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.