This summer there were two posts here at USNI that grew out of Professor Joan Johnson-Freese’s article “Teach Tough, Think Tough: Three Ways to Fix War Colleges”. At the time I paid little attention as the subject was tangential to my own interests. Days later the subject became directly relevant to me and I have been able to spend the last five months thinking about the article, posts, and comments and propose that it is neither the faculty (alone) or the administration (alone) who bears review…it is the assignment policies in regards to military faculty AND students that need review. My commentary is geared directly at the Naval War College and should be considered items of discussion and items for improvement. Should none of what I address be accomplished, the school will not suffer. It just won’t be as good as I think it could be.

To begin with, Professor Johnson-Freese’s criticism of the Navy faculty “retire-in-place” concept is dead on. While some of those retired Navy officers provide interesting viewpoint, many of them are inhibiting the hiring of professors with different viewpoints than the ones provided by 20 to 30 years of naval service. Her comments on hiring practices should be closely reviewed by the War Colleges, and those practices kept in mind when contracts are renewed by the school.

But, aren’t those RIP Navy officers qualified? Well, yes. On paper. They have PhDs. They are published. But by and large those PhDs are earned after retirement at local Rhode Island Schools. Publications are done internal to the War College in either faculty papers for student consumption or in the War College Review.

To my knowledge none were published, had doctoral degrees, or any advanced education outside of the Navy prior to attendance, assignment, and retirement at the War College. In and of itself that is not unusual for Naval Officers. But should we be placing “usual” Naval Officers as faculty at the home of Naval thought?

What about active duty faculty? Well, the same problem resides there. Of the Navy officers, most have not published. The one officer who had published prior to assignment at the War College is not a member of the teaching faculty. Wait? Not a member of the teaching faculty? The Naval War College website lists 375 faculty members. 104 are identified as “Military Professor”. Of those, 70 teach one of the three core courses. The other 35 are either in the International Law department, Assist and Assess Team Members, or part of the War Gaming Department (there are some other cats and dogs, but these three have the bulk of those 30 officers. Those 30 are also almost all Navy officers and make up almost half of the 67 Navy officers on faculty as “professors”.

What kind of officers are those who are assigned to the faculty? The Army sends rockstars who have had both command and possess doctoral degrees. The Navy? Frankly? They are mostly broken careers. At least three are 2xFOSd Commanders coming up on high year tenure. There are more reserve officers on Active Duty for Special Work (ADSW) than there are post-command line officers. Rumor is that the Selective Early Retirement Board hit the College “hard”. Unpublished. Non-due course. No longer upwardly mobile.

There is not a single serving Flag Officer who served as faculty on the Naval War College.

Now, none of this makes these individual faculty members bad people, or bad Naval Officers. It just limits their ability to work as peers with the civilian faculty – both while on active duty and RIP.

Wait, the critic argues, those officers are there to provide their operational expertise. Their savvy, their saltiness. Not their academic credentials.

OK. Again. 2xFOSd for Captain. Not upwardly mobile. No command experience. But, discounting those data points there are these.

Almost no DC staff experience. Almost no combatant command or major staff experience outside of DC. When there are officers who have DC experience, they end up teaching in the Joint Military Operations Department (and teach the planning course). Operational planner experienced officers are assigned to the National Security Affairs Department (and teach the national strategy and policy course). The Strategy and Policy Department (think Military History Department) is a mishmash of officers who are hopelessly outclassed academically by their civilian peers and in some cases are ignored in the classroom by those same peers.

But, why does it matter that there be a greater breadth of experience among the faculty? Because, unlike civilian graduate programs, the Naval War College student body had no choice in course work or faculty. You can’t wait until next semester to get the “good” professor. The school determines who will teach you. That makes the mix and breadth of experience critical. Or it destroys the credibilty of the faculty in that classroom.

How to fix it? The President of the War College needs to recruit faculty rather than let them just come to him. He needs to partner with the local commands in Newport to find upwardly mobile officers to teach for a year or two and then return to the Fleet. He needs to personally scrutinize every single faculty hire of a retired officer as if that person were to become HIS moderator, instructor, mentor, commander.

If not this, then at the very least end the assignment of billets to the line communities. When an officer applies for a faculty position the President, Provost, or Dean of Academics should review that officer’s record, a writing sample, and curriculum vitae and from there make a decision on which department the officer would be best suited to teach in. This alone would go a long way in matching talent to task at the war colleges.

But, the above only addresses the faculty. The assignment of the student body also needs to be addressed. While the Junior (officially “Intermediate”) course contains significant numbers of upwardly mobile Navy officers, the Senior course does not. Resplendent with derailed careers, Reserve recalls and staff corps officers, the due-course officers from the line communities are underrepresented. Which, of course, they are in the services as a whole. However this is senior level PME. Why can’t Navy get better-qualified officers to the Naval War College?

Well, it does; in the form of Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps officers. Again, it’s the assignment processes for Navy officers that is problemmatic. And here geography and biology tend to win out. For Navy officers completing a command tour it is easier to send them to Norfolk to the Joint Forces Staff College for an eight week tour and get them back to staff or operational duty than it is to sacrifice a year of academic study. Failing that, it is easier to send them to National War College in DC for follow on assignment there (or vice versa) and provide stability for the family. Absent Surface Warfare Officer School, there are no large commands in Newport to draw due-course officers from to fill the Senior Course, or likewise to send them to afterwards and given a choice, many choose one of the alternate ways to complete JPME II.

There’s no easy fix – and this post is intend to foment discussion, not serve as a blueprint to nirvanah. The Navy only has so many due course officers and can only send them so many places. But, what Navy does with its top performing officers tells everyone where Navy’s priorities are. But when less than a third of Flag Officers are Naval War College graduates, and the last Naval War College graduate CNO was Admiral Mike Boorda, there’s a definite signal being sent of where the priorty isn’t.


Posted by M. Ittleschmerz in Navy, Soft Power
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  • AlwaysSeekKnowledge

    “For Navy officers completing a command tour it is easier to send them to Norfolk to the Joint Forces Staff College for an eight week tour and get them back to staff or operational duty than it is to sacrifice a year of academic study.”

    Well, that’s a big part of the problem right there. The Navy views PME requirements like it views your shot record: something to get done, but nothing to get excited about. Most of these are a “check in the box” that must be completed, but is never graded. If you get JPME done while you’re an LT, great! But your grade or the quality of your final paper doesn’t matter.

    For another example, look at the Masters Degree requirement. Almost every officer community manager lists “Masters Degree” as a wicket to meet for O-4 or O-5 selection. But your grade point, or what you wrote about, or even what you studied? Doesn’t matter, except in a few cases.

    If you wanted to make PME relevant, I’d recommend two things:
    1. Add a bachelors and masters degree grade block to the Officer Data Card (ODC). Selection boards can see the type of degree, but they can’t tell how well you did. Unless you go to an ROTC or other job that requires you to submit a transcript, your GPA isn’t scrutinized. For a selection board, the guy that just barely skated by in college is on par with the 4.0 student, significantly reducing the career incentive to contribute academically.

    2. Have NWC create opportunities for non-resident students to submit papers and articles for contests, and send those results to Millington. Right now there is limited availability to do that unless you happen to be at the War College. Not everyone can go there, but plenty of officers would be willing to contribute if it had some sort of impact on their career. It would be incentive to think outside the box, and could create the opportunity for recruitment by identifying smart folks that may not have applied to NWC.

  • twinkie

    In the interests of transparency, I’m an Army officer. The Army tracks Military Education Levels (MEL) from officer basic course all the way to senior service college (USAWC, NWC, etc.). Those are completely separate from JPME Phase I/II certifications, although anyone completing MEL 4 (staff college) is credentialed as JPME I complete. Attendance at USAWC confers MEL 1 but didn’t grant JPME II until just a few years ago.

    The thing that jumps out to me about the Navy’s view of PME is the underlying assumption that the credential of interest is JPME Phase II and nothing else. By that standard, it makes perfect sense to conflate the Joint and Combined Warfighting School as being equivalent to the NWC Senior Course. Of course, the actual education is completely different than the supposed credential being granted.

    The Army considers JPME II mostly gravy because the real gate to GO/FO in the Army was always MEL 1. I suspect the Navy used JPME I/II because it was forced to by Goldwater-Nichols and doesn’t track PME echelonment in any other way.

    The Army just added civilian transcripts to the 201 (military personnel records jacket) files. I don’t think boards scrutinize those transcripts very hard, but they’re available if the boards want. It’s a start, even if it usually considers most degrees of equivalent type as generic, regardless of school.

    PME is a big deal in the Army, but it’s also a function of the cultures that shaped the various services. Implicit to those cultures (and the Army has this problem too) is when you transition from the tactical and technical knowledge that is so vital from the O-1 thru O-5 grades, and start building the body of knowledge that is important from O-4 on up. Tactical training and experiences are a foundation but not a substitute for strategic education and experience.

  • Flashman

    @ASK – Actually, the NWC Fleet Seminar Program (FSP) professors that I’ve had in the DC area have encouraged publication and the NWC’s competition are open to submission from NWC FSP students. I will, at least, grant them that.

    I’ve taken two NWC FSP classes – JMO and NSDM. As an intel officer with five deployments with aviation and special operations units, service on a CCDR’s staff in the J2 and J35, I find myself teaching as often as I like — as a student. Frankly, for these two courses, folks with relevant, above average, performance in joint planning and operational leadership roles (to include the other J-codes beyond the ‘3’) should be a qualifier — not a PHD, not publication. Despite stretching to the limits of accreditation by awarding a master’s degree to what should really be a solid trade school, I don’t see how PHDs are particularly relevant (the time invested to earn one generally ensures that the individual might have a wonderful academic understanding of a subject, but is often removed from the practitioner’s issues…and, frankly, that’s what most O-4’s and O-5’s will face as joint warfighters and planners). Who do we want out of the NWC — folks that write about strategy and war, or officers who can study a warfighting problem, find a solution and, as part of a team, come up with an effective plan to do something about it? I’m a fan of the idea of officers writing and thinking about warfighting problems and believe it builds thoughtful warfighters and planners, but lets ensure the emphasis remains on the latter: intelligent practicioners of operational art.

    Students emulate their teachers, for better or for worse, so let’s send the right officers to teach — ones with diverse operational experience and demonstrated interest in warfighting.

    Additionally — To their credit, my professors have tried to remedy some obvious problems by bringing in guest professors (often their own professional acquaintances on their own time). I have no idea of what the NWC at Rhode Island attempts in terms of amelioration of weaknesses of the same type. I chose not to attend when offered — I didn’t want to absorb a year-long deployment away from my son and wife after five deployments since 2003.

  • Mittleschmerz

    Flashman – I am also a graduate of the FSP and there are significant differences between how the two courses are administered.

    The FSP seminars I was in had a far more diverse student body than what I see at NWC. The faculty were excellent. THe course material was the same as the residence course. In fact, I used my JMO notes and tests for the JMO class here. The main difference is that the FSP has one moderator per seminar. In residence there are 2 or 3 to a section.

    Sometimes that 2 or 3 provides some very good leveling. In some cases it does not.

    For your comments on PhDs…JMO can certainly be taught by officers with relevant operational experience – but they need to be assigned to the faculty and that’s not happening. For NSDM and S&P, a PhD WITH that relevant operational experience is a “force multiplier” for making the education both education (rather than training) and relevant. But, again, that combination is rare.

  • Flashman

    I’d argue that for NSDM and JMO the PhD is probably unnecessary and, unless the individual instructor was more “Army-like” and somehow miraculously pulled off significant operational experience and the significant personal investment of earning a PhD, a waste. My bias would be to see post-major command O-6s who have been JQOs finish teaching NSDM or JMO. S&P falls into a category of its own — I tend to think the PhD would certainly trump operational experience, although experience would aid in making instruction relevant.

    I came to NWC/JPME after having been a planner. Asofar, my single greatest critique is that there’s little I’ve learned — mostly due to lack of rigor — from NWC that would’ve been useful to me in a planning role. I don’t think this is FSP specific. Most of the bonafide planners in USPACOM’s J35 shop were NWC or Army war college graduates and a few had been to SAMS. The SAMS graduates knew their stuff. The NWC graduates generally were with me — pulling out the Barney Book and JP 3-0 and trying to figure it out on the fly. IT might be a function of FSP; it might simply be a function that it’s a requirement to do JPME Phase I, and like most mandatory training, its lost its punch.

    Good to know regarding the residence vs. FSP. FSP is a good program and, by and large, the instructors do a lot with very little. But it could certainly be quite a bit more relevant and useful…and I think that focus could be sharpened by treating it more like trade school, and less of an academic experiment (it should not be all things to all people).

  • twinkie


    One of my former officemates (I am a former CGSC instructor) is a retired USAF Col who holds a Ph.D. and is a NWC Senior Course graduate. He does well at the things that are more academic in nature (and he feels pretty comfortable with the NSDM-like parts of the CGSC curriculum), but he has had to work insanely hard to learn the things that a career Army officer would’ve known as a function of having worked at 2-star or higher level operational staffs.

    It is very difficult for Army guys on active duty to get both a Ph.D. and the kind of experience that would make them effective instructors in planning – the timelines are too short and it’s hard to be in one place long enough in the kind of job that enables a stud to go get ABD, let alone Ph.D. complete. Most of the Army Ph.Ds I’ve known (or known of) are products of having taught at USMA and worked harder to go beyond the master’s that the Army would actually buy. The time/energy it took them to get those degrees cut into the time left for the jobs that they had to have (ops officer, XO, battalion/squadron command) to advance in their branches.

    The other Army Ph.Ds that get them as new USAWC instructors are already arriving with a body of knowledge and experience that is largely separate from the Ph.D. they will get.

    I suspect, in practice, the pursuit of a Ph.D. and the kind of operational knowledge that one might want from a JMO instructor (maybe less so for an NSDM instructor from my external perspective), while not mutually exclusive, are divergent. The Ph.Ds I knew gravitated towards very detailed inquiry and study of a problem; the operational art practitioners I saw in two tours at a division, one at JTF, one at an Army service component command, were all products of the unforgiving timelines and demands of cranking out orders products that had to be on time and good enough. Teaching NSDM/JMO-like curricula certainly doesn’t require a Ph.D.

    I wish the Army had a FSP-like program.

  • Dr. Jon Czarnecki, NWC Monterey

    First, truth in advertising. I am an RIP Army Colonel, having retired in Monterey, CA. in 2001. At the time I was not with NWC, but with the Defense Resource Management Institute, collocated with the NWC faculty on the Naval Postgraduate School campus. I underwent a fairly competitive selection process – I had no “inside track” to the CDE portion of the NWC that provides the faculty for the Monterey operation. Finally, the NWC Monterey operation is similar to the FSP, but stands in context with the regular curricula that student officers must take at NPS. That is, students take JPME I courses in addition to their normal load.

    The diatribe and first comments reveal more about the students than the faculty. These writers appear to take an undergraduate approach to JPME I: that means they expect “rockstars” for faculty who are upwardly mobile in their respective services and have extremely diverse command and staff careers to feed them the information necessary for them to get their JPME I certification and diplomas.

    Wrong. JPME I, at least the way I have interpreted the CDE method – and I have over 25 years education experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels – is highly dependent on the symbiosis between student and faculty member. In fact, we CDE faculty refer to ourselves as seminar leaders, not lecturers. While force-feeding course information through a series of dynamic, well-visualized lectures coupled with fascinating well-structured and entertaining exercises/games may be the students’ idea of how JPME I should go, it flies in the face of pedagogical research on how adults most effectively learn.

    That is, adults learn through an experiential cycle of experience-reflection-new information-reflection- application. Our seminar leaders are supposed to be more facilitator than rockstar lecturer. We faculty are supposed to assist students progress thru their experiential cycles.

    Effective communication and interpersonal skills in this case count far more than stars on sleeves, staff experience, and articles/books published.

    From what I can gather in the above paragraphs, MrMs Ittlesmerz wanted someone to forcefeed him/her the information necessary to obtain JPME I certification with as little intellectual involvement on his/her part. No wonder he/she stands in awe of Army SAMS graduates; the one thing SAMS students must learn is that adult learning means getting deeply intellectually involved with whatever it is that one is learning.

  • Colonel – I recommend you reread my post and the comments. I went through JPME I via FPS/CDE and am in residence for the Senior Course. I don’t want to be spoon fed anything, nor do most of my classmates.

    What they do want, and should get, is a faculty capable of teaching, mentoring, and presenting relevant material rather than just following the moderator notes and having no other knowledge of the source material than is what in the syllabus. I think you’d agree that this is a fair expectation.

    Secondly, one thing the interwebz have taught me, when the insults fly, they are an indication that the argument has been settled. But not the way I think you want it settled.

  • Calinjax

    As a grateful “intermediate course” alum of NWC Newport I’m always interested in who has what to say about JPME. At NWC, I found the course offered by the S&P department one of the best academic – and intellectually invigorating – experiences I’ve ever had (and that’s counting four years undergraduate and five years graduate studies). JMO was a great course, too, once this staff weenie got the hang of it! The electives at NWC were outstanding, as well. Many of the support people were exceptionally professional and helpful (e.g., the library staff). NWC was, overall, a stellar experience.

    What I found interesting at NWC, though, was how the Army, Air Force, and Marine officers who were my classmates all had a sense that they were indeed “chosen” to attend NWC. Many USN officer classmates expressed a sense that they needed to be “stashed” somewhere by their detailers, for the time being.

    Whether I was “stashed” at NWC or not doesn’t matter – I wanted to go and was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity. I’m even more grateful that I selected for promotion shortly after graduation from NWC (admittedly, more because I had department heads who took great pains with my FITREPS than for anything I could’ve done)!

    As a USN staff corps officer, what amazes me is that once JPME 1 is complete there is no requirement for continuing professional education (CPE). Granted, many officers may go on to complete JPME 2. However, many professions outside the military require annual CPE units. As much as I hate to admit it, I think the Navy needs to model its officer development programs more on civilian professional development models.