By RACHAEL TOLLIVER
U.S. Army Cadet Command
There is a right way to do things and a wrong way. When you are an officer in the U.S. Army the difference between the two can come down to a successfully completed mission with high-fives all the way around, or a failed mission with a call for extra support and hasty evacuation. And quite often the deciding factor was good leadership decisions.
But what makes good leaders? And what is the best way to develop them?
These are the questions officials at U.S. Army Cadet Command wrestle with as they advance leadership development, curriculum and the way it is taught, making it more relevant to today’s world and to situations in which future leaders will find themselves.
Improving the curriculum, changing the way it is delivered and taught, and teaching cadets how to think, not what to think, is a formula Maj. Gen. Jeff Smith, commanding general, U.S. Army Cadet Command, Fort Knox, said he thinks will successfully develop well-rounded leaders of character.
“Future leaders will need to be educated in science, technology, engineering and math,” Smith explained. “They will need foreign language skills, must be culturally sensitive and possess established critical thinking and problem solving skills.
“It only makes sense in these changing times that we set our future leaders up for success,” Smith added. “To do that, we are implementing new ways to better develop future Army officers to meet these challenges.”
For example, the current educational model of ROTC has changed very little in 30 years, and although the present curriculum was standardized in 2002 it hasn’t really changed since that time, according to Dr. Richard Swain, dean of academics for USACC.
“The changes in the threat and strategic environment are (not the same as 30 years ago).Our current educational model does not create the adaptive, critical and creative thinking the Army’s officer corps will need in the future,” Swain explained. “So in order to produce successful future leaders, we are analyzing every educational and training program we offer in ROTC.”
For instance, Swain said while ROTC is known for teaching military history, expanding instruction into philosophy and logic will better educate Cadets and produce more well-rounded leaders. Such classes will help teach problem solving and critical and creative thinking skills, he added.
In addition to lessons in philosophy, logic and military history courses, Swain and Lt. Col. Mark Reeves, chief of curriculum development, are also implementing changes in teaching methods.
Changes in ROTC curriculum place the organization on a path away from old education models of static learning and move it into the 21st century. For example, the classroom instruction has already moved away from hard-back books and toward e-books—something cadets can take anywhere and from where lessons can be taught at any time.
Other technological changes include lectures delivered via a streaming video, gaming scenarios for training purposes, and using a computer-generated marksmanship training aid, said Reeves.
“There are over 150 different teaching methods,” Swain said. “The Army has been raised to brief and we do that extremely well so we think briefing is teaching and learning, which it is not.”
Methods other than briefing include active experimentation which is also an effective learning method, as is the discovery learning method. Depending on the material taught both can be very learner-centric and together, Reeves said, it helps teach how to think, not what to think.
The difference in the approach to thinking is the difference between successful leaders who can make urgent decisions at the drop of a hat.
“It’s critical that we change the way we develop our leaders. The battlefield for which we prepared our cadets the last 30 years is not the battlefield today,” explained Lt. Col. Matthew Leach, chief of the cadet professional development division. “We must developagile critical thinkers who can make strategic decisions at a moment’s notice on the ground.”
Leach explained that in the past the battles in which the U.S Army fought were on linear battlefields that could be controlled. However, battles are now fought in an asymmetrical environment meaning that a young lieutenant may become engaged in any degree of conflict ranging from a direct firefight to a political engagement with a local leader. It can all happen at a moment’s notice and that means young officers have to function quickly at a variety of levels.
“We need to revamp now so that lieutenants can be successful in those asymmetrical threats they encounter whether lethal or not,” he added. “If those lieutenants are not critical thinkers we are not setting them up for success.”
To accomplish this with the same amount of class time during the university school year, Leach said in the future USACC will stand up the Cadet Initial Entry Training Program, creating a two summer training cycle. This format will allow the classroom focus to be more about leadership, critical thinking and problem solving while the CIET summer training will be more about basic Soldier skills.
The second future summer training cycle, the Cadet Leader Course, will replace the current Leader Development and Assessment Course and will be platoon-centric. Leach said during this training cadets will have the opportunity to lead platoon-size elements in realistic training
as if they would if we were in an area of conflict.
“So now, the first time a cadet leads a platoon is during his (junior and senior) year, not in a combat or conflict zone,” he said. “This course demands more leadership, critical thinking and more agility. The problem sets are immediate.”
Another change that Leach said cadets could expect to see in future summer training is the expansion of fiber-optic and real-time video training. He said that with the use of this technology cadets will be able to immediately get video feedbacks on their training actions. That feedback can be uploaded into a database where cadets would then watch their performance.
Similarly, cadre with a Go-Pro and an iPad can pull up a film clip and send it to the data base so they can pull up the video of a cadet and what show he/she did right or wrong.
“The benefit in making all cadets go through CIET is to give classroom time to critical thinking—to get more leader training time,” Leach said. “Another advantage is that the training is standardized—everyone learns the same focuses, and all will have the same level of basic Soldier skills. And if a cadet has graduated from basic training, (he/she) does not have to come to CIET.”
One more change that cadets and cadre can expect to soon see is the expansion of internships.
Leach said the command thinks it’s important to provide quantifiable experience that can be added to a resume in a real-world environment. As the active component draws down, the Reserve components will need bolstering. And having cadets who have completed and internship means they have an active resume worthy of any career they pursue.
He added that cadets need to understand that Plan A as a civilian who is an officer in the Reserve component, is a viable, successful career option.
“We want the best graduates spread across the board,” he said. “Our goal is to have internships in different science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. So, for example, if a cadet gets an internship in the aerospace industry or in cyber security, when they graduate they would have a better chance for a job somewhere in that industry. If called upon, the Army wants to be sure it has a Reserve officer who is a successful civilian and an educated critical thinker.”
Training adaptable, thoughtful leaders for tomorrows Army isn’t just a side thought for the commanding general in charge of these changes. As such, Smith has made it his priority.
“Tomorrow’s Army leaders are going (to) find themselves in a variety of complex circumstances on an ever changing battlefield,” Smith explained. “The safety of the men and women they lead, the success of the missions on which they are sent and the function of the units in which they are assigned all depend on whether they are creative, competent, adaptive, critical thinkers.”
“So my primary objective is to make sure we are doing everything we can now to set our young leaders up for success in the future.”