26 May 2009

Army Mal-Education

There is a huge contradiction in the Army that bothers me particularly, probably because I am a teacher in my civilian life. There are many special programs offering us "free" education," yet the system seems to discourage Soldiers from acquiring more of it.

Now I know many will contend that is not true. I personally have seen dozens of Soldiers in classes, and according to folks at the Laura Bush Education Center here at Camp Bondsteel, nearly 300 troops are taking advantage of the education programs.

But, the vast majority are not. We have almost 2,000 Soldiers here, most of whom do not have college degrees. The command here is concerned about the number of Soldiers dropping classes. It was recently reported from on high that many classes would be cancelled because of lack of enrollment.

At the top, the Army would like everyone to have at least an associates degree. A smarter force is in everyone's best interest.

Why then , on this deployment aren't leaders more flexible in making these opportunities available to Soldiers. There is no excuse why a troop should not go home with at least 18 units under his belt.

I have yet to see a leader truly encourage his Soldiers to get educated. Many will say mission first. Why isn't getting educated part of the mission. Can't a Soldier, who is willing to dedicate many of his free hours to study, be given less hours in the field, on patrol, or in the office? Shouldn't a leader find it within his prerogative to let the Soldier study during the slow times during the work day?

Leaders are not giving their troops the time necessary to succeed. Why?

Three likely reasons come to mind.

1. Education undermines the Army system. In the civilian world, education opens opportunities for advancement, and bestows expertise and credibility, whereas in the Army, time in service, tours, and rank does. A parallel path instills fear in those who rely on the latter.

However, a Soldier with rank and experience should be able, willing, and good at incorporating a younger Soldier's education into the mission. It will enhance his team and his leadership.

2. Formal education's benefits are not directly visible in Army duties. Holding ground, patrolling a route, or clearing a building are all very kinetic tasks. Their performance relies on mastery or certain motions and reactions. Whether someone is good at math or understands the perspectives of the First World War has no perceivable effect on his accomplishment of any of the actions listed above.

Yet, if Soldier's have a better understanding of their world, they will be able to understand what is required of them even in the most myopic sense. And, the discipline, organization, and analytic skills that come with formal education will help every Soldier perform his job better, reactions more quickly, assess and develop better courses of action, and take proactive steps to avert crises.

3. Leaders are not educated, and don't see its value. Politicians have implemented all the programs available for Army education. It makes them look good. But the Soldiers who lead do not put it in the same high esteem as their civilian counterparts.

It is up to higher commands and civilian leadership to impress upon everyone the reality that a more educated Army is a more effective Army.


  1. "Life's not fair"...if a soldier truly wanted an education through the Army, they'd do whatever it took to get it. Heck, the army did whatever it needed to entice them to join, so why not?

    The tools are available as you've mentioned, they just have to by-pass all the hurdles (sad, but unfortunately life is not sugar coated)to accomplish their goal - if it is indeed what they wish to do.

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  3. Your three reasons couldn't be further from accurate.

    Here's the one and only reason it's difficult to pursue civilian education in the Army: we do not work office hours. Being a Soldier is not a 9 to 5 job. It's more like a 0500 to 2100 job, and for leaders at every level, it is a 24-hour-a-day job. That does not lend itself well to taking personal time to attend college classes.

    We can only allow around 10 percent of a section's assigned strength enroll in civilian schooling at a time, and when we go out to the field for a two-week training exercise, for example, that ten percent will not be able to deploy to the field and do their job for the unit.

    Nonetheless, we try to encourage Soldiers to pursue civilian education through online courses and night classes, and even provide 100% tuition, up to a cap.

    Unfortunately, with most Soldiers serving numerous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in the face of reductions in manning and overall force strength due to budget cuts, the Army is shrinking. But our mission is not shrinking. So now we're asking 10 Soldiers to do the same amount of work that a year ago we had 30 Soldiers to do.

    Thank you very much for your assessment of the Army education program as a civilian teacher.

    Let's all pop smoke from the motor pool, leave these tanks and bradleys sitting here, and go take some college classes!