Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Commandant's Career-Level Education Board - A Step In The Right Direction?

BGen Craig Crenshaw, commanding general, 3d Marine Logistics Group,
III Marine Expeditionary Force, center, sits with servicemembers after
receiving their diplomas for graduating from the Command and Staff
College at the Butler Officers’ Club on Plaza Housing, June 1, 2011.
Crenshaw was invited as the guest of honor for the graduation.
(Photo by LCpl Matheus Hernandez.)
Earlier this month, results from the Commandant’s Career-Level Education Board (CCLEB) were released. The stated purpose of the MARADMIN was “to select the best and fully-qualified officers for career-level professional military education (PME), graduate-level education, and select special duty assignments.” As the title of this post suggests, I generally agree with the purpose and intent of the message. It seems logical that the Marine Corps wants to screen as many officers as possible such that the “best” be given additional educational opportunities. However, I disagree with how the FY12 board was conducted and I do not believe the Marine Corps is pushing educational opportunities far enough.


On the former point, the announcement of the board came in late August of this year, which caught many FY12 movers off guard. For example, Marines interested in some of the programs that were / are currently deployed will not have an opportunity to take GREs or DLABs. This would seemingly limit their opportunities outside of attending resident EWS or the Army Captains Career Course. Further, by August many Marines are already starting to line up their next assignments and billets (as several peers of mine have). In effect, the board created somewhat of a hostage situation for FY12 movers as to their future while they awaited results. (To clarify, while primary and alternate lists were released this month, actual assignments of those selected will not be released until mid-January 2012). What’s more, while a Marine may opt out of participating if selected, he will receive a letter of non-compliance in his OMPF. This is unfortunate, while the idea of being automatically screened for additional educational opportunities are laudable, the fact that a Marine may be forced to attend a program he has already completed is not. Thus, if I have completed EWS via local seminar or Individual Guided Study (IGS) I may be forced to attend resident EWS anyway.

Some of these gripes ought to clear up in next year’s board, particularly since FY13 movers should be aware of it. However, for the FY12 movers, I recommend some leniency for those who do not wish to participate. Because of the relatively short notice, I believe they should receive amnesty if they opt out of participating. I find it draconian that we are forcing officers to do something they had little time to prepare for and punishing them if they refuse to do so. With that said, future movers beware.

As for my other point – I do not believe the Marine Corps is seriously looking at expanding educational opportunities to its officers. What I see with the current career-level education board is more officers being screened for the same number of available slots that existed before. Rather, what I would like to see is an overall increase in opportunities available but also an understanding on promotion / command boards that extra education in lieu of fleet time is a good thing. I understand that many Marines balk at the idea of missing a deployment so they can spend 9 months at resident EWS or 2 years at Naval Post Graduate School, doing so appears to make them less competitive. (And quite frankly there are many officers that harbor no desire to attend a school they see as having little impact on their ability to do their job, or simply want to EAS immediately following a fleet tour without incurring obligated additional service that attendance at such schools require). Ideally, with the Marine Corps’ commitment to Afghanistan winding down, and with fewer deployment opportunities available, this stigma can change. Expanding educational opportunities to company grade officers through corporate internships, graduate programs, and fellowships should be looked at as in investment in the Marine Corps future. Further, officers participating in such programs should be looked at favorably on promotion and command boards for their unique experience and insight. Unfortunately, we appear to be heading into a period of financial austerity and cuts to the size of the Marine Corps are likely to make expanding educational opportunities less likely.

For the time being I applaud the Marine Corps for looking to ensure officers get screened for additional educational opportunities. At the same time, there is more that needs to be done in order to ensure that Marine Officers can be exposed to additional educational opportunities.

7 comments:

  1. Extremely informative.

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  2. In the interest of full disclosure, I was the director of AWS/EWS for four years. This post makes a lot of great points but there are some other issues to consider. The Corps needs officers who have attended PG school. However, this method of selecting them could be deleterious. I will use EWS as an example. If you attended seminars or did IGS I understand reluctance to "plow the same ground." The problem is not education, but MOS skill progression training. We have not broken that out of resident school and made it available to distance students. Specifically I am speaking about combat arms and most specifically the infantry. The captain's career course is really an MOS skill progression course so if you are "PME" complete this may be a better option. I will be excoriated by the manpower folks, but here is my cut on PG school. It fits best if you go to school in a discipline that has a payback in your MOS. For example, a commO who goes for computer science and then is the ISMO for a major command. Or an adjutant who goes for HR and then is a manpower analyst at HQMC. If you are a combat arms captain, go to PG school and then a follow on payback, you will probably never command a company or battery. Think of the career implications. When PG school was voluntary and I was a regimental commander, I would tell combat arms officers, all who had been company or battery commanders, "I will endorse this enthusiastically recommending approval if you tell me you are OK with retiring as a major or never commanding a battalion." Now the question is not asked because the decision is not the Marines. Perhaps someone in manpower can honestly say how this policy will be implemented so that careers are not jeopardized by the Marsh building vice the performance of the individual Marine.

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  3. Col Keenan,

    I think that is perhaps the most important question - if you are selected and miss out on company level command time as a result, what are the consequences? I don't know how many captains and senior first lieutenants move each year, clearly not everyone is going to get picked as a primary or alternate. So the reverse to that is what happens if you do not get selected? Is that bad too? I think these are valid concerns and I would like to think there has been some discussion about them but only time will tell if it delivers.

    Regarding MOS specific PG training - I couldn't agree more. For instance, as an intelligence officer there are limited PG opportunities. There is the Junior Officer Strategic Intelligence Program (JOSIP), but there are only two slots available per year. The program would seem to be exactly what the Marine Corps would want - get a PG degree and get two years of beltway time to intern at various intelligence community agencies. Marines who attend this program would seem to be ideal candidates as MEU S2s or higher headquarters positions, particularly since they have a foot in the door when it comes to dealing with the greater IC.

    Of course the FAO program is a viable alternative as well - but is not intelligence specific. Bottom line for me is that while I absolutely think it's a great idea to try and open up opportunities; I don't feel that the details have been fully worked out nor do I believe we have actually increased the number of opportunities available.

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  4. I'm currently attending resident EWS and this has been a very hot topic among the students over the last few months. As a generalization, the feeling among the students about the CCLEB is that it might be great for the Corps, but it's terrible for the Marine.

    Prior to the CCLEB, if a Marine was interested in resident EWS, FAO, NPS, or any other special program, they looked at the program details, determined where it might (or might not) best fit in their career progression, and applied at the time that suited them best. If the Marine had no interest in NPS, for example, then they didn't apply.

    That being said, my first issue with the CCLEB is that all of the special programs being looked at require payback tours. How can the Marine Corps involuntarily select a captain for something that requires a payback tour? If the person "opts out", he gets a black mark in his record. If the person "opts in", he's required to pay back anywhere from 2-5 years (depending on the program).

    My second issue with the CCLEB is that there was no way to identify that you were not interested in a specific program. Marines were given the directions to rank, from one to eight, all of the programs. This included the law programs if the person was not a lawyer and resident EWS for those that were already enrolled in resident EWS. I should've been required to rank at least two programs, but not required to consider all of them. What if I already have a masters degree but get selected for NPS? What if I hate learning languages but get selected for FAO?

    Lastly, in the conduct of the board, they threw out all of the names of students currently at resident EWS. While this was good for me (who didn't want to be selected for a special program at this time), this was terrible for those students who did want to be selected for NPS, FAO, etc after completing resident EWS. I know a number of students who have done back to back fleet tours, came to resident EWS, and wanted to do NPS next. Just as the Corps is making sweeping decisions about selecting people through the CCLEB (improperly in my opinion), the board made another sweeping decision to take out all of the current resident EWS students.

    I forecast that some of the people selected for these programs would've otherwise applied for a specific selected program had it not been for the CCLEB. Most of the people, however, would not have applied for the program they were selected for because they didn't want to do it. Now you have a disgruntled person going through the training, incurring obligated service, and in turn will not get a good product.

    (continued in the next comment)

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  5. (continued from prior comment)

    If the Corps wanted more of the qualified people to apply for these programs then I'd recommend the following:

    1. Determine what skills make a person "more qualified" for each specific program. For example, a higher DLAB score for FAO. Good GRE scores and undergraduate grades for NPS.

    2. Make those skill determinators a requirement for promotion to captain. That would mean that a 1stLt should be required to take the GRE and DLAB prior to being promoted to captain.

    3. Once that information is received in the Marine's OMPF, run a periodic query with the skill thresholds (i.e. DLAB score over 130) and contact those individuals to find out why they're not applying to the FAO program.

    4. From an individual perspective, if you didn't know about all of these special programs already (before the CCLEB idea came out) then shame on you. If you haven't already called Manpower and had one of the officer career counselors review your OMPF and give you advice on career progression, special programs, etc then shame on you. Unlike the enlisted side, there's nobody in the fleet qualified to give you advice on your career. Your XO might help, but that's definitely on a case by case basis. You're expected to take charge of your own career and make decisions based on both: what you need to do and what you want to do. If you haven't talked to a career counselor at Manpower, then you don't really know what you need to do.

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