11 June 2009

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul...

Martin van Creveld’s “Culture of War” discusses, among other things, the education of a warrior in ancient and modern times. He brings up an interesting point about the advanced service schools of various militaries throughout the world.

Prior to World War Two, the German Army regarded an assignment as an instructor at service schools as a highly prestigious assignment, with the German Kriegsakademie being staffed by instructors such as Guderian, Ludendorff and von Manstein, and a similar institution in Austria being staffed by none other than the Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel. The German Luftwaffe, on the other hand, had a different philosophy. German flying aces, after racking up dozens, and in some cases, hundreds of kills, were kept on the front lines with their aircraft, and not in the flying academies. The Luftwaffe believed that it was best to keep their best aces in the cockpit in order to take on Allied aircrews. Unfortunately, luck finally caught up to many of the German aces, with many of them dying on the front lines.

The advantages and disadvantages of the two schools of thought played out in dramatic form in the Pacific Theater of World War Two. The US military recognized the benefits of having sharp minds in the academies, and would rotate experienced aviators back to flight schools in the US in order to help instruct new aviators. This proved effective against the Japanese, who, like the Germans, kept their experienced pilots on front-line aircraft carriers, where they were killed by Allied fighters. The dearth of experienced pilots forced the Japanese to field largely untrained aircrews, using many of them as kamikaze crews. The training became so poor that, late in the war, dogfights against US Naval Aviators were notoriously lop-sided. The most infamous of these incidents occurred in 1944, when the largest carrier battle in history, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, occurred off the coast of the Marianas Islands. During this particular battle, the US Navy lost some 120 aircraft, while shooting down over 600 Japanese aircraft—during one portion of the battle, an American pilot made a comment about the ease of shooting down Japanese fighters, giving the battle the nickname of “The Marianas Turkey Shoot”.

With that said, you'd think that the US military would place great emphasis upon being an instructor. Unfortunately, even in the US military, there is sometimes a stigma against instructing at certain professional courses. Some opposed General Petraeus’ assignment as the director of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Indeed, there were many who felt that he would be best suited directing the war in Iraq from the Pentagon as the J-3, the Director of Operations for the Joint Staff. Petraeus himself was a little apprehensive about the project at Leavenworth as well. Still, his work at the CAC was quite productive, resulting in what we now know as the Counterinsurgency Field Manual . Petraeus went on from Leavenworth to command US forces in Iraq, and was replaced by the former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Lt. General. William Caldwell IV. Lt. Gen. Caldwell built on the program that General Petraeus instituted. If you're curious as to what he's been implementing recently, I invite you to check out his official blog at the Fort Leavenworth website, and to read the posts from his students at the course.

Despite great high-profile leadership at the Combined Arms Center, many feel that positions at military education courses still have a stigma. Indeed, Martin van Creveld noted that instructors at the Marine Corps Staff College often said that they were “children of a lesser god”, and that instructors at similar institutions often make the same remarks. Certainly, while there are some excellent instructors at many of these organizations, there are some institutions which have also suffered. In some courses, the only qualification necessary to teach the course is having been a graduate of the course which you are teaching. It is not unheard of for an instructor at some of the captains’ career courses to be a student in the course one week and then a fully-fledged instructor in the course the next week.

In times of war, Creveld notes, the most prestigious assignments are the ones which are given to command of troops, and rightly so. Nevertheless, sacrifice in the quality of trainers at any course can have grave consequences for the future of any military. Certainly, not every instructor at a military course is a dud by any means; but with an Army stretched thin, sometimes there are sacrifices in these courses. Currently, there are few discriminators to becoming an instructor at many military courses. As long as a potential instructor is of the correct military occupational specialty and rank, they can be plugged-and-played into an instructor slot at any number of courses.

I’ve seen some who loved duty as an instructor because they enjoyed the subject material and they had a knack for teaching. Good for them. On the other hand, there are those who use duty as an instructor at a service school as a way to avoid an unsavory job, or to get out of a deployment. There have also been some cases where I’ve looked at commanders of basic training companies and the like and scratched my head, wondering whether duty at a military school might actually be a way of placing someone where they can (presumably) do the least amount of harm.

In many ways, the argument regarding service schools might be moot. Certainly, our Soldiers are getting plenty of real-world experience at eating soup with a knife out there from a most unforgiving teacher. If anything, I was grateful enough that the slow pace of my particular captains’ career course allowed me enough time to concentrate on my own particular counter-insurgency and military theory reading list. All the COIN reading pushed out the nonsensical Soviet-era doctrine with which they tried to inundate my mind. (I’ve forgotten everything I learned about the Soviet BMP-2, and I in no way regret it)

Focus: What's your impression of service schools. I know I have many former students and instructors there who can comment on what it's like at the "school house" from both sides of the desk. Any courses worth scrapping altogether or heavily reforming?


Unknown said...

I'm not sure that using Rommel as an example in this post is advancing your point. Although he has achieved legendary status now, he was very poorly regarded by most senior German officers and received the promotions he did because he caught the eye of Hitler early, not because his talent was recognized. His appointments to schools, therefore, do not reflect the positive regard of his superiors.

The reason I've been given for this disregard is the fact that he never served on the General Staff, a lack that set the stage for the logistical problems that caught up with him in North Africa (although intelligence work by the Allies also played a factor).

That said, I've noticed two factors that contribute to schools being staffed with less competent and enthusiastic instructors than the soldiers deserve. First, it's become a place to stash people who are somehow only marginally fit for duty. This is not necessarily a problem in the case of those who are recovering from injuries, but is a serious problem in other cases. Second, people who would rather not be there are assigned and consider it something that they have to put up with until they can manage a transfer out.

The only way I can see to manage the problem is to somehow make a teaching assignment desireable, an advantage for promotion, other perks, whatever it takes to draw people to ask to go.

Starbuck said...

Interesting comments about Rommel. I ordered "The Rommel Papers" by Liddell Hart, but I hadn't had a chance to read it yet.

horizon said...

Naval aviation has not changed much from WWII. The best pilots are expected to proceed from their initial fleet squadrons to a training command to become flight instructors. Most jump at this chance to stay in the cockpit, and those who don't face negative consequences to their careers.