General MacFarland covers the military evolution since the Vietnam era in Part 2 of our 3 part interview series.
Gabrielle Reilly: Many people around the world are still stuck in the Vietnam image of the US military. How has the philosophy of the Army changed in the past 30 years, in particular with the philosophy of teaching soldiers how to think and not what to think? What are the educational/fitness requirements to become a soldier today compared with the Vietnam era?
General Sean MacFarland: This is an interesting question and covers quite a bit of history. In order to answer this question, I think it's important to understand where the Army was after the Vietnam War. A major shortcoming cited by senior leadership was the lack of consistent doctrine and because of that we underwent an evolutionary change after the Vietnam War. A comprehensive revision of doctrine based on the Soviet threat and the need for greater inter-service doctrinal development was initiated, collaborating with the Air Force on the development of AirLand Battle doctrine.
With the update in doctrine, the Army needed to change the way it trained and educated its Soldiers. The creation of TRADOC, or Training Doctrine and Command, a new 4-star command solely focused on Army training and doctrine, grew from reviews of the Army's failure as an organization during the Vietnam War. Gen. William E. Depuy, the first commanding general of TRADOC, established a standardized training base through combat training centers creating a world class training environment that enhanced the quality of training by incorporating near-real-life combat conditions. The Army also created the Army Training and Evaluation Program to standardize the evaluation of training.
Changes in the Army's education system were instrumental in creating a highly professional force. The rejuvenated post-Vietnam education system was charged with providing knowledge two levels above the current grade of responsibility. In addition, regulation and policy were changed to link promotions and assignments to education. Officer education became standardized, identifying those competencies required by all officers coupled with the branch specific technical and tactical requirements needed to provide the best solutions for leader development. This was soon followed by the linking of Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) promotions and duty positions to successful completion of military education. In addition, NCOs were highly encouraged to obtain college education throughout their careers - leading to associate degrees followed by bachelor's degrees (or beyond).
The Army of today is an all volunteer, stable force focused on training and educating a professional cadre rather than a draftee organization with a significant turnover every two to three years. This gets to the heart of your question, what do we teach soldiers to think or not to think. The U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) currently maintains a four to one student-to-faculty ratio. Staff or seminar groups are comprised of a mix of Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, Coast Guard, and international officers. Adding depth to the student mix are civilian students from other government agencies such as the State Department and the FBI. During classroom discussions, instructors facilitate what we call "peer to peer learning" where officers share and learn from each other.
Instruction is oriented primarily on developing logical, practical, and original reasoning ability in military problem solving. Students must analyze problems based on available information; arrive at logical solutions or decisions with reasonable speed; communicate their reasoning and decisions orally and in writing; and supervise and ensure proper execution. CGSC uses interactive simulations and realistic contemporary scenarios so the students plan and execute, act and react. No two staff groups develop or execute the same plan in the same way.
So the short answer is we don't tell them what to think like we did in the 60's. We teach them how to think so they can arrive at unique answers to a unique set of circumstances.
To join the Army today, candidates must be between the ages of 17 & 34, be a US citizen or resident alien, be single without children or married with 2 or less children, must take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, agree to a criminal and medical background check, meet certain height and weight restrictions and pass a minimal fitness test.
To view General MacFarland's other interviews with The Global Townhall please visit these pages:
General MacFarland Interview Part 1.
General MacFarland Interview Part 3. - Coming soon!