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Multiple observers, ranging from the previous Chief of Staff of the Army, General Odierno, a former United States Army War College Commandant, Major General Robert Scales, to the current Commandant, Major General Bill Rapp, have identified the requirement for both the Army and the Joint Force to produce more effective strategists and strategic planners. In General Rapp’s article, “Civil-Military Relations: The Role of Military Leaders in Strategy Making,” he offered the following:

“Developing military leaders who are competent in the political environment of national-security strategy decision-making is vitally important. It requires a broad revision of talent management among the armed services. Developing strategic mindedness goes beyond operational warfighting assignments and simply “broadening” the officers by sending them to fellowships or for civilian graduate degrees, though both are valuable. Assignments that increase the leaders’ understanding of the interagency decision-making process and of alliance and coalition relations are critical. This means sending the very best to the Joint Staff, OSD staff, and combatant commands.”[1]
Winston Churchill wrote a 1915 essay entitled “Painting as a Pastime,”which many people believe is an allegory for describing how to become a strategic artist. He offers that one must plant a garden and tend to it so that over the years, it will “bloom and ripen” and ”be better cultivated.” Likewise, building strategic artists takes time, and so the seeds must be planted well in advance of wanting them to bear fruit, and then must be tended through subsequent assignments.

The U.S. Army has developed several approaches to attempt to address this gap, ranging from the creation of various programs such as the Strategic Broadening Seminars and Advanced Strategic Planning and Policy Program to instituting broadening in professional development guidance and as part of the new Army Officer Evaluation Report.[3-4]  

While these programs have increased the opportunities for company and field grade officers to broaden beyond their initial tactical experiences, they may prove to be too cold: too short to fundamentally alter how someone thinks and approaches problems; or too hot: a program that is too long and runs afoul with the current, rigid career timelines for officers wishing to continue on the command track.[5]

The Army has tackled a similar challenge in the past with a highly successful broadening experiment to develop operational artists—the Advanced Military Studies Program (AMSP) at the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS). This experiment was successful because its visionaries and early directors specifically looked at how they could attract and matriculate the best officers while ensuring the program could (mostly) peacefully co-exist with the Army’s personnel system. In doing so, selected  officers could remain competitive on the command track, but were now armed with mental models and experiences that set them apart from their peers due to their clear future potential at the operational level.  The Advanced Military Studies Program can serve as a model for the development of a similar program to develop more effective strategic artists.


The development of strategists is a perennial challenge for all the services. General Galvin famously asked the question “What’s the Matter with Being a Strategist?” In the article’s introduction, he quotes Admiral Bill Crowe, who spoke about needing people who can handle “thorny problems—people in uniform who are expert in their warfighting specialties and also able to assist the National Command Authorities in matters of strategy, policy, resource allocation, and operations.”[6]

This framework depicts how the scale and scope of problems faced at different levels create different requirements for leaders addressing the problem.

The challenge faced by the both the Army and the military that General Galvin served in is the same challenge faced by today’s military: the opportunity cost of time. Within the current Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) restraints of a 30-year career (or slightly longer for general officers), there is limited time for an officer to develop expertise across the three levels of war: tactical, operational, and strategic. Complicating matters is that attributes that may be effective at one level don’t always translate across each level of war, and in fact, in some cases, may actually inhibiting thinking and performance at other levels.

For example, at the tactical level, problems are often bounded in scope and time, and heuristics (i.e., battle drills, or tactics, techniques, and procedures) can often be applied that will “solve” the problem, especially at the lower tactical level. The more experience one has at the tactical level, the more they can develop effective heuristics. However, at the strategic level, where the scope (the problem will have diplomatic, informational, military, and economic dimensions) and scale of problems far exceed that of a tactical problem, problems are unbounded.[7] This precludes the use of any heuristic since the permutations and combinations of all the variables means each strategic problem will have its own unique context. In fact, a snap, heuristic decision can make the problem worse.  

Another example includes the type of leadership required. At the tactical level, the pace of events typically demands direct leadership to immediately react to the adversary. Since the problem is bounded and involves the military instrument, not only is direct leadership possible, it is desirable. However, at the strategic level, directive leadership is only possible by the president since he is the only individual who holds the authority over all the instruments of national power (and even then it requires focused leadership and constant attention). In this unity of effort environment, where building consensus through personal relationships and powerful arguments is the way forward, applying direct leadership techniques will often be counterproductive and simply have you “voted off the island.”

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, is advising President Obama on 7 August 2014 on the potential use of airstrikes in Iraq against ISIL to prevent further incursions into the Kurdish north and allow the escape of Yezidi refugees fleeing ISIL.

Thus, the military has a challenge to balance the development of the officers that are on track to become senior leaders serving at the strategic level. At the two extremes, if the military solely focuses on honing its tactical edge, these officers may not develop the necessary attributes at best, and may have the exact wrong attributes at worst. By the time these officers have no choice but to serve at the strategic level, they have two decades of experience that may inhibit as oppose to enhance their strategic judgment and performance. This creates indirect risk to the force as we fail to develop and recommend the best strategies possible in pursuit of achieving national objectives. On the other hand, if the military instead solely focuses on developing strategists, then these leaders may have the wrong attributes to successfully lead combat formations enroute to strategic leadership positions, increasing the direct risk to the force in the tactical fight.  


Complicating matters is the fact that the United States finds itself in an era of limited war.[8] With the distaste of Iraq, there is little political appetite for regime change, and while tensions are heating up with China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, given their possession of nuclear weapons (or near possession in the case of Iran), regime change is not an acceptable aim in these competitions. Furthermore, unlike in unlimited war where the military objective and political objectives often align (e.g., the unconditional surrender of Germany in World War II required the complete defeat of the Wehrmacht—the political and military objectives were nearly one and the same), in limited war, the military objective and political objective will diverge and the more political the war will be.[9] This challenge presents itself to senior leaders serving in the theater of operations as well as inside the Beltway. In the theater of operations, the challenge is in identifying military objectives that will extract the desired political outcome from the adversary without escalating the war beyond the limitations placed upon it. Inside the Beltway, the domestic political challenge is that limited wars are generally limited because they do not arouse the population’s passion enough to generate the resources and bear the costs required to achieve unlimited political aims. Thus, they will be a more contentious undertaking. Both challenges place large demands on the strategic acumen of our military’s strategic leaders—can they help formulate a theory of victory against the adversary while simultaneously navigating the challenges of domestic political-military relations?[10]


General Schwartzkopf briefing the “left hook” of OPERATION DESERT STORM. Advanced Military Studies Program graduates played a vital role in planning operations within their own headquarters while coordinating with other graduates in other headquarters. While originally derided as “Jedi Knights,” the strength of their performance made the title stick, but as a compliment and nod to their performance.

In searching for options that can add to the solution set in developing more effective strategic leaders, looking to the past and the Army’s development of the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) and the Advanced Military Studies Program (AMSP) is instructive. Approved in 1982 and piloted in 1983, the Advanced Military Studies Program was designed to go beyond the tactics of what U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) students were learning at the time. Instead, its curriculum focused on broadening and deepening its students in the practice of operational art—the linkage of tactical actions to strategic objectives. However, equally important to its curriculum was how it selected its students and fit the program into the career timeline of its graduates. By taking its officers off of the standard path for two years (one year at SAMS and a second year as a division or corps planner), it created some risk that these officers would be “behind” their peers in accumulating the necessary jobs for promotion and command selection.[11] However, SAMS overcame this by selecting strong officers that had the fortitude to brief senior general officers. The one-year education then prepared them to succeed in their follow-on one-year utilization. Armed with this broadened perspective, these officers then further earned their spurs in the requisite jobs to remain competitive on the command track.[12] The Advanced Military Studies Program was able to balance the tensions between broadening and career progression within the existing personnel system and Army culture. Based on its success, other services have also adopted their own Advanced Military Studies Programs (AMSP): the School of Advanced Warfighting(SAW) by the U.S. Marine Corps and the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS) by the U.S. Air Force. While SAW is similar to AMSP through its focus on operational art, SAASS is focused on strategic art. Thus, the proposal in this paper is similar in nature to SAASS with two exceptions: it doesn’t confer a masters degree, but it does “give back” a half year on an officer’s timeline.  

The U.S. Army could adopt a similar model to the Advanced Military Studies Program and its development of operational artists to develop strategic artists.[13] This “strategic SAMS” would include an educational experience that would be followed by a utilization assignment to lock-in the educational gains from the classroom. Additionally, like the Advanced Military Studies Program, it would have to be timed to peacefully coexist with the career timeline identified in its service-specific professional development guidance. The perfect match for this would be as a senior Major following one’s key and developmental (KD) assignments.[14] This would allow the Army to identify officers that are highly competitive for O-5 command (battalion command) based on their “Iron Major” key and developmental assignment performance. While the Advanced Military Studies Program confers a master’s degree, the strategy program need not be structured to do so. In fact, the Army could utilize an existing program—the U.S. Army Functional Area 59 Strategist qualification course, the Basic Strategic Art Program (BSAP)—to serve as the educational component of the “strategic SAMS.”[15]

This illustrates how the Advanced Military Studies Program and Basic Strategic Art Program fits into the Army Leader Development Strategy’s timeline that promotes broadening assignments across a career, and in this case, how it specifically applies to an O-4 in the U.S. Army.

At approximately 4 months, the Basic Strategic Art Program would allow for a 12-24 month utilization tour. The utilization assignments would be assignments at Headquarters, Department of the Army (HQDA), Army Service Component Commands (ASCCs), and Army Commands (ACOMs) serving as strategic planners in plans and strategy (G-3/5) assignments or in commander/director initiatives groups.[16] While joint assignments could be used, because of the timing of their broadening window, it is highly probable that several officers in the program would be selected for command while they are serving their utilization assignment. In choosing Army-only utilization assignments, U.S. Army Human Resources Command would have greater flexibility to curtail the utilization tours that are longer than 12 months without having adverse effects on managing Goldwater-Nichols requirements. Additionally, focusing utilization tours at the theater-strategic and institutional levels within the Army ensures that these officers will better understand their own service prior to serving in joint / interagency positions during subsequent broadening assignments at higher rank (i.e., the types of assignments advocated by General Rapp).

By serving as action officers, strategists will be actively engaged in developing products and briefing senior leaders. In practicing their strategic art (and/or theater-strategic operational art) craft, they will develop strong strategic lessons from the experience. Additionally, both through their Basic Strategic Art Program attendance and through the network they build at their strategic-level assignments, these officers will gain professional friends and mentors that can continue to develop their strategic perspective. Lastly, with their newly developed strategic coup d’oeil, they will be able better develop their own subordinates in the strategic art, and for those that continue on the command track, will be able to better utilize the strategic thinkers in their own formations.


To explain why the Advanced Military Studies Program (operational art) and the Basic Strategic Art Program (strategic art) are complementary programs, the use of the U.S. Army Leader Development Model is instructive. Training Units and Developing Leaders defines leader development as comprising “training, education, and experience gained in schools (institutional domain), while assigned to organizations (operational domain), and through the individual’s own program of self-development (self-development domain).”[17] Self-development includes include structured self-development (required, planned, goal-oriented learning sponsored by the institution), guided self-development that is focused by chain of command (both at the schoolhouse and out in the field), and personal self-development that is initiated and defined by the individual.[18]

Both the Advanced Military Studies Program and the Basic Strategic Art Program “strategic SAMS” are explicitly designed to provide training, education, and experiences across all three domains. During the schoolhouse phase, because the students know that their training, education, and experience in the classroom will directly correlate with their ability to perform during their utilization assignment, they are highly incentivized to make the most of it. Additionally, the respective faculty make a concerted effort to provide periodic assessments that provide officers with feedback on their weaknesses and strengths and how they have progressed during the program. This feedback provides them with actionable items for both guided and personal self-development. Next, the utilization tour provides additional training, education, and experience in the practice of their respective arts—operations and strategy. Finally, the slating of these assignments in positions where the officers frequently interact with senior leaders provides the opportunity to receive valuable feedback and mentorship, allowing both the chain of command to guide self-development efforts as well as for the officer to create and implement their own self-development plan. It is through this tight coupling of schooling, utilization, and mentoring that these officers are able to make strong gains in their practice of the operational and strategic art.[19]


To illustrate the benefit of building a “strategic SAMS,” a vignette involving Eisenhower and Patton is useful. When the January 1942 Washington Conference decided upon what was to become OPERATION TORCH, President Roosevelt and the  Army Chief of Staff, General Marshall, surely started to consider candidates to command the effort (the decision was finally made in November 1942). Two potential candidates were Eisenhower and Patton. If one pulled highlights from their personnel records, the following professional military education and key and developmental leadership assessments would pop out of a hasty scrub. Based on today’s personnel management system, Eisenhower would not even make an initial screen, while Patton would be very competitive.

However, with the advantage of hindsight, Eisenhower was clearly a far better choice. While Patton was a better tactician, Ike’s personality, character, and perspective were far better suited for the demands that a combined, joint commander would need to think strategically and subordinate tactical and operational decisions to achieve the objectives set out by the sovereign governments at the joint and combined levels of warfare (as well as to manage the personalities of his subordinate officers). If you were to look beyond the command experience on his personnel file, you would find nearly two decades of broadening assignments:  Executive Officer to Brigadier General Fox Conner, member of the American Battle Monuments Commission, Executive Officer to the Assistant Secretary of War, Chief Military Aide to the Chief of Staff of the Army, Assistant Military Advisor to the Philippine Army, and Chief of the Army War Plans Division.[20] Furthermore, to put this into the parlance of the model of education coupled with experience, following his attendance at the Army War College, Eisenhower served multiple assignments that required him to put his war college education into practice.  

General Eisenhower is pinning on Patton’s third star on 16 March 1943. In contrast to Patton’s flamboyant and slashing style as a high tactical commander, Eisenhower faced a different challenge as a theater-strategic commander—how to sustain the coalition while defeating the Germans and Italians. While frequently uncharitable in characterizing Ike’s decisions, the British Chief of Imperial Staff, Field Marshal Alan Brooke praised Ike’s performance in this area: “I know of no other person who could have welded the Allied forces into such a fine fighting machine in the way he did, and kept balance among the many conflicting and disturbing elements which threatened at times to wreck the ship...”

In the end, the United States required both the tactical brilliance of Patton as well as the steady and strategically-focused leadership of Eisenhower to help lead the Allies to victory and achieve American objectives to advance American interests.


The military has a challenge in preparing its leaders to operate across all levels of war. It is correct to wrestle with how to balance all the competing demands—using Basic Strategic Art Program as a “strategic SAMS” presents an opportunity for the U.S. Army to use an already established and proven program to provide a world class graduate-level education to improve the strategic thinking and judgment of select command-track competitive officers.[21] When coupled with a short utilization tour to lock-in these educational gains, kick starting their development of their own strategic artistry, this “strategic School of Advanced Military Studies” could have a similar impact upon the Army as the creation of School of Advanced Military Studies nearly 30 years ago. This would provide the Army with two essential and complementary programs for our future senior leaders—one to develop operational artistry and one to develop strategic artistry.

Mike Shekleton is a U.S. Army officer and the former director of the Basic Strategic Art Program. The opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


[1] Rapp, William E., “Civil-Military Relations: The Role of Military Leaders in Strategy Making,” Parameters, Autumn 2015, 25.

[2] Churchill, Winston S., Amid These Storms: Thoughts and Adventures, “Painting as a Pastime,” Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1932, 305-320.

[3] The Headquarters, Department of the Army Strategic Broadening Seminars (HQDA SBS) are a series of primarily 3-4 week broadening programs available to senior non-commissioned officers, mid-grade warrant officers, and senior company grade / junior field grade officers.  For the Advanced Strategic Planning and Policy Program (ASP3), officers are selected as senior O-4s, senior O-5s, and junior O-6s.  For those selected for command, the strategic utilization assignment that immediately follows the educational experience is displaced by the command assignment.  See “The Strategic Planning ‘Problem’”.

[4] A sample of broadening assignments for O-4s include functional and institutional assignments at Headquarters, Department of the Army; Army Service Component Commands, and Army Commands (Training and Doctrine Command & Army Capabilities Integration Center, Forces Command, and Army Materiel Command).  For Functional Area 59 (FA59 - Army Strategist) officers, all assignments fit within the full set of Army “broadening” assignments and are all coded as key and developmental (KD) assignments within the career field. This indicates that the FA59 qualification course—the Basic Strategic Art Program (BSAP)—would be good preparation for these jobs. See “Revised Officer Evaluation Reports 1 APR 14 Implementation MOD 1” briefing, accessed 14 February 2016.

[5] The substitution of a tactical command for the strategic utilization assignment for those selected for command acknowledges the importance of a program’s requirement to blend with the tight timelines of the command track.  However, this substitution means that an officer’s educational gains are not immediately locked-in with experience.

[6] Galvin, John R., “What’s the Matter with Being a Strategist?” Parameters, Winter 2010-11 (originally printed in the March 1989 edition), 82.  This article was adapted from testimony on Joint Professional Military Education to the House Armed Services Committee in 1988.

[7] Watts, Barry D., “US Combat Training, Operational Art, and Strategic Competence,” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), 17-24.

[8] Limited war is defined as a war where the United States seeks a limited political objective from the adversary. In contrast, unlimited war is one where the United States has an unlimited political objective (e.g., regime change). For example, while a conventional war with a nuclear-armed near-peer competitor would most likely require a large mobilization of means, its political objective would be limited (e.g., a restoration of the status quo ante bellum borders).  The risk of nuclear exchange would deter an unlimited (e.g., regime change) objective. This is a Clausewitzian definition.

[9] Clausewitz provides this insight, which is a corollary to his insight that “war is the continuation of politics through other means.” Since limited objectives have a moderating influence on the level of violence, lesser violence highlights the fact that it is still a political endeavour. In contrast, unlimited war will generally approach much closer to Clausewitz’s absolute war that maximizes violence in a single blow, obscuring the political nature of the war with the application of military power. See Clausewitz, On War, eds. Howard and Paret, 87-88.

[10] The common term used is “civil-military relations.” However, since the “unequal dialogue” occurs between politicians and/or political appointees, a more precise term is “political-military.” For more, see Matthew Moten’s Presidents and their Generals, 3. 

[11] In total, the Advanced Military Studies Program is a 3-year program: one year at the Command and General Staff School, one year at the School of Advanced Military Studies, and one year in the utilization assignment.  However, for career timeline purposes, since all of their peers that are competitive for command are also spending the year at Command and General Staff School, the Advanced Military Studies Program places them only two years “behind” their peers.

[12] For additional information on the history of the development and evolution of SAMS, see Benson, “The School of Advanced Military Studies and the Introduction of Operational Art into U.S. Army Doctrine, 1983-1994”.  

[13] While the proposal focuses on the U.S. Army, it could be applied across the Joint Force. 

[14] See the 2013 Army Leader Development Strategy, page 13. It specifically illustrates a 24-36 month window at the end of an officer’s O-4 window for a broadening or joint assignment. In choosing the most-competitive command track officers, it is highly likely that they will have served 36 months in key and developmental (KD) positions (e.g., Battalion Operations Officer, Battalion Executive Officer, and finally, Brigade Operations Officer).  Promotion and selection boards focus on evaluation reports in “KD” positions to determine who to advance to the next level of key and developmental assignments.

[15] For more information on the Basic Strategic Art Program, see Moore, Chuck, “What’s the Matter with Being a Strategist (Now)?” Parameters, Winter 2009-10, 5-19. As for the “strategic SAMS” moniker, I have seen references to both the Advanced Strategic Art Program at the Army War College and the Advanced Strategic Leadership Studies Program at the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) as a “strategic SAMS.” However, as programs for senior service college resident students, officers matriculate into these programs at around 20-21 years of service. The proposed use of the Basic Strategic Art Program in a senior O-4 window of opportunity would see officers matriculate at 14 years of service, providing over a half decade jump start on deep strategic thinking while also coupling the education with a strategic assignment utilization.

[16] Army Service Component Commands include: U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), U.S. Army Central (ARCENT), U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR), U.S. Army Africa (USARAF), U.S. Army South (ARSOUTH), U.S. Army North (ARNORTH), U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command / Army Strategic Command (SMDC/ARSTRAT), and Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC).  ACOMs include: U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), and U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC).

[17] ADRP 7-0, Training Units and Developing Leaders, August 2012, 1-2.

[18] Hodne, David, “Accruing Tacit Knowledge: A Case for Self-Study on behalf of Professional #Leadership,” accessed 4 April 2016.  

[19] The use of developmental assignments early in one’s career build one’s strategic acumen is supported by the Army Research Institute’s research. See “Enhancing the Strategic Capability of the Army: An Investigation of Strategic Thinking Tasks, Skills, and Development” by Anna L. Sackett, Angela I. Karrasch, William S. Weyhrauch, and Ellen F. Goldman. 

[20] First, the depth of Eisenhower’s broadening is more extensive than what is currently possible. The suggestion here is not to try and replicate the challenges of the interwar period by slowing promotions and advancement. Rather, it is to illustrate how broadening not only can better prepare officers for higher command, but that it can provide actual assignments where the services can assess actual strategic performance of officers prior to selecting them for higher command where strategic perspective, thinking, and judgment are required. Second, while his duty description for several of these positions were executive officer or aide, his functions should not be confused with today’s functions for those positions. At the time of his service, these positions carried a significant advisory function that required him to develop his strategic thinking. Lastly, when looking at Eisenhower’s positions between 1939 and 1941, his performance as a Regimental Executive Officer, Division Chief of Staff, and Third Army Chief of Staff provides some real bona fides to judge his higher command potential from a leadership perspective. Again, the example is not designed to discourage command, but rather to identify broadening assignments in between command to better develop future senior leaders.

[21] While the article is focused on how the U.S. Army could use the Basic Strategic Art Program, the other services could also use the Basic Strategic Art Program to augment their efforts to develop strategists just as the Advanced Military Studies Program, School of Advanced Warfighting, and School of Air and Space Studies each matriculate officers from other services. Since nearly 1/3rd of Functional Area 59 positions are on Joint Staffs, the majority of the planning curriculum of the Basic Strategic Art Program is focused on Joint planning.

In conclusion...

This article appeared originally at Strategy Bridge.

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