June 2015

Editorial: Professional Military Education

Volume 99, Issue 6

BGen Helen G. Pratt

reviewed by Thomas E. Ricks

A disclaimer is in order. I am not dispassionate about Professional Military Education (PME). My last billet on active duty was as the last director of Amphibious Warfare School and the first director of the Expeditionary Warfare School, the successor to AWS. After retirement, I worked for Marine Corps University in the senior leader development office. I believe that PME is incredibly important to our Corps. The development of our NCOs, SNCOs, and officers is a vital task to which we give short shrift at our peril.

GEN George Marshall, the architect of victory in World War II, was asked shortly after the war what was the one decision he made that he wished he had decided differently. I am sure the expected answer may have been to change an operational decision or priority in either the European or Pacific theater. Instead, he said—and I paraphrase—that the decision he regretted most was closing the War Colleges during the war. As a result, there was no one thinking ahead to after the war or about the future of warfare or what the security environment might be after we achieved victory. In many ways, the investment in PME is about the future. At the beginning of the Global War on Terrorism—after it became apparent that it would be a long slog—a suggestion was made to radically curtail the number of captains going to EWS as there was a pressing need for them in the fleet, particularly in some MOSs. A very wise and very senior general quickly vetoed that idea with the simple but very true homespun observation, “we are not going to eat our seed corn.”

In this month’s Gazette, we feature an update on PME from the enlisted ranks through the senior officer ranks. I think you will find the series of articles in the PME focus section to be illuminating and interesting. PME has evolved and will continue to evolve to prepare Marines for the dynamic environment they will face. Done right, PME teaches students how to think and not what to think. Our PME institutions are dedicated to the development of critical thinkers who also have the hard skills needed to perform and lead in the MAGTF.

Decades ago, when I was a student at The Basic School, they used to hand out “the yellow.” It was the school solution to the tactical problem and was printed on yellow paper. As a reminder that the solution was a way to solve a problem and not the way to solve a problem, a poster was hung in the entrance to Heywood Hall, where the classrooms were located. The poster had a gravestone with an epitaph on it:

Here Lies Lt Binotz,

A Graduate of this Institution.

He Lost His Life in His Very First Fight.

He Used the School Solution.

PME does not teach the school solution, but rather how to arrive at the solution to the “wicked problems” facing the Corps not just today but tomorrow. Those students are our seed corn.

Tags: editorial, PME

Colonel Keenan was born in New York City. He graduated from Manhattan College with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in November 1972 after completion of the Officer Candidate Course.