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Congressman Skelton calls for improved professional military education

By COL Randy Pullen

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 30, 2005)-–A leading member of Congress made a call for transformation of the military’s professional education system to ensure the Armed Forces retain their edge in the future.

Rep. Ike Skelton, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, made this call as he delivered the closing address at the 2005 Dwight D. Eisenhower National Security Conference Sept. 28 in Washington, D.C.

Skelton, who has represented Missouri’s Fourth Congressional District since 1977, was instrumental in the passage of the landmark Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986. He has long been a strong supporter of the U.S. military and those who serve in it, with a keen interest in military education. He chaired a House Panel on military education from 1987 to 1988 and has advocated improvements in the services’ intermediate and senior-level educational programs. Two of his sons are military officers, one in the Army and one in the Navy.

In his remarks, Skelton praised the men and women of today’s armed forces as they conducted operations at home and abroad.

“Our remarkable men and women in uniform are fighting the war in Iraq and the war against terror in Afghanistan,” Skelton said. “They are pursuing terrorists all over the globe and they are cleaning up along the Gulf Coast.

“These campaigns and actions, like the scores of operations before them, demonstrate why our service people deserve their reputation as the world’s finest military.”

Skelton then went on to say that while today’s operations demand our focus, we must be careful to not be so myopic that we fail to see what else is out there, that “we must, therefore, look beyond Iraq.”

“If history is any guide,” Skelton said, “we should expect that something out there is waiting for us that no one has imagined yet.”

After discussing the challenges of today and the challenges yet to come, Skelton explained that the burden to meet those challenges will fall not on technology but on humans.

As good as military professionals are today, they must be even better, he said. He feared that although tremendous effort was being made to adopt technological transformation, he did not see the same commitment being made to advance the understanding of the art of warfare by service men and women.

“While I do not pretend to understand the Future Combat System in all its complexity,” he said, “I do know that it will be useless unless it is employed by those who understand how to use if effectively on the battlefield.”

Skelton called for the joint professional military education system to be transformed in order to teach military leaders a deeper understanding of the operational art of war in order to master the complexity of the modern battlefield.

“Today, the system is adequate, but it needs to get better,” he said. “It must be rigorous and robust. It must give students the intellectual tools they need to fight the next war – not the war they are fighting today. The time spent at professional military schools needs to be longer – not shorter.”

Skelton said that human interactions in the broad range of regions that mark today’s and tomorrow’s battlefields would call for greater cross-cultural understanding at all levels. A way to develop this understanding might be to require future officer candidates to study a relevant foreign language as a pre-commissioning requirement.

He also recommended expanded mid-career graduate level education opportunities, with officer and non-commissioned officer graduates of these programs going back into the operational force and that the stigma against those who leave the operational world to pursue these opportunities – and thereby risk their careers – must be removed. He acknowledged that this was an exceptionally difficult philosophy to change under current personnel systems.

“I suspect you think I am describing the impossible,” Skelton said. “Well, you are right.”

“What really needs to happen is for the legacy machine age personnel systems to be disassembled and put back together again in fundamentally different ways to meet the demands of the information age population they are trying to recruit, retain, train and educate. It is tough to see how the services are going to attract adaptive, innovative, agile people without adaptive, innovative, agile personnel systems to suit them.”

To give officers more time to develop the expertise needed in modern warfare, Skelton advocated an increase in the size of the armed forces. Not only is this increase needed to meet the demands of today but “we need these additional forces to buy time in the present to prepare for the future.”

Only with a deep bench, he said, could the demands of today be met, while also providing service members the time to develop their expertise, broaden their professional military education, pursue civilian educational opportunities, and take time to reflect on what they learned and experienced.

But how can we increase the force to do this when the reality is that the Army is struggling to man its current levels, he asked. Public support for the war is decreasing, as shown by opinion polls, by shortfalls in recruiting and by declining numbers of those seeking admittance to the service academies. If these and other trends continued, serious damage to the Army, with a corresponding threat to national security, could result.

The Missouri congressman said that leaders at all levels must put greater emphasis on making a clear and compelling argument about why the youth of America should serve their country. He called on America’s young men and women to answer the call to duty and urged all of the country’s others leaders to make a similar call.

“Leaders at all levels, not just the recruiters in our neighborhoods, have a responsibility to ask our young people to serve our country,” Skelton said. “We cannot expect America’s sons and daughters to volunteer for the military just because they live in the greatest country the world has ever seen.”

What must take place, he went on to explain, is that these potential recruits and their families must be led to understand why their service is necessary. This message goes beyond the war in Iraq, about losing the opportunity for representative self-government in that country or about allowing a breeding ground for terrorism to flourish in the Middle East.

“This is about what is good for the long term health and security of our nation,” he said. “The best of America must continue to step up to serve and we need them to come forward in greater numbers.”

If they do not, the military will not be able to take time to prepare itself for the information age transformation, Skelton said, and what he called “the finest force in history” will atrophy to where it is unable to fight when next called upon to do so.

“The future of our country depends upon the next great generation of citizens who will answer the call to service,” he concluded. “I believe that young Americans understand this, and they are willing to answer the call, but we must never take them for granted and fail to ask.”

The Eisenhower National Security Conference is the culminating event of the annual Dwight D. Eisenhower National Security Series, a yearlong progression of seminars, workshops and conferences that address critical security issues under a unifying annual theme. The 2005 theme was "Shaping National Security -- National Power in an International World.” More information on the Eisenhower National Security Series and this year's conference can be found at:

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