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Joint Chiefs Vision Changes Military Education Philosophy

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The Joint Chiefs of Staff have released their vision and guidance for officer professional military education, calling for a change in philosophy and tightly tying performance to assignments.

The document — signed by all eight members of the Joint Chiefs — will have far-reaching implications for officer education. It is titled "Developing Today's Joint Officers for Tomorrow's Ways of War," and it was published May 1.

Students listen to lecture.
Security Students
Joint military and international students attending U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I., participate in a national security decision-making seminar as part of their resident curriculum requirements.
Photo By: Navy Chief Petty Officer James Foehl
VIRIN: 131205-N-PX557-279

The aim is "the development of strategically minded joint warfighters, who think critically and can creatively apply military power to inform national strategy, conduct globally integrated operations and fight under conditions of disruptive change," the document states.

The vision and guidance is an outgrowth of the National Defense Strategy, which took effect in 2018. That document stated: "[Professional military education] has stagnated, focused more on the accomplishment of mandatory credit at the expense of lethality and ingenuity. We will emphasize intellectual leadership and military professionalism in the art and science of warfighting, deepening our knowledge of history while embracing new technology and techniques to counter competitors."

Professional military education will stress independence of action. The chiefs also see the program as a way to build trust and interoperability across the joint force and with allied and partner nations. 

Throughout the document, the chiefs emphasize the need to closely tie professional military education to the assignment process of the services. Change is needed in the services' talent management systems, they said. "Our vision is for a fully aligned PME and talent management system that identifies, develops, and utilizes strategically minded, critically thinking and creative joint warfighters skilled in the art of war and the practical and ethical application of lethal military power," the chiefs state in the document.

This is not change for change's sake, the chiefs said, noting that the shifting nature of war demands a new approach. Senior officers need to manage the continuous integration of national instruments of power and influence in support of national objectives, the chiefs said, and they need to manage the unprecedented degree of global integration.

Building framed by cherry blossoms.
National Defense University
The National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington, D.C.
Photo By: Rachel Larue, DOD
VIRIN: 000513-D-TV703-001

They need to encourage and embrace creative approaches to joint warfighting and sustaining campaign momentum, and senior officers will also need to work with interagency partners in the U.S. government as well as international allies and partners, the document says.

Senior officers also must understand the implications of disruptive and future technologies, the chiefs said.

These capabilities "are developed over a career and not as a result of episodic educational opportunities, especially when those opportunities are neither current nor rigorous," the chiefs said in their guidance. "Rather, these capabilities are honed over thousands of hours of deliberate practice, pushing cognitive limits and intellectual performance."

Officers must use their whole careers to "continually develop, refine, and exercise new intellectual skills, especially up to and including the most senior ranks," the chiefs' guidance says.

"Developing leaders who are competent in national-level decision-making requires broad revision of talent management among the Armed Services, including fellowships, civilian education, and assignments that increase understanding of interagency decision-making processes, as well as alliances and coalitions," the guidance says.

U.S. and allied officers sit together.
Defense Graduation
Graduates from U.S. and foreign militaries applaud during the National Defense University graduation at Fort McNair, Washington D.C., June 7, 2018.
Photo By: Army Sgt. James K. McCann, DOD
VIRIN: 180607-D-SW162-1136

The chiefs believe the military can do a better job of selecting officers for these higher assignments. "We must consistently prioritize critical and creative thinking, continuous learning and professional development, and the pursuit of transregional and cross-domain excellence in the development and assignment of joint warfighters," they said. "We will collectively identify follow-on assignments that continue to exercise and build the new intellectual capital created through PME."

To incorporate the chiefs' vision, service talent management systems are going to have to adjust. The chiefs call on the systems to reward continuous intellectual development and growth. The systems must hold officers to academic performance "and record that performance in their permanent records."

The chiefs want the system to "target officers who have performed well for follow-on assignments that hone newly acquired skills or broadening opportunities to apply their skills in different ways."

Finally, the chiefs want the systems to "match officers' cognitive attributes with appropriate PME opportunities and positions of responsibility."

The chiefs are calling for the concept of "jointness" to be infused earlier in officers' careers. "Service PME and leader development, not just intermediate and senior-level programs, require infusion of the joint context," the chiefs said in their guidance. "We cannot afford to treat jointness as an afterthought that can be bolted on later, in the midst of a crisis."

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