By the time Gen. Raymond Odierno became the Army chief of staff in 2011, he fully realized the tension between thinking and doing in the US Army. Amid the high operational tempo of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, officers had become, as retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales described it, “too busy to learn,” devoting increasing time and energy to operations at the expense of professional study. And the Army, Scales noted, largely acquiesced by de-prioritizing professional military education in favor of meeting the requirements of securing, stabilizing, and democratizing two countries. In observing this challenge, Scales reiterated a point made by Bernard Brodie, the strategist par excellence, nearly fifty years earlier. In 1973, he wrote that even the premier education received by colonels at the US military’s war colleges was “too brief, too casual, comes too late in life and keeps the military consorting with each other.”
In 2012, Odierno developed the Advanced Strategic Planning and Policy Program, commonly referred to as ASP3, suggesting he took these insights seriously. He designed the program to afford qualified officers the opportunity to pursue a fully funded doctorate in a field of study that benefits the Army’s modernization and diverse missions. Odierno’s intent was to use this stable of officers, who are referred to as General Andrew Jackson Goodpaster Scholars, as a means to help the Army strike a better balance between a warrior ethos that emphasizes martial virtues on the one hand, and critical thinking on the other. The program aims to develop Goodpaster Scholars as both strategic thinkers and future senior leaders. It reflects a recognition that operational experiences should not be the only factor shaping officers’ promotion through the ranks. These experiences, when combined with an ability to reason and communicate, best inform officers’ potential to serve as institutional leaders given an increasingly complex operating environment.
While chiefs of staff since Odierno have retained managerial oversight of ASP3, the evolving pandemic presents a troubling inflection point. The unprecedented scale of the US government’s stimulus spending to offset record financial losses promises to impose budgetary constraints across the Department of Defense that have caused some officials to question the program’s merits. ASP3’s price tag pales in comparison to other programs and initiatives, including those central to the Army’s ongoing modernization efforts. Nevertheless, critics contend it is more responsible to recapitalize the funding in other training and material initiatives, especially considering Army officers can outsource critical thinking to the War College, Command and General Staff College, and West Point. More to the point, paying for a doctorate is arguably profligate because it is not required for, as an example, selection for battalion command—widely regarded as the benchmark defining a successful career—or an equivalent-level staff position. Others, adopting an argument made by US military historian Peter Schifferle, disagree. They point to the Army’s pattern of continued investment in education since World War I, even amid periods of austerity, as a key tool that has helped retain talented officers and underpinned warfighting readiness.
As a member of the recently selected cohort of Goodpaster Scholars, I want to engage this debate by arguing that the Army should retain ASP3 as a key talent management and modernization priority in its own right. Indeed, upon assuming his current role as chief of staff of the Army in August 2019, Gen. James McConville’s message to the service was clear: “People are always my #1 priority.” He added, “it is our people who will deliver on our readiness, modernization and reform efforts.” ASP3’s short history has already produced a number of successes, and its vision and objectives link the program closely to Gen. McConville’s priority. Moreover, the program has a meaningful impact on officer professional development and supports broader adjustments in the military’s approach to professional military education. Still, the question remains: Does the Army benefit from producing strategic thinkers and future senior leaders with PhDs?
While ASP3 is often confused with other programs, including the training of strategists at the School of Advanced Military Studies as well as the selection of faculty at West Point, it is none of these. The vision of ASP3 is to develop “field-grade officers as strategic thinkers through a combination of practical experience, senior-level professional military education, and a doctoral degree from a university in a field of study related to strategy in order to produce broadly networked future senior officers with strategic acumen, credentials, and skills.” The program is administered on behalf of the chief of staff of the Army at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It is also governed under Army Regulation 350-1, Army Training and Leader Development. To overcome what retired Lt. Gen. James Dubik refers to as the Army’s “strategic learning disability,” Goodpaster Scholars are expected to achieve three key objectives.
First, they must earn a doctorate at a university that best balances their research interests, faculty expertise, and anticipated payoff to the Army. Second, after finishing graduate school, Goodpaster Scholars complete any number of utilization assignments. The purpose of these postings is to capitalize on their expertise to contribute to the development of military strategy, which bridges America’s political objectives and military power. The range of opportunities includes assignments with the interagency, the joint force, combatant commands, Army headquarters, Army commands, Army service component commands, and direct reporting units such as the Human Resources Command. The program’s ultimate objective, however, is for Goodpaster Scholars to emerge as institutional leaders. Over time, it is expected that Goodpaster Scholars, similar to their title’s namesake—who held a PhD from Princeton University—will rise to the rank of general officer.
Since 2012, the collective performance of Goodpaster Scholars has arguably met Odierno’s initial vision. Of the nearly one hundred officers selected as Goodpaster Scholars, who are predominantly lieutenant colonels and majors drawn from across all branches, approximately a third have so far completed their doctorates. The remaining two-thirds of Goodpaster Scholars are at various stages in completing their coursework or dissertations. This is a remarkable achievement when considering the attrition rate for doctoral programs consistently hovers around 50 percent. More impressively, because of professional timeline constraints, Goodpaster Scholars usually complete a doctorate in three years. After completing their doctorates, they also demonstrate key returns on the investment. As of February 2020, 81 percent of the eligible Goodpaster Scholars were selected as battalion or brigade commanders, and most in the primary category. Others have fulfilled their utilization assignments as strategic planners in support of a litany of challenging and demanding requirements that capitalize on their unique expertise.
Even with this impressive track record, some still question the merits of funding Goodpaster Scholars’ doctoral studies. Are the costs of a PhD, in terms of time and money, really worth it for the Army given competing modernization priorities that must now contend with a budgetary crunch on account of the coronavirus pandemic’s financial impacts?
Studying Drone Warfare at Cornell
While my experience is certainly not the best evidence of the program’s meaningful contribution to officer professional development and the Army’s modernization, given the caliber of other Goodpaster Scholars, I hope it offers a window into ASP3’s purpose. I graduated from the United States Military Academy as a member of the “Class of 9/11” and commissioned as an intelligence officer. Although 9/11 represented the leitmotif of our studies at West Point, my classmates and I could not have predicted the impact of the terrorist attacks on the Army’s focus. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have consumed our careers. In my own case, I have served in the 75th Ranger Regiment for the better part of fifteen years and deployed multiple times in support of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations in both countries. Most recently, I served as the senior intelligence officer for the joint special operations task force in Afghanistan. During this rotation, the task force confronted the emergence of the Islamic State in the country, arguably the parent group’s most virulent redoubt. Given the unique nature of this and other assignments, I have interpreted it as a moral obligation to share my experiences in support of the Army’s modernization to maintain overmatch against near-peer competitors. During key assignments in my career, therefore, I have wrestled with an important question. How, exactly, can I best capitalize on my experiences to critically investigate the complex warfighting challenges that confront the Army?
During a recent assignment at the Pentagon, where I served as an executive officer to the Army’s G-2, I applied to ASP3, attracted to the time and space it afforded me to study a topic germane to the Army’s modernization. My family and I were humbled and honored to learn of my selection as a Goodpaster Scholar last year. Although the decision of where to study was tough, I chose to pursue a doctorate in international relations at Cornell University for several reasons. First and foremost, Cornell offered me the ability to learn from one of the world’s leading authorities on drone warfare, Professor Sarah Kreps. Her supervision, coupled with the Department of Government’s interdisciplinary approach, promises to best capitalize on my experience and interest in further exploring drone warfare. Under Professor Kreps’s tutelage, I plan to pursue a project that relates to the Army’s adoption of Multi-Domain Operations, its new operating concept. Specifically, I intend to study the implications of drone warfare on the relationship between America’s interests and international norms.
A review of the literature on drone warfare suggests several puzzles that have yet to be solved, but that the Army has a core interest in better understanding. These puzzles have led me to a research question: How does the intended purpose of America’s use of drone warfare inform the balance between its vital national security interests and international norms? Is this a question of utmost importance to the Army? Of course, there’s room for disagreement. But, given the shifting character of war, which emphasizes the use of precision munitions aided by machine learning and artificial intelligence to shorten the sensor-to-shooter timeline against near-peer competitors, while also adhering to the Laws of Armed Conflict, I believe this study will make an important contribution. And that’s the key point. Although the Army has a cacophony of master’s degree producing programs, such as the Downing Scholarship, no other broadening program affords officers the time and space for deep study of a topic. Doing so at this stage in their careers, when they have sufficient practical experience to pair with and inform that study, allows officers to become producers of knowledge for the Army and not merely consumers. This is clearly a benefit to the Army that is compounded by an emerging debate on the health of US civil-military relations.
The Impact of ASP3 on Professional Military Education
The benefits provided by Goodpaster Scholars to the Army, of course, are much broader than this or that research project. Despite—and arguably because of—the budgetary limbo, continued investment in ASP3 will help the Army fulfill the Joint Chiefs of Staff guidance to optimize professional military education. They have directed the services to build “strategically minded warfighters or applied strategists who can execute and adapt strategy through campaigns and operations.” To be fair, senior leaders do emphasize the centrality of soldier-scholars to the Army’s modernization and missions, particularly among junior and field-grade officers. In part, this explains the Army’s adoption of an assessment program to select battalion commanders, who Gen. McConville refers to as the “seed corn of the Army.” But as Brodie noted in 1973, and Dubik and Scales reiterated a decade ago, it is the Army’s culture that threatens to undermine the limited investments in a program, ASP3, that is integral to the service’s strategic learning.
But it does not have to be this way. Given its vision and objectives, dedicated funding of ASP3 will continue to provide immeasurable value to the Army. On the one hand, the Goodpaster Scholars are a useful pathway to feed critically formed insights on the shifting character of war back into operational and training units. This is especially true if Goodpaster Scholars habitually fill billets as military advisors to Army senior leaders—including the secretary, chief of staff, and vice chief of staff of the Army—as well as the Army’s four-star commands. There is also untapped potential for Goodpaster Scholars to fill both joint and interagency billets and leverage their unique qualifications to help influence policymaking and strategic decisions that also support the Army’s equities. On the other hand, Goodpaster Scholars help sustain momentum on what Lt. Gen. James Rainey, commander of the Combined Arms Center, refers to as “collaborative self-development.” The judicious use of social media enables Goodpaster Scholars to develop and mentor others to reinforce readiness. It is for these organizational dividends paid by the program, both vertical and horizontal, and so many more, that the Army should retain ASP3 even amid scarce resources.
Maj. Paul Andrew Lushenko is an intelligence officer in the US Army, Council on Foreign Relations term member, PhD candidate at Cornell University, and adjunct research lecturer for the Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security located at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: Paul VanDerWerf