Army Debates How to Accomplish Leader Development

By Valerie Insinna
The end of the war in Afghanistan is prompting the Army to look at how it can refocus on education and leader development while still retaining the operational knowledge gained through more than a decade in combat.
Prolonged experience in two wars has resulted in greater decentralization, and leaders now expect greater freedom of action from officers, said retired Army Gen. Frederick Franks, chair of the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic at West Point.
“How do we keep that going in an environment where we will likely not be deployed as often ...  and with reduced resources?” Franks said at an Oct. 24 panel at the Association of the U.S. Army annual convention in Washington, D.C.
The idea of decentralization is essential to the concept of mission command, which gives lower-level leaders freedom to execute commands how they best see fit.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno has said mission command is fundamental to ensuring the Army can meet future threats, and a new doctrine on the concept was published in May 2012.
Leadership rightly focused on war fighting rather than ensuring timely education for commissioned officers, warrant officers and noncommissioned officers, but now it’s time to get back on track, said Brig. Gen. Gordon Davis, the deputy commandant for the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
As a result more than a third of current staff college students are backtracking to learn skills that they were asked to do during war time, said Davis. “That meant that although it was a great experience, they probably weren't producing the output that commands expect of them or that they could have produced had they been through the course."
The career timeline for officers is flexible, but the past decade has skewed that timeline, said Maj. Gen. Richard Mustion, commanding general for U.S. Army Human Resources Command.
“Our pin on points for promotion were accelerated so that we could build leaders and get leaders into position. … And we had very high rates of promotion,” he said.
Pin on points for the ranks of captain and major had dropped for the ranks of captain and major to as low as 36 months and nine years, respectively. Human Resources Command is now focusing on “renormalizing” the officer career timeline so that the average point of promotion will be 48 months for captain and 10.5 years for major, Mustion said.
Officers have become masters at tactical operations through successive assignments, but lingering in those jobs has deprived them of opportunities that could give a broader understanding of the overall operating environment, Mustion said.  For example, instead of spending 18 to 24 months attending intermediate level education, many majors were serving that time in operational assignments.
Still, a colonel with 22 years of experience has only spent about three years in the classroom, said Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commandant of the U.S. Army War College. "The leader development responsibility ... actually resides out in the operational force."
One way Army units stationed abroad can do leader development is to revisit the seven-step military decision making process, said Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commanding officer of the 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson.
"We'd like to say particularly in the old COIN [counterinsurgency] days that we didn't have time for that, we didn’t need to worry about that. I think we've learned that was a mistake,” he said.
As the army moves from a counterinsurgency style to decisive action environment, adaptiveness will be more important than ever, Anderson continued.  
"When you take a unit and get out of the old COIN model and actually have to go out and do gunnery, attack, defend, move into contact, screen, breach an obstacle ... there are folks that have no idea what you're talking about,” he said.
Photo Credit: iStockphoto

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Leadership, DOD Policy

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