U.S. Army Options for Professional Military Education Amidst COVID-19
Matt Sardo has served in the U.S. Army Infantry and Special Forces Branches. He is currently separating from Active Duty to attend Berkeley Law School and will remain in the U.S. Army Reserve as a Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor with the Golden Bears Battalion. He can be found on Twitter @MattSardowski. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: The U.S. Army Permanent Change of Station freeze amidst COVID-19 will challenge the Professional Military Education model.
Date Originally Written: April 6, 2020.
Date Originally Published: April 20, 2020.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is an Army Special Forces Branch O3 (Promotable) preparing to start a Juris Doctorate at UC Berkeley. The author believes repairing the U.S. civilian-military divide is mission critical to U.S. dominance in a multidomain operating environment.
Background: The U.S. Army freeze of Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders presents both challenges and opportunities. The cohort of officers preparing to move their families for Intermediate Level Education (ILE) face an uncertain summer due to the global impact of COVID-19. Competitive officers, most of whom have made the decision to pursue the profession as a career, are funneled to the Army flagship institution at Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC). This situation presents a challenge to the education model the Army has relied upon since George Marshall was a Lieutenant in 1906.
A model distributed between U.S. academic institutions and the Army Department of Distance Education (DDE) could both meet Army educational needs and ensure COVID-19 safety precautions are executed. The Army DDE provides Common Core and Advanced Operations Courses remotely. American academic institutions have rapidly developed the digital infrastructure to provide online certificate and degree programs in high-demand technology fields. Both Army remote education infrastructure and civilian institutions provide opportunities to modernize Army education.
Significance: The civilian-military divide in America has long been studied and analyzed by leading scholars from across society; however, the gap in trust between these two groups is widening. The current challenge faced by the Army Officer Corps presents an opportunity to immerse officers in civilian academic institutions. If operating within Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, the Army cannot send it’s cohort of committed career officers to CGSC this summer.
It is difficult to say what the indicator for an all-clear will be during the COVID-19 pandemic outside of an effective vaccination program. Immediate decisions on essential manning, mission priorities, and geopolitical investments will occupy Army senior leaders for the coming weeks and months. The CDC will have a vote on the big decisions and Army leaders are beginning to understand their span of control during this period. Approving PCS orders for officers and their families will violate CDC guidance, and the decision space to identify an effective ILE alternative is rapidly shrinking.
The Army has come to the conclusion that its next challenge will be presented by a highly sophisticated, merciless nation-state adversary who will understand Army vulnerabilities better than the Army understands their own. Multi-domain operations (MDO), cyber support to kinetic strikes, and social influence are strong buzz words for modernizing training guidance; however, they do not answer the question of how the Army and the nation’s tech-savvy youth synchronize for those envisioned fictional battlefield effects. Integrating Army officer education with the American network of universities will provide both the needed education as well as interaction between two already socially distanced segments of American society.
Option #1: Integrate the Army ILE curriculum with innovative universities in order to leverage sought after skills in the officer corps and build relationships with academic institutions. Either leverage local university graduate and certificate options as best as possible within CDC constraints or enroll in online courses with tech-centric institutions. A Fort Hood stationed armor officer attending the DDE Common Core this summer and completing UT Austin’s 33-week Cyber Academy will be prepared to make future resource decisions to integrate fires and effects with social-media based targeting. A group of paratroopers and special operations soldiers from Fort Bragg will grasp the information landscape and agility of private sector procurement through a Duke Digital Media and Marketing Certificate or a University of North Carolina Masters in Business Administration concentration in strategy and consulting[4/5]. These are some of the skills and some of the options available through an integrated approach.
Risk: The anti-agility voices throughout the Army will identify gaps in various equities from an integrated, localized, and remote ILE option. If university integration is proven valuable during our current time of crisis, the CGSC model may lose some prestige. There will also be risk associated in which universities are sought after for partnership with the DoD, and which universities deny a partnership based on the current civil-military misunderstandings. The risk of inaction may defer a year-group of officers needed in critical leadership positions in the near future.
Gain: University integration will bring a human dimension of the Army into the civilian classroom. Option #1 will give opportunities for young minds to challenge the perspective of echo-chamber educated combat arms officers. It will provide an option for a current problem that addresses the institutional challenges of MDO from fires and effects, information operations, logistics, and command perspectives. Finally, this option will build a bridge between the Army and academia, and most importantly, it will solve the current PCS problem for summer movers.
Option #2: Expand the bandwidth of the Army online ILE infrastructure already in place. The CGSC DDE model is an accredited ILE source which can be completed remotely while officers are observing social distancing. It will require a significant investment in digital infrastructure from the DDE; however, the overall cost-savings from CGSC PCS moves will allow investment in course modernization.
Risk: The Army DDE portal and online interface are outdated, vulnerable to breach, and not equivalent to civilian online learning systems. Reliance on the DDE for the majority of officer ILE will present the system as a cyber target. Additionally, officers will not directly interact with their peers or mentors during a critical phase of professional development that can be achieved if the Army defers admittance for a semester.
Gain: Investment in modernization of the premier PME institution will force the Army to learn how to develop better online learning systems. The lessons gained can be applied throughout other Army officer and NCO PME curriculums. Trusted relationships can be built with software developers among the tech sector as the traditional defense sector has proven less effective.
Other Comments: Integrating Army ILE with university curriculums will not solve the civilian-military divide, but U.S. adversaries are watching closely. U.S. adversaries are most concerned by two aspects of American power. The first is the military’s tenacity and the second is the unrestrained innovation potential of American universities. Desegregation of the Army from academia increases the likelihood of future battlefield dominance.
This article appeared originally at Divergent Options.
 Kalic, S. N. (2008). Honoring the Marshall Legacy. Command and General Staff Foundation News, Spring 2008.
 Schake, K. N., & Mattis, J. N. (2016). Warriors and citizens: American views of our military. Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press.
 Cyber Academy Certificate Program. (2020, March 17). Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://professionaled.utexas.edu/cyber-academy-certificate-program
 Digital Media & Marketing. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://learnmore.duke.edu/certificates/digital_marketing
 MBA Concentrations. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://onlinemba.unc.edu/academics/concentrations