More Armed forces Education Should Be Like the ‘Strategic Thinkers Program’

I put in the previous calendar year instructing in an officers’ graduate instruction method that I did not style and design and, in the procedure, identified just how very good military instruction can be.

The system is the Secretary of Defense’s Strategic Thinker Method, or STP. Licensed by the Business of the Secretary of Protection in response to a long time of dissatisfaction with experienced army education—especially, its incapability to create strategists—the application was released in 2019 by Daniel Marston, the accomplished military historian, strategist and educator. 

The software has 4 vital elements: 1) intense, 12 months-prolonged, Oxford tutorial-model seminars that are section of 2) a civilian policy-concentrated education and learning graduate system. The seminars tell 3) a pair of wargames that highlight the strategic difficulties that belligerents confront in wartime and 4) the program’s culminating experiential discovering encounter: an global personnel journey made to make the academic conversations arrive to lifestyle. A nearer seem at these four elements tells us about the untapped probable of navy education and learning.

Intensive seminars. More than the class of an academic 12 months, college students research the nature and character of war, countrywide coverage, and especially approach in depth, width and context. The modified tutorial process indicates small seminars (most of 10 college students), intense looking at (about 250 pages for every seminar), graded created assignments for every single seminar, routine oral presentations, and scholar-led discussions. Each individual seminar fulfills 2 times a 7 days for four several hours to wring out the myriad dimensions of the strategic concerns being explored that working day. The contact time may well appear to be too much, but it turns out that in a discussion-oriented course, it is just sufficient. 

Policy-oriented college. The strategic instruction software is embedded in a civilian graduate college with a plan concentration. This will allow pupils to just take electives with civilian counterparts who share an interest in national security, and discover other educational passions in the approach. 

The STP’s civilian dwelling is Johns Hopkins University’s School of Superior Global Scientific studies. The romantic relationship is solid and symbiotic. Both functions vetted just about every other in advance of agreeing to the partnership, and the two routinely reassess the marriage to ensure that STP programs enhance the school’s broader curriculum and vice versa. To place it bluntly, STP is not a different Defense Office government education and learning program generating profits for the college even though students get a little bit of a break. 

Wargames and worldwide team experience. These offer the experiential mastering crucial to productive adult schooling. In the wargames, college students grapple with the strategic, logistical and alliance worries, as well as the fog and friction of conflict. The employees trip delves into the depth of a campaign that illuminates the depth, width and context of war in all of its interesting and harrowing dimensions. This academic year, the learners traveled to the Somme to review 1918’s “100 Days Offensive” from the viewpoint of three nations. The students ran just about every phase of the staff members experience, possessing accomplished exploration and preparation for months in progress. They remaining the Somme immediately after an rigorous 7 days, obtaining solid a additional own link with people who crafted the system, led at all stages, fought, and, in quite a few cases, died through the offensive. 

The students’ roles in executing the staff members journey highlights how vital they on their own are to the program’s success. An exquisitely intended and led system is only as superior as its pupils. To enroll in the Strategic Thinkers Program, U.S. military officers will have to be recognized by both equally OSD and the Faculty of Highly developed Global Studies. By publishing to a dual application procedure, pupils are consciously committing to a significantly more intense navy instruction practical experience than their contemporaries right before they ever set foot in a classroom. It also implies they are accepting failure as an solution: both of those the college and the plan reserve the appropriate to fall short a scholar. Nonetheless, that probability is tiny, given that college students accept upfront the heavy workload linked with correctly completing the application. Having watched the mental and specialist advancement of this year’s cohort, I can attest to how students embrace the work and focus on flourishing in the course of the application.


As an observer, I would argue possibly the best signal of achievements for the Strategic Thinkers Application is the expressed motivation in OSD, the Joint Team, and the providers to retain the services of its graduates. This software provides strategists who think consistently about conflict and are usually inquiring, “What’s up coming?” and “To what stop?” 

The program’s rigor and subsequent results of its graduates propose 5 necessary points to take into account when checking out reforms to existing PME courses (or, as with the Room Power, developing new types). 

1. Make programs with a singular objective. The Joint Chiefs of Staff members Eyesight statement and the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff’s Officer Skilled Military Schooling Coverage should only be regarded commencing factors. To thrive, PME programs have to emphasis on the precise form of graduate they want to make, and design and style the training course of review accordingly. Absent that concentration, PME administrators will continue to pitch applications at the intermediate and senior amounts to the lowest-popular college student denominator. By distinction, STP is laser-centered on generating strategists who can team generals and flag officers at a variety of stages. 

2. Empower the plan director. Alongside with a singular reason, PME requirements to devolve power to the method directors. Right now, with the obligation for massive student throughput, of necessity a great deal authority for PME course design and style is centralized in the provosts, deans, and office chairs. This framework leaves minor latitude to examine impressive academic principles like STP. One particular are unable to overstate the vital purpose of a dedicated plan director, liable for equally college and pupils and empowered to innovate at the seminar amount. As PME establishments attempt to reinvent on their own, they may well glimpse for chances to devolve authority, and empower plan administrators to develop additional yr-extended seminars precisely made to carry more rigor and target to the students. System directors, in return, should reveal how they are making graduates to satisfy an crucial, assistance- or joint-recognized need.

3. Recognize the U.S. govt-college connection. PME packages embedded in civilian universities (or in the case of the Space Power, discovering this kind of partnering) need to spend close interest to what the college is bringing to the relationship. Is the college staking its name (to any extent) on the achievements or failure of the software, or is it extra intrigued in producing revenue off it? Do the range of army college students in a individual program preclude most interactions with civilian friends? What form of degree is becoming granted? Who are the college? In advance of developing a army education method at a civilian university, it is necessary to know the answers to these and linked thoughts. Civilian greater training is heading via its individual write-up-COVID reckoning, and U.S. authorities funding is engaging. Each the U.S. government and the linked university should be similarly invested in the results of a army education and learning plan.

4. The basic principles of graduate education continue being vital. No matter where it is dependent, the core of a rigorous army instruction program really should be little seminars, demanding assignments, schedule oral and created assessments, and regular comments. Neither superior classroom technological know-how nor affiliation with an elite university can compensate for a classical, vital-imagining solution to instructing approach. Struggling to analyze, have an understanding of, and compose about national and armed service strategies using main and secondary sources continues to be just one of the most effective techniques to make improvements to significant wondering competencies.

5. A program is only as superior as its learners. Last but not least, just as pupils are the essential to STP’s good results, so do they hold the key to arduous PME. Learners really should have to implement for PME, just as they really should have to apply for other selective armed service applications. Pupils should really also be allowed to leave an educational plan with no having to pay a job penalty. In small, providers require to believe more seriously about who really should go to experienced training applications and why. This signifies that the companies really should forgo the longstanding, albeit informal observe, of considering PME as spouse and children time. If relatives time is desired, providers should build certain sabbatical packages for that reason. Under the existing construction, they dilute the training and devalue the student at the exact same time.  

As a instructor and observer, I have located that the Strategic Thinkers Plan stands out as the Defense Department’s most rigorous and worthwhile armed forces training plan. If DOD can shield STP whilst applying classes gleaned from it to reform skilled armed service instruction additional broadly, PME colleges could possibly, at past, change away from educating to a small regular, and commence providing the demanding schooling learners ought to have. With the Strategic Thinkers Software at least now a beacon exists for other PME establishments to observe.

Paula G. Thornhill is a retired U.S. Air Power brigadier common. She is an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Faculty of Advanced Worldwide Scientific tests and is the writer of Demystifying the American Military services.