The foundation (3) (A modest proposal … of sorts)

Some months ago I wrote at some length about the importance of junior leadership in, especially, the Army and I made a few concrete suggestions, all related to this notion …


… although “Monty” was talking about officers, the idea applies equally to soldiers: junior non-commissioned officers (corporals) will become the sergeant majors in the next war.

I am concerned that in officer training and development we are following the US down another rat hole. I keep hearing that the focus of officer development has shifted towards producing “senior managers” and that to that end mid-ranked officers (majors and lieutenant colonels) will, increasingly be required to have a master’s degree in some subject and that, increasingly, the staff college is being focused on providing a “professional” master’s degree. I am certainly not opposed to a better educated officer corps but I share the ideas of Professor David Last of the Royal Military College who wrote, back in 2004, that “It is unfortunate in some ways that officers are advised to obtain a degree, rather than an education. Of course, it is easier to identify a degree than an educated mind. I know officers with a superb professional education – well read, articulate, critical and open-minded – who have somehow escaped ‘higher education’ entirely. I know others whose ticket-punching university degrees have left them just as resistant to new knowledge and as suspicious of ideas as they were before the parchment was inked.

In the wake of the Somalia Inquiry it was agreed by the great and the good in government and in the military that the leadership in, especially, one of the Army’s units was deficient. Many academics were asked how we could produce better officer and they, not unsurprisingly, said: higher academic standards because they noted that some (most?) of the failed leaders were poorly educated.  As I said, I don’t disagree that a better educated officer corps is likely to be qualitatively better but I’m not sure that advanced degrees are the answer … not for most general service officers, anyway.

One thing that concerns me is that I am pretty certain that many, many young naval and military officers are forced to make career choices before they are ready and so we end up with air combat systems officers (the people we used to call navigators) who really want to be accountants and combat engineer officers who really should be computer or communications specialists.

I would like to see an office corps in which the overwhelming majority enter at the age of 18 to 19, fresh out of high school, and then undergo an intensive (first phase) military Campus_2education and training regimen that, in one (and only one) Royal Military College and in separate specialist military technical schools, produces naval operations, combat arms (infantry, armoured, artillery), supply and transport and aircrew officers in, say, a 12 to 24 month period. (Of course, we would be looking for the same sorts of 18 and 19 year olds as we are today: good scholars, good, active, athletes, and student leaders.) After their initial training they would serve (a second phase) in ships, army units and flying squadrons for another, say, 12 to 36 months before they would, now at the age of, say,  20 to 25, have to make a degree choice. Some would be happy where they are, others would want to change occupations ~ branches like marine engineering, combat engineering, army signals or RCAF communications and electronics, finance, land maintenance and so on would be open only to experienced officers who had completed, by age 24 to 30, both an appropriate degree and professional, specialist training. Some, but not all of those degrees would be offered in the Royal Military College; the Royal Military College would also offer, as its main purpose, bachelor’s degrees in the Military Arts and Sciences and in Military Logistics. It is during this third phase that officers would undergo second language training. A few officers would, during this phase of their education and training, be offered enrolment in professional schools for, say, law, medicine, nursing, dentistry and so on. The fourth phase of a junior officers’ life, one to five further years, would be done, once again, in a ship, unit or squadron. Staff training, headquarters employment and advanced degrees would follow in the later years of an officer’s service ~ from, say, year 11 to year 30+.

At about the age of 28 to 35, having completed 10 years of service, junior officers and the military would decide on futures: some officers will want to return to civilian life ~ educated, trained and experienced (at public expense) and, we must hope, with a favourable attitude towards their country and the CF; others will want to remain in the Canadian Forces and the CF will choose who it wants from that group.

Now, clearly, this is not a fully formed proposal … it is, rather, just an idea that I toss out for consideration of another way to provide the best possible training for our most important people: the junior leaders of today. I know that a few people who are much smarter than I and who have some ideas about this read this blog and I hope that they will find something worth chewing on in this post.

My primary worry remains with the selection, training, employment and development of the corporals whose situation is, in my opinion, in greater need of rethinking and reformation than is the situation of the officer corps.

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