Academic journal article Military Review

Educating the Strategic Corporal: A Paradigm Shift

Academic journal article Military Review

Educating the Strategic Corporal: A Paradigm Shift

Article excerpt


IN AN INCREASINGLY complex interagency, joint, and multinational world that oscillates between conventional and nonconventional military missions, transforming noncommissioned officer (NCO) education and leadership development is of paramount importance. The U.S. military assumes that commissioned officers, based upon their level of education and hierarchical roles, will bear the main weight of interagency and intercultural interactions in current and future stability and counterinsurgency operations. That hypothesis is wrong because the era of the "strategic corporal" is upon us. This operative term comes from the article, "The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War," by U.S. Marine Corps General Charles C. Krulak. (1) In it he refers to the inescapable lessons of Somalia and other more recent humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, and traditional operations, where outcomes hinged on decisions made by small-unit leaders. In these situations the individual NCO was the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and influenced not only the immediate tactical situation but also the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions directly affected the outcome of the larger operation. Today's NCOs fulfill front-line, nonstandard roles by serving as town mayors in Iraq, negotiating with tribal leaders in Afghanistan, and training indigenous forces worldwide. They are strategic assets.

To address these advanced leadership requirements, U.S. Army educational development should expand to include language training, cultural education, and interagency exchange opportunities at the appropriate levels of the noncommissioned officer education system (NCOES). This expansion will prepare strategic corporals for the complex operations confronting the U.S. Army now and in the future. With existing NCO schooling shifting from training to education as NCOs move up the hierarchical ladder in both rank and position, the first steps of change are taking place. (2) This shifting paradigm provides a window of opportunity to add essential language training, cultural education, and interagency exchange opportunities to the NCO educational portfolio. These three areas provide focus for prescriptive recommendations using best practices from other U.S. services for adapting the noncommissioned officer education system.

The Need for Military Expertise

A recent U.S. Joint Forces Command study on the future of warfare suggests high potential for instability around the globe due to demographic, energy, and climate trends. This Joint Operating Environment 2008 report stated:

   The next quarter century will challenge U.S.
   joint forces with threats and opportunities
   ranging from regular and irregular wars in
   remote lands, to relief and reconstruction in
   crisis zones, to sustained engagement in the
   global commons. (3)

The analysis implies that U.S. military forces will be engaged in persistent conflict over the next quarter century. This environment will be one where the Army faces adversaries that may be nonstate actors, insurgents, criminals, or dispersed networks of ideological extremists. Distinguishing between combatants and noncombatants will become more and more complex and chaotic since they will be culturally and socially foreign.

Critically, the U.S. Army rarely possesses the language skills or cultural expertise for operating in these regions--the Horn of Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. Language, cultural understanding, and regional knowledge all mesh in different yet complementary ways to produce better intelligence, more credible civil-military operations, and greater insight into the enemy. As noted in the U.S. Joint Forces Command study, "The conduct of war demands a deep understanding of the enemy--his culture, history, geography, religious and ideological motivations, and particularly the huge differences in his perceptions of the external world. …

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