During my tour of duty as a faculty member of the history department at the Air Force Academy in the 1990s, my colleagues and I often lamented the lack of critical thinking skills and intellectual curiosity our cadets sometimes demonstrated. How could they ever become effective leaders and officers without developing these key attributes? We were concerned that there was too much emphasis on producing engineers or simple managers that always looked for the "correct" solution to a problem, usually in the form of PowerPoint slides with lists of bullet points (I recall one student, explaining that he was a "visual learner," asking me why military history couldn't be taught this way). We instead wanted to nurture the reflective, contemplative soul, the one who could see the gray areas in an issue. I recalled those days as I read the articles for this month's spotlight on military education and training, a topic we at Proceedings have wanted to address for some time. While this is our first shot at it, we've found so much fertile ground we have yet to cover that it won't be our last.
In our lead story, retired Rear Admiral Jacob Shuford, fresh from a more than four-year stint in Newport as president of the Naval War College, touts what he calls "humanistic" education for military leaders. In light of the new Capstone Concept for Joint Operations and a new maritime strategy, naval leaders will increasingly be expected to have expertise in international cultures, not only to better understand the environment of potential enemies, but also for smoother relations with foreign stakeholders and partners. This strategic education, Admiral Shuford admits, could be a hard sell to proponents of technical training as the most important part of military instruction.
But how much does the Navy value education? Retired Navy Captain Rich Suttie, an assistant dean of academics at the Naval War College, points out that education has long been viewed by the Navy as a "nice-to-have" luxury, placing a distant second to operational requirements. But he warns that such a policy can adversely affect the service's joint war-fighting ability. While he cautions against trying to provide education for all without a guiding purpose, he explains that we must identify the skills and abilities needed in joint billets and ensure that personnel arrive prepared for their duties. And that process starts with professional military education.
One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching at the Academy was the opportunity to become a mentor to cadets. Although we had responsibility as academic advisers just as faculty do at a civilian university, what made the assignment special was when a cadet identified you as one they could confide in and seek professional or personal advice from. It was a responsibility one did not take lightly. And it wasn't something that could be created artificially. In "How to Make Mentoring Work," Brad Johnson and Gene Andersen look at how the Navy has taken a good idea and executed it poorly. Mentorship must occur spontaneously, they believe, not be legislated by a bureaucracy. Forcing a mentoring relationship produces very little on the giving or receiving end and sometimes has the opposite effect from what was intended.
We at Proceedings and the Naval Institute take this opportunity to congratulate Admiral Jim Stavridis on his nomination to be Supreme Allied Commander Europe/Commander, U.S. European Command, the first Navy officer to hold this prestigious assignment. He now moves from SOUTHCOM to a post held by such luminaries as Dwight D. Eisenhower. As some of our longtime readers are doubtless aware, the admiral has been one of our most prodigious writers and fervent supporters, contributing to our publications in one form or another since his days as a Naval Academy midshipman. He has written for us at every rank since. Good luck, admiral. We wish you fair winds and following seas!