akin to Strategic Studies, but at the undergraduate level) or Logistics in three years.

I believe that the right leaders for the Canadian Armed Forces are, equally, well educated and well trained. Most, the general service officers, should undertake a rigorous military training regime before, in most cases, they go on to be educated at public expense; ALL should undertake the same, unforgettable, rigorous officer training that will bind them all together in their future military careers and, indeed, in life. The specialist and commissioned from the ranks officers should also pass through parts of the “gate” so that they, too, are part of the “family.”

universityLogoLarge_p190tults51oqodvp1jtr1gpsh374The heart of the system that I would prefer is the Royal Military College in Kingston. (I know that a few animals have more than one heart, but I’m not sure that earthworms are a good model for  military education and training.) We need one, and only one, Royal Military College, and it needs to provide a unifying experience in the careers of all officers.


* Except the specialists and commissioned from the ranks officers who will have (a) different programme(s) tailored to their special needs

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

4 thoughts on “Producing military officers

  1. I agree with your general premise of a common gateway – this is how the Brits and Aussies do things. I do think the RMC should get out of the Undergrad degree business; the institution need not worry itself with providing a liberal education when Canada has a suitable civilian system to do so. The RMC should be a “finishing school”, taking young Canadians with a liberal education and infusing them with a military education in a year long program.

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