John T. Kuehn: Professional Military Education Isn't Bad -- But It Isn't Valued by Policymakers

Roundup: Historians' Take

John T. Kuehn has taught military history at CGSC since 2003 and retired from the Navy as a commander in 2004. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Kansas State University in 2007. He graduated with distinction from Naval Postgraduate School in 1988. He won the Society of Military History Moncado Prize in 2010 and is the author of Agents of Innovation (2008), Eyewitness Pacific Theater (with D.M. Giangreco, 2008), and numerous articles and editorials.

There is much discussion these days that [professional military education (PME)] is a mess, in part because of the post-9/11 wars, and in part because of more deep seated institutional problems. Tom, Bob Scales, and others have directed the attention of the public (and some military leaders) to the system in place today. As a professor of history at the Army's Command and General Staff College (CGSC) in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, my informed take is that PME is not as bad as some people think, especially in regards to its faculty. On the other hand, it is not as valued by policy makers, either those in uniform or civilians, as one would wish -- and it is especially denigrated by those folks in the Pentagon who work for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the Joint Staff, or in joint lingo, the J-staff.

Let me start with the bad news first. Former Congressman Ike Skelton, the patron saint and founder of the modern PME system -- as it was reformed and institutionalized in the Goldwater-Nichols Act -- must be appalled at how his vision for PME is being undermined. The real problem facing us has to do with revisions to the Officer Professional Military Education Programs instruction and policy (I'm referring here to the OPMEP, CJCS 1800 series. I understand the Joint Staff has some kooky notion about changing the 4-1 student to faculty ration to 5-1 in the OPMEP. 4-1 right now works out to about 15 students to one instructor in the classroom because of all the "non-teaching or barely teaching" staff that get counted as faculty or partial faculty. This ain't right. The move toward 5-1 must be killed -- it goes in the other direction from the best graduate education practices for resident education. Our problems, no matter what the quality of the faculty, will increase substantially. Additionally, the J-staff continues prevaricate about assigning key JDAL billets to joint faculty at the PME schools, to include the active duty officers of other services -- for example navy officers assigned as faculty at CGSC. Joint education will never be properly valued if a joint tour in a PME billet is not valuable enough to be coded that way.

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