The School of Advanced Military Studies: An Accident of History

Article excerpt

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THE BEGINNINGS OF the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) are more than 25 years old now. Some might find it incredible that it is so young, but it's also incredible, in retrospect, that we have a SAMS at all. It certainly was not an inevitable development. Revisiting why there was a beginning at all for SAMS is an appropriate way to mark the school's 25th anniversary. What was intended, how the key ideas that give SAMS its distinct character took shape, what the key hurdles were, and what conditions are necessary for its survival for another quarter century are topics deserving professional notice.

The Need for Advanced Military Study

The SAMS curriculum owes its beginnings to two epiphanies among the Army's senior leadership:

* Realization that the military art of our time was more intellectually demanding than we had been prepared to accept.

* Recognition of the need to muster humility and admit that officers needed to be better educated than they were at the time.

This dawning occurred when the Army was actively questioning its core doctrine. In 1978 General Bernard W. Rogers, the then-Chief of Staff of the Army, had questioned the entire officer education system and launched a top-down look called the "Review of Education and Training for Officers" (RETO). The Army was also reflecting on how it had done in Vietnam, and was looking forward to the present and foreseeable future. I was involved in both of these efforts and was one of the most junior officers in the RETO study group--just after my graduation from the Command and General Staff College (CGSC). By 1980, I found myself at the center of the effort to revise how the Army should think about waging war with the Soviet Union.

This effort was the second try at a post-Vietnam updating of Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Operations (what now is FM 3-0). I had studied hard at CGSC and had afterward served successfully as a battalion XO, brigade S-3, division deputy G-3, and battalion commander, and I still felt inadequate to the task. I noticed that others around me, even senior-officer War College graduates, were not any better equipped to think critically and creatively about military art. We had learned the military doctrine of the day, but not how to usefully judge, question, and revise it. Army officers (CGSC and War College graduates alike) had a short historical memory of the evolution of military methods, were thus stuck in the present, and were therefore unable to envisage change. Some of us could quote Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, but we did not really understand them.

Lieutenant General William Richardson, the CGSC commandant of that time, shared this frustration. In the fall of 1980, he ordered the directors of CGSC to find ways to "improve the tactical judgment" of CGSC graduates. They came forward with a number of remedies. Their suggested improvements, while helpful, were simply inadequate to bridge the chasm between what was and what needed to be. General Richardson had addressed the right problem, but the Army needed a genuine paradigm shift to solve it.

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General Richardson's committee of CGSC directors had not been receptive to my ideas about needed curriculum changes. In my view, they were making adjustments within the conventional framework, but needed to step outside it. I developed detailed ideas for developing curriculum and designing a school dedicated to filling the need, but I held off advancing my ideas and waited for an opportunity to brief General Richardson alone. Having worked with him closely on the Army doctrine that eventually came to be called "AirLand Battle," I knew he would give me a fair hearing. In late spring of 1981 General Richardson invited me to accompany him on a 21-day trip to China to visit Chinese military officer educational institutions ranging from pre-commissioning to general officer schools. …