Robert W. Moorman explores the importance of advanced education to help US senior military officers become better leaders and strategic thinkers.

Charm has Gone

Every newly minted US Brigadier General (BG), Navy Rear Admiral (RA) and member of the US Civil Service’s Senior Executive Service (SES), is required to go through in-depth leadership education and training. In the old days, some programs were jokingly referred to as charm school. But to the military, the sobriquet is dated, inaccurate and dismissive of coursework that has become a vital and evolving component of a military leader’s professional portfolio.

A recent Rand Corp. study, “Raising the Flag – Implications of US Military Approaches to General and Flag Officer Development,” detailed similarities and differences in the development of flag officers in each service. Prepared for the Office of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the study provided the authors’ view of how each services select their Generals and Rear Admirals. Experience, successful performances in command, and leadership qualities serve as a universal guide among military branches on which officers are suitable candidates for promotion. All promotion boards tend to “select officers whose career experiences are comparable to their own. “Ducks pick ducks,” noted the study.

Different Pathways

Yet there are differences in the pathway of how each service select General Officer (GO) candidates, Rand found. The Army’s process tends to be “tactically focused, command-centric and doctrine-based,” while the Navy’s career process emphasizes “self-reliance, technical expertise and Darwinian competition.”

The Air Force’s methodology focuses on “early identification of talent” and places greater importance on education, while the Marine’s process is “highly prescriptive and performance-based.” Common experiences serve to reinforce the Corps “egalitarian culture.” The study, in part, seems to reiterate what military leadership has known for some time. Professional Military Education (PME) is particularly valuable to officers than transition from 06 (Full Colonel or Navy Captain) to BG or RA.

Some services provide their own advanced education programs for new flag officers (a generic term to describe General or Admiral) or partner with other services on transition or advanced education programs. The Navy’s principal transition program is called the New Flag and Senior Executive Training (NFLEX) symposium. The Chief of Naval Personnel and Director of Navy Staff defines NFLEX as a “week-long intensive residential learning experience,” designed to transform Captains (06s) or civil service managers into new Flag Officers and SES members. The goal of NFLEX, in part: to develop and enhance knowledge, insights of these new leaders. Academics from top universities and business leaders join senior Navy leaders to provide “a diverse mix of thought leadership, practical advice and relevant insights” on important issues of the day. NFLEX is offered in October typically at the Bolger Center in Potomac, Maryland. Attendance is mandatory. The five-day symposium includes session on ethical leadership, legal issues, global competition and cooperation among the major nations and team building with other flag officers and commands, as well as nuts and bolts briefings on the responsibilities of a first-tier Admiral.

The General and Flag Matters Office, part of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness office, are responsible for the development and retention of general and flag officer ranks. On average, 50 RAs and 50 SES members are promoted annually. As of November 1, 2018, there were 141 Army BGs; 112 Rear Admirals RAs; 42 Marine BGs; and 145 Air Force BGs approximately for a total of 440 BGs and RAs, according to the US Congressional Research Service.

Thinking Differently

Transitioning to flag officer can be challenging. Some 06s (Captains and full Colonels) have spent much of their career “too much in the weeds,” according to one academic involved in advanced learning for command officers. Seeing the big picture, such as developing a command wide strategy, can be difficult. “When these officers leapfrog into a higher level of leadership, they have to start thinking strategically, look farther beyond what they know now and provide the inspiration for their organization to perform at the highest level,” said Winli McAnally, Director, Center for Executive Education, Naval Post Graduate School (NPS). McAnally added: “They have to start thinking differently.” Educators are charged with pulling these new flag officers out of their comfort zones. McAnally, who has contributed to some of the NFLEX sessions, administers an academic schedule of 25 courses for the Navy’s senior leadership. The NPS provides defense-focused graduate education. One goal is to foster students, including Admirals, to be continuous learners throughout their career.

National Defense University

Elsewhere, there is more in-depth instruction for new flag officers. The National Defense University (NDU), located at Fort Lesley J. McNair Army base in Washington D.C., conducts the five-week, joint-service Capstone program for newly minted GOs and SES members serving within DOD. Attendance, which is open to new flag officers from all branches, is mandatory. Capstone is part of the Joint Warfighter Development Program (JWDP). The program was created in mid-1982 by a directive from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Subsidiaries of NDU include the Joint Forces Staff College, the National War College and Industrial College of the Armed Forces. New generals learn about military strategies, strategic national objectives, service interoperability, working with other government agencies, objectives of allied nations and national security. A noteworthy aspect of Capstone is its non-attributable policy. No guest speaker or instructor can be quoted, according to a Capstone backgrounder. Which allows for more candid instruction and discussions. The course must be completed within two years after US Senate confirms the selection of a new flag officer.

Capstone 19-1 participants at Offutt Air Force Base. The Capstone program provides opportunities for new flag, general officers and senior executive service to learn from subject matter experts through discussions on a variety of defense-related issues. Image credit: Stephen Cunningham/US Strategic Command.

Since 1962, the Air Force has sent newly promoted active-duty BGs to the Senior Leader Orientation Course (SLOC). Where they learn about decorum and what was expected of them as GOs, said Mary Morfitt, Associate Director of Air Force General Officer Management. The course also updates new GOs on problem areas as well as the strategic vision of the Air Force. In 1995, SLOC was expanded to include the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard BGs as well as SES members and their spouses. SLOC coursework includes discussions on power and influence, ethics, media and legislative training and is taught by military leaders, instructors from academia and the private sector. In 2015, the Air Force began offering the Advanced Senior Leader Development Seminar (ASLDS), a growth development course for Major Generals held annually. “ASLDS builds on the coursework at SLOC to enable general officers to operate in today’s complex global environment,” said Morfitt.

Flag Officer Courses

In addition to NFLEX, Capstone and SLOC, all military branches offer advanced courses to flag officers independently to bolster their leadership abilities. The US Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa. manages general officer education through the now-centralized Army Strategic Education Program (ASEP), created in 2016 to deliver PME for Army GOs. The program has four levels: basic, advanced, senior and transition. Retired Colonels, academics, private sector executives, authors and others teach courses and manage the programs. “ASEP represents a significant investment in the continuing professional education or our Army's most senior leaders,” said ASEP Director, Army Col. Kevin McAninch. “The program is distinctive because its focus is on knowledge and practical skills required to engage successfully at the national strategic and enterprise level within the highest areas of civil-military relations.”

BGs and 06s selected for promotion are required to attend ASEP’s 10-day Basic Course, which offers seminars, panel discussions and writing assignments passed on to Army senior leaders. Within the basic course is a formal program for spouses. This Basic Course is the first component of ASEP, providing a foundation for Army strategic thinkers as they enter the GO corps. This course now includes the required General Officer Legal Orientation Course. Strategic communications and Mission Command training are part of the Basic Course.

A consolidated, one-time, three-week Advanced Course for new major generals and prospective BGs focuses on civil-military strategic competencies, building national-level relationships and on how to provide counsel to civilian leaders. Also offered is a six-day Senior Course for Senate-confirmed Lt. Generals. Course participants interact with joint, interagency, intergovernmental, academic, media and civilian leaders.

Leaving and Transitioning

A five-day Transition Course is offered to three and four-star generals transitioning to civilian life. GOs taking the course are typically within 12 to 18 months from retirement. The course, which is mandatory for Lt. Generals and optional for four stars, is offered up to five-times annually.

In 2016, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley moved responsibility for the general officer education program to the Army War College. Miley told Army Magazine Staff Writer Gina Cavallaro the reason for the move was “so it could be nested and integrated horizontally and vertically with all professional education. Now it is much better…”

Strategic Thinking

The Navy Executive Development Program (NEDP) offers continuing education courses for senior executives, uniformed and civilian. The primary focus of NEDP is to expand strategic awareness of Navy leaders and help them operate more effectively in Navy and Joint environments.

NEDP courses include:

  • Strategic Thinking: A 5½-day course designed to provide senior executives with the skills needed to navigate complex strategic issues at enterprise and global levels. The course enables a creative dialogue among those wanting to affect change within an organization by offering new and different ways to redefine core strategies. Students learn new skills regarding cost, resource constraints, management, information technology, strategic execution and human capital.
  • Tailored Education (TE): A series of confidential discussions designed for flag officers transitioning to positions of increased responsibility and visibility. Examples of modules for tailored education include leadership, diversity and performance, service contracts, executive overview, knowledge management and transfer and trends in Asian economics and security. Eligibility and participation in TE are coordinated through the Navy Flag Officer Development Program Office.

Joint Courses

An increasing number of joint courses are now offered to flag officers. They include Pinnacle, whose target audience is three-star generals picked to become future Joint Task Force (JTF) commanders. The course prepares senior flag officers, and equivalent rank civilians, to lead joint and coalition joint forces. The course is held at the National Defense University (NDU). MS&T was unable to reach anyone at NDU for comment on this story.

Other joint education programs include: Joint Force Air Component Commander Course (JFACC) and Combined Forces Air Component Commander Course (CFACC). Hosted semi-annually by the Air Force and sponsored by all branches, the course prepares potential JFACs for theatre-level combat leadership responsibilities in theatre. Attendees study military doctrine, warfighting and “the application of unified, joint, and combined combat forces with particular emphasis on air and space power employment.” Vertical and horizontal integration of air and ground forces are discussed.

The Combined Force Maritime Component Commander Course (CFMCC) is designed to develop leaders, who are focused on the operational level and oriented toward maritime security of allied nations. CFMCC is designed to strengthen relationships with allied nations. Courses are held in various locations, including Oahu’s Pearl Harbor, Bahrain, Miami and Naples, and focus on stakeholders and issues of that region. The Combined/Joint Forces Land Component Commander Course (C/JFLCC) at the Army War College in Carlisle, Penn, prepares senior officers to be land component commanders in a joint/combined, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational environment.

Other courses include the Cyberspace Operations Executive Course (COEC), designed to familiarize senior leadership with the network, its vulnerabilities and threat activity; Senior Joint Information Operations Application Course (SJIOAC), designed to educate senior military leaders about information operations; and Strategic Communication Workshop, which helps attendees implement strategic communication plans and processes.

Ethics and Code of Conduct

Ethics and code of conduct are two subjects that have received increased attention by various services. Capstone, NFLEX and other advanced courses for flag officers cover these subjects, but to what degree is unknown. MS&T found that education and training have been enhanced and reemphasized in these areas, although specific details on courses and training remain sketchy.

High profile incidents, such as the “Fat Leonard” scandal, cost numerous senior Navy officers their careers and reduced their leadership ranks appreciably. Some officers, who were only tangentially involved in the scandal were demoted or booted out the service. Leonard Francis, a contractor supplying fuel, water and food, admitted that his company Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) admitted to overbilling the Navy $35 million. The six-year US Department of Justice led investigation resulted in 33 federal indictments and 22 guilty pleas involving Francis and Navy personnel. Wild parties, prostitutes and bribes were revealed. The investigation covered GDMA’s business with the Navy’s 7th fleet in the Western Pacific from late 1990s to Francis’ 2013 arrest, according to the USNI News. “The Fat Leonard fiasco might be a lesson in leadership and character versus education and training,” observed Commander Bill Hatch (USN, Ret.), Senior Lecturer, Manpower Systems Analysis, Naval Postgraduate School. “Training is along the line of conformity, but education does peer over the fence into leadership and ethics.”

With regard to Code of Conduct, and how flag officers could instill this code in subordinates, Hatch said: “I don’t believe one [a leader] wears a code of conduct but rather exudes moral character by the way others observe him or her. One of the big issues that come to mind is for a commander [flag officer] accepting responsibility for subordinates learning.” An approach to ethical learning for enlisted and senior officers comes in various forms during a military career. Said Hatch, “From a human resources management standpoint, there is a non-verbal agreement between faculty and students that if I prepare relevant lectures, listen and encourage/monitor student (military personnel) dialogue, it is expected students come prepared with relevant contributions to the class discussion.” This is commonly referred to as the “psychological contract” that builds trust among faculty and students. Hatch said the precursor to ethical education is the establishment of a non-attributable environment to discuss moral character and value. “Once that is established, it is a natural segue to ethics,” he said.

Code of conduct is reinforced for all military personnel throughout their careers and discussed in-depth during courses designed for flag officers and those down the chain of command. While not a required item for education or training, senior officers serve as mentors for junior officers and enlisted personnel, where the subjects of ethics and code of conduct are reinforced, Hatch added. MS&T could not find specific education courses for flag officers that cover sexual harassment and assault, but various branches have created training programs for lower-level service personnel typically.

Sexual Harassment and Assault

All services have a no-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment and assault. And yet those incidents continue in the military at an alarming rate. Between 2018-2019, sexual assaults against women in the US military spiked by 50%, according to the US Defense Department’s Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. The report, based on a survey of women in the four military branches, estimated there were 20,500 assaults in 2018. MS&T could not find figures for all of 2019 and parts of 2020. Back in 2012, then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta required a revamping of some sections of general officer education/training. Panetta instituted higher standards for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) training for pre-command instruction. A review of the program stated that the quality and consistency of SAPR training for military leaders and enlisted personnel should be improved. The Secretary also instructed the implementation of methods for objectively assessing the effectiveness of SAPR programs, and insert the best practices into a final rule, including interactive instruction, vignettes and classroom discussion. As of July 2020, DOD was finalizing two interim final rules into a single final rule on SAPR, according to the Federal Register, the daily journal of the US government.

UK Harassment

The US Military isn’t the only service grappling with the issues of Code of Conduct and Sexual Harassment. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence announced a series of measures recently to deal with the bullying, harassment and discrimination of women, including various minorities. In 2019, women made 23% of the discrimination complaints, even though they make up around 12% of the active-duty UK armed forces, according to the BBC. This unacceptable behavior is responsible for the departure of numerous female and ethnic minority personnel, Gen. Sir. Nick Carter, Chief of the Defense Staff, told government officials recently.

Beyond Charm School

Education and training opportunities for US flag officers have come a long way since Charm School, a misnomer, which some military historians say never really existed. It is true that the early transition courses for new flag officer courses dealt with ethics and standard of conduct mainly, but today’s education opportunities for flag officers are numerous, varied and in-depth to handle the complexities of today’s world, today’s military. Unfortunately, the charm school moniker lives, ironically, through embellished, humorous stories told by charm school attendees. “I now know what fork to use,” said one new charming BG. Affirmative, sir, but you’ve also learned a lot more.