Kansas and regional news

Kansas and regional news

Army creativity gets new focus

Class teaches critical thinking

February 19, 2006


— In a classroom full of war-hardened men wearing camouflage, crew cuts and dubious expressions, the lesson Tony Baker was trying to teach last Tuesday, he admitted, seemed pretty "squishy."

The class was about creative and critical thinking. The students were majors in the U.S. Army, some with battle patches from Afghanistan and Iraq. And Baker, a recently retired lieutenant colonel, could sense their doubt as he talked about encouraging curiosity and "seeing the good in the bad."

"You're sitting here with skepticism," Baker told his students. "When I asked you to plan an operation on Fallujah, off you went."

But the challenges of terrorism and counterinsurgency - like the ones faced by America abroad - don't lend themselves to a one-size-fits-all template. It's Baker's job to get the majors ready for that new world.

"Our Army is in love with technology, and our Army is in love with processes," he told the soldiers. "It's not in love with creative thinking. I think it should be."

If there is any place in the Army that is in love with creative thinking, though, it's Fort Leavenworth.

The historic northeast Kansas base is home to the Combined Arms Center - which develops the Army's war-fighting doctrine, trains officers to use that doctrine in battle and collects "lessons learned" to make the doctrine and officers better.

Call it the "Egghead Corps."

"In a lot of ways, you could call Fort Leavenworth one of the important, intellectual critical masses of our Army," Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, CAC's commander, told the Journal-World.

The events of 9-11, and the war in Iraq, however, have forced all that thinking and training to happen at a quicker pace.

Writing the book

Maj. Tom Westen was in Iraq during the initial invasion in 2003, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division. "Major combat" was relatively easy - defeating another army was what Westen and his colleagues had been trained to do.

But, Westen said, they weren't quite ready for the elusive guerilla war that developed after Saddam Hussein's government was toppled. The Army's field manual on counterinsurgency had last been updated in 1986.

"A lot of what we trained for," Westen said, "wasn't necessarily what we faced."

Now, however, Westen is literally writing the book on counterinsurgency. He's part of a 19-person team at CAC's Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate writing the Army's new field manual outlining methods to fight insurgents.

It's a process, Westen said, that involves "a lot of reading" and discussions with Army leaders who are busy fighting Iraq's insurgents. And the final doctrine won't focus solely on guns and bombs - officers will need to be skilled in diplomacy, economics and politics to win over civilian populations whose support is necessary to be an insurgency.

"It's not," Westen said, "just the military use of power."

Creating a new field manual, though, usually takes 18 months. That's too long while the war is dragging on; Westen's colleagues rushed out the Army's first-ever "interim" field manual on insurgency in 2004. Several more interim manuals have been written since then.

"The pace is making it so we're trying to get doctrine to the field faster," Westen said, "to fill the need."

But, Westen suggested, even the best-written manual won't eliminate the need for officers who can improvise.

"Doctrine is never an ending point," Westen said. "But it is a start."

Soft skills, hard work

That's where Baker's class on creative and critical thinking comes in.

The class is part of the 10-month curriculum at the fort's Command and General Staff College; every major in the Army must go through such a college, and most go to Leavenworth to get the training.

The need for critical thinking, he said, wasn't so acute during the half-century the Army prepared to battle the Soviet Union. The murkiness of a counterinsurgency war was rarely considered.

That's been slow to change, Baker said.

"When these guys were lieutenants, 10, 12 years ago, the Berlin Wall had just fallen," he said of the majors in his classroom. "Everyone they worked for was still geared to that."

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said, show the need for officers to handle situations as diverse as setting up a sewer system, stabilizing the local economy and making allies with local leaders.

Developing those skills includes a new "cultural immersion" class, said J.P. LaMoe, chief of staff at CGSC. And it requires officers to grapple with the Army's past failures and controversies - the reading list includes magazine articles like "The Fall of the Warrior King," a New York Times Magazine piece detailing the ruin of Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman, a CGSC graduate who commanded soldiers charged with drowning Iraqi detainees.

"People who come here ... are the citizen class of America," LaMoe said. "You don't get anywhere trying to indoctrinate people."


That spirit of self-criticism is institutionalized at CAC. Military Review, a bimonthly journal published at Fort Leavenworth, in November printed a blistering critique of the Army's performance in Iraq by a British general - an article that raised hackles across the service, despite a prominent disclaimer from the journal's editors.

"Whilst they were almost unfailingly courteous and considerate," Brigadier Gen. Nigel Aylwin-Foster wrote of U.S. soldiers, "at times their cultural insensitivity, almost certainly inadvertent, arguably amounted to institutional racism."

The Center for Army Lessons Learned also takes a hard look at battlefield successes and failures. Its work after the Iraqi ambush in 2003 that led to the capture of Pvt. Jessica Lynch, for example, led to changes in the way the Army conducted and armored its supply convoys.

"It's an interesting concept, because some of the lessons that you learn are that you didn't do very well at something," Petraeus said. "You have to do that, or you cannot figure out how to fix that."

There's plenty of other work done at Fort Leavenworth.

The Combat Studies Institute studies the history of warfare to come up with modern-day lessons - taking officers on "staff rides" of historic battlefields to get a feel for how combat unfolded; the School for Advanced Military Studies trains the so-called "Jedi Knights" who actually draw up attack plans for the Army; the School for Command Preparation gets senior officers ready to lead brigades and battalions.

"Our soldiers are on the tip of the spear," said Maj. Shawn Stroud, an aide to Petraeus. "But we're making the spear sharper and sharper and sharper."


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 3 months ago

A course in critical thinking among the lower ranks of the military is pointless as long as the leaders in the white house are so thoroughly disabled in this respect.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 3 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

mefirst 12 years, 3 months ago

Y'all clearly don't understand the definition of critical thinking.

Critical thinking involves the ability to examine a situation without bias and without motive, other than to discover the facts. Start teaching your GIs to think critically, and they might start turning on you.

Why do you think there are so many liberals in academia? They spend their lives thinking critically, examining the facts of both sides, and they reach a conclusion.

Marion, though I don't agree that liberals wouldn't support critical thinking, I do see the point you're making. People in this society do not know how to think critically. We've been taught to believe ONE way about the U.S. The U.S. is the white knight...any information that contradicts that (and there's plenty...and it's no secret), creates animosity and hostility like that demonstrated by Porkribs...geez, dude. Take a pill.

Americans can't handle criticism of the government or its policies because criticism is new, unheard of. I never heard ONE critique of U.S. policy the whole time I was in school K-12. NOT ONE! And I defintely didn't hear it in the military...well, except from one sailor to another.

So, this new wave of teaching the military's version of "critical thinking" at Ft. Leavenworth...I'm all for it, because this emotional reaction to world events that Marion speaks of, clearly isn't working.

And the sharks begin to circle...

mefirst 12 years, 3 months ago

Porkribs...begging for facts. What a joke.

mefirst 12 years, 3 months ago

Porkribs...there's more to life than money. People pursue knowledge for a slew of different reasons. How can you fault a person for taking an interest in a topic and becoming an expert in that topic through years of research, reading, and writing.

The fact that you call such people fools, says a lot about you. I bet if you ever sat down with one of these "fools" and tried to engage in a conversation about say...U.S. foreign policy with a person who actually specializes in U.S. foreign policy, you'd walk away feeling very inadequate, inferior, and downright ignorant. Why, because the conclusions you draw, though they make sense to you, are based on very limited information...You're too busy with life to study anything in-depth. For academics, they're lives are studying.

We live in a society that detests, but relies on scholarship. You can't have it both ways.

And again, you simply insult. You offer no semblance of a reasoned argument.

How would you characterize "conservative" academics? They are out there. Are they equally as foolish? Say, people like David Horowitz? I would argue that he's foolish, but for reasons different from yours. Those academics who represent the conservative end of the political spectrum...are they stupid? Are they unwise?

Again, you can't have it both ways.

mefirst 12 years, 3 months ago

Porkribs...your comment,

"There are so many liberals in academia because they couldn't make it in the real business world."

I've heard that comment made about people in the military as well. It used to anger me, cause I was once in the military. I've interacted with enough people in "the business world" to know that it doesn't take a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist to function in the business world.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 3 months ago

Oh, UNCLE, porky. Your powers of persuasion and debate and mastery of the "true" facts have just overwhelmed me.

gyroduck 12 years, 3 months ago

Porkribs, Speaking of wisdom maybe you would like the story about a samurai who asked the zen master the difference between heaven and hell.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 3 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Jamesaust 12 years, 3 months ago

Some of this 'new' thinking is bearing fruit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/15/AR2006021502586_pf.html

Interesting quote from the Leavenworth military review: "... we need to take off our cultural blinders and understand that our sense of what is right and good cannot-not even when coupled with advanced technology-automatically transform undemocratic societies."

Could it be that there is dissent within the military for Rumsfeld's endless 'pork quest'? Rumsfeld in the most recent Quadrennial Defense Review: "The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war." Response from the GOP House Armed Services Committee: "It appears that the QDR has become a budget-driven exercise..." Proof: the Washington Times reports earlier this month that the Pentagon will develop a new pentrating bomber - to complement not replace the B2 - at God-knows what expense. Wouldn't it have been cheaper and just as useless to ask for a fleet of sailing ships with a few cannon? {Earth to Rumsfeld: Cold War over. Repeat. Cold War over.}

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 3 months ago

You know, porky, BushCo should take a lesson from you in Iraq-- just declare victory and pull the hell out-- everybody would know it's a sham, but better than "staying the (murderous) course."

mefirst 12 years, 3 months ago

Good argument, Arminius. I'd love to meet you, so I could laugh in your face. Your posts crack me up. I just wish I could mock you in person!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 3 months ago

It would appear I've been using too many five-letter words for the admin's tastes this morning.

mefirst 12 years, 3 months ago

Well Porkribs, I guess if you've never heard such comments, then they never happen.

Cowards? These cowards are the only people who speak out. I know a lot of "cowards" who spend their days confronting lies and they become the "right's" punching bag. They risk their careers (so much for academic freedom) to expose people to information and are HATED for it. I also know a lot of former military in academia, as well as people who have lived in very dangerous places, facing very dangerous circumstances, conducting research.

I'm not going to say that all academics are wonderful, praise-worthy, American heroes (what a cliche!), but to condemn them all is just ridiculous.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 3 months ago

Kevvie frothed and spewed:

"It's too bad you had a bad experience in the service, but it appears you were the Navy equivalent to what we Marines call a "shtbird." Most of those who did well in the service go on to do well in life in general. Unfortunately, shtbirds remain sh*tbirds."

I don't know what I said that warranted my posts' removal above, but I know it didn't sink anywhere near this low.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 3 months ago

No, that's just looking at both sides of YOUR polar thinking and its strawmen.

Some of us are able to see the good and the bad of what this country does.

To you, whatever butters this country's bread can't have a downside.

compmd 12 years, 3 months ago

I am constantly annoyed by military members that think academics (or civilians as a whole) do not contribute anything to their country. Its funny because higher ranking officers (who I work with) don't seem to think this way. You forget that these "cowards" you so detest are the ones who developed every piece of technology that you depend on in war and every piece of equipment that is meant to save your life on the battlefield. If you've ever had a bulletproof vest stop a round from killing you, think of the squirrely geek in glasses that made it work. I could go on and on, but I think you should get the point.

wheremyshoes 12 years, 3 months ago

Navy beans, the magic fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot. The more you toot, the better you feel. So eat them beans with every meal. I think the Army eats a lot of Navy beans.

mefirst 12 years, 3 months ago


Again, I'd love to mock you in person. I was in the navy for four years and earned a Navy Achievement Medal and all my evaluations were STELLAR. I'd be more than happy to show them to you.

Everyone who hates criticism of the military from ex-military relies on the sh*tbird argument. It don't always apply Arminius.

I'd love to see your service record.

BunE 12 years, 2 months ago

Its about time that the Army recignized the intellectual prowess is the key to winning wars. The conservative, plan for the last war, I remember the good old days mindset of the army has always been an issue. I hope that they continue on.

To all of you Jac!@#ses who want to tell us all how hard core you are? Drop it. No one brags about combat except those who have not seen it. If you need to beat your chest to feel good about service to your country, you have nothing to say.

Anyway, Good luck to Ft. Leavenworth. A toast to fewer wars, fewer casualties and a bit of peace.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.