First, congratulations to the graduates of the various programs offered by the Marine Corps University who were honored on 6 June. You are an impressive group, you mid-career Marines, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Army officers, along with the remarkable group of foreign military students from Afghanistan to Ukraine who were your classmates.

For those of you who could not attend this ceremony, part of the MCU is the Command and Staff College (CSC) which enrolls Marine/AF/Army majors and Navy/Coast Guard Lieutenant Commanders who have taken on the challenge of a military career.*

If not all future generals or admirals, these CSC grads will be part of that core around which forms the U.S. military. And, yes, I know that there are those other Command and Staff schools who also annually send a couple of hundred of graduates out into the field for field commands but I was at this graduation.

For the graduates, a career milestone has been checked off. The first PME has been fulfilled.

Of the 204 or so 2012 graduates of the CSC about 164 received Masters of Military Science degrees. Unknowing civilians may scoff at such a degree, noting its apparent lack of usefulness in their civilian world.

That civilian world misses the point.

You want your military to have read Clausewitz, to have walked the fields of Gettysburg, to have studied logistics and read John Boyd, because that is the world of the military professional.

You want that hard-charging young major or LtCol to draw on more than just personal experience when the nation’s defense is in his or her hands.

So, again, congratulations to the grads. And a further congratulations to the American people. You should take pride that in the service of your country are such amazing young people.

Second, let me talk about the graduation speech for the class of 2012. The Assistant Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps delivered it.

It was short as such things go, but a couple of things struck me. In the absence of a transcript, you will have to live with my recollection (and I was not taking notes).

General Dunford pointed out that for some time there were few changes in the way in which the Marines went to war. He noted that when he entered the Corps, he was issued the same “cold weather gear” that his father had used in the Korean War (“not like the gear my father used, but the same gear”) and that a platoon leader in Korea or Vietnam would not have had difficulty, if magically transported to the future, with the tactics first employed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He then noted in past few years that great changes have occurred in the ways of war. Changes such that a Marine who fought in Afghanistan 6 years ago would not find things the same – there had been such a rapid revolution in tactics and equipment that the American battlefield was off in a new direction. A platoon once responsible for a limited front, now has coverage of a vastly larger area. Better communications, better equipment, and (I assume) better Marines allow such an expansion of responsibility.

So, Lesson #1: “Things change”

Then the challenge – he had a couple of good yarns about things that seemed, well, “unnecessary” at the time they occurred. He spoke of an effort he led, as a young colonel, to assess the threat to and protection of various key national infrastructure assets – ports and bridges and highways and the like – which his boss did not really appreciate the need for, at least in early 2001.

He also spoke of a paper written by a young officer that addressed the threat of “improvised explosive devices (IEDs or roadside bombs)” and suggested a look at the South African response to such weapons. All of which ultimately led to the MRAP vehicle. The paper was written in 1996 by an officer taking a “what if?” look at things.

Things change. You never know exactly how, so you need to be flexible and ready.

So, Lesson 2: “Challenge the conventional thinking.”

We no longer line up in box formations and attack in broad fronts. The aircraft is not just used for spotting targets. Submarines are not interesting novelties. Anti-ballistic missile systems can work. OODA.

Revolutions in military affairs were not led by assuming things have to be as they have been.

 I don’t know how many of the graduates were listening to the speech.

I can’t remember a single line of any graduation speech I have ever heard because, well, I had other things on my mind. Like getting the heck out of there.

But, if they were listening they should have heard the warning order implied in the softly delivered speech, which I took to be:

We do not know what you will face in the future, We only know that you will need to use your education and experience to face those challenges that come your way. We have added to your tool kit and trust you to put those tools to good use.

Our national defense is- well – you and your band of brothers in arms.

Be flexible, be ready, be strong.

Because you never know.



*And FBI/DEA/BATF/DOS and others

Posted by Mark Tempest in Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy

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  • Total

    Unknowing civilians may scoff at such a degree, noting its apparent lack of usefulness in their civilian world.

    Wow. Strawman, much? The only civilian critiques of PME I’ve seen have been about a lack of academic rigor. If you’ve got evidence to the contrary, as opposed to just some random snottiness, by all means, link it.

  • Strawman? You really should have paid more attention to the qualifiers I used – “Unknowing civilians” “apparent lack of usefulness” who form “That civilian world” – an ignorant subset, theoretically pragmatic, who have a bias because of that ignorance.

    On the other hand, my experience with how business employers look at advanced degrees is part of the evidence that supports the statement. In my experience, when a business has two candidates to choose from, one with an MBA and one with an MMS, the odds are significantly in favor of the MBA being hired, all other factors being equal.

    Why? The MBA, in theory, has learned a knowledge set needed to help the business succeed without much needed in additional training.

    Is this a fair assessment? Well, I guess it depends on whether you are hiring people or degrees . . .

  • Total

    So, your short answer is that you don’t actually have any examples, you’re just making things up?

    And, no, ‘unknowing civilians’ and ‘that civilian’ world is not an example, it’s a imaginary construct, just as if I said “reactionary fossilized retired military people” without providing an example.

    As to taking MBAs over MMSs that is appalling, given that MBAs are the mail order degrees of 21st century America. Having said that, the “when I was a young lad in business, this [insert awful thing happened]” isn’t an example either.

  • Take it whatever way you want, as I am obviously too antiquated (or is it too “reactionary fossilized?”) to convince you that I was praising the MMS degree, not burying it.

    Now, I must toddle off to seek an “early bird” special someplace.

  • Total

    to convince you that I was praising the MMS degree, not burying it.

    You were praising it by taking random and unwarranted shots at imaginary people. It’s perfectly possible to compliment the MMS degree without doing down people only you see.

  • Diogenes of NJ

    If it wouldn’t be for phoney academic credentials, how would the student loan people make money?

    The whole “Higher Education” scam will eventually collapse in on itself. Those who survive will be the individuals with the capability to perform. This isn’t anti-education. It is merely a statement that an educated man does not have to depend on the “blessings” of institutions that demonstrate they are becoming less connected with reality every day.

    To be fair, this isn’t as much of a problem in the sciences and engineering where tangible results can be achieved. Beware of the predictions of pseudoscience that are wrapped up in studies and statistics. Models are not reality and reality often offers up unpleasant surprises.

    I would not consider Business Administration a “science” as much as a collection of principles (like accounting) that more or less work as society is currently structured. Is Military Science a science? I will leave that for others to determine. It is however evident that the Ivory Tower is not the only place where education takes place; the battle field provides it’s own form of education.

    And whereas the University awards a parchment that is presented by an individual in a funny hat, the battle field rewards you with survival. The thing about civilians is that all too often they don’t receive a complete education.

    – Kyon

  • Total: I didn’t think it was possible to so completely miss the point of the post, but I surrender to your ability to do so.

    Yes, I confess, I wrote the idea of a “unknowing scoffing civilian population” just to attack that same group for the purpose of holding a fictional group up to ridicule. I apologize to any “unknowing civilians” who may have read this piece.

    As you have already discounted my experience in industry and in the Navy, I guess I could skip the explanation that the construct was derived from personal experience and discussions with many people over several years. Sorry I can’t name names or provide specific dates or a link to satisfy your demand for proof. I confess to not always taking good notes during the course of my life.

    Now, here’s my counter demand: Provide a link to any employment ad you can find that requires that the applicant prove that they hold the MMS and I’ll pluck out the “offending” paragraph.