Marine University Promotes Professional Military Education

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
USINFO Staff Writer

Quantico Marine Base, Virginia - With security challenges growing rapidly in every region of the world, one of the U.S. Marine Corps' premier learning centers is preparing its U.S. and foreign students for two realities –- today and well into the future - says Marine Corps University President Donald Gardner.

"We take our educational mission very seriously, and 'teaching for the future' is the focus of our day-to-day operations and strategic planning," Gardner said in a recent interview with USINFO.

Military schools like the university, tucked away in a corner of the Quantico Marine Base in northern Virginia, often are seen in stark contrast to the traditional perception most people have of the U.S. armed forces.

"We're not just interested in muscle," says Gardner, a retired Marine major general and combat veteran of the Vietnam War.  "We have an old belief in the Corps that education is like camouflage -– it should be continually updated and kept fresh to be effective.

"The rapidly changing operational environment in places like Iraq and Afghanistan demands that the professional military educational system be flexible and responsive to changing operational conditions."

Training the minds of future leaders -– officers and noncommissioned officers alike -– is essential to a modern military capable of responding to the thousands of diverse and increasingly complex missions it is charged with each year.

Adding to that reality is the emerging strategy of coalition operations in which military personnel from many nations combine to carry out joint missions such as the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq and the NATO-led security missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Retired Army Colonel Jerre Wilson, the university's vice president for academic affairs, said its students include officers from all branches of the U.S. military and civilian officials from agencies like the State Department and the Defense Department, as well as 50 resident foreign officers from more than 30 nations.

The university's four professional schools offer security-studies courses in subjects such as war, policy and strategy; national security and joint warfare; regional studies; culture and interagency operations; and operational planning.

Among the current foreign students at the university are 50 officers from the marine, navy and army services of their nations' militaries, including students like Lieutenant Colonel Manjit Singh of the Indian army and Lieutenant Commander Sameer Al-Thawady of the Bahrain navy.  But learning is not confined to the classroom at military educational centers; much that is learned comes from living in the United States.

Singh commented on the seven months of classes he has attended at the Command and Staff College, saying: "I would rate it as an exceptional experience.  Not only is it beneficial to me professionally, but my time here has helped me to get a better understanding of America as a nation and its military services." (See related article.)

Al-Thawady, who had studied in the United States before, agreed that exposing foreign officers to U.S. defense education helps eliminate considerable misperceptions.

"I've seen now that the U.S. is not just about brute force" but rather conducts security operations worldwide in a "thorough and purposeful way, just as we are taught here at the university," Al-Thawady said.

Gardner said he tells his students, "We will provide you opportunities to advance your leadership abilities, expand your war-fighting knowledge, [and] enhance your ability to solve problems while sharing your experiences with fellow students from across the world."

The Marine Corps University still follows the guiding principles for military education established by Brigadier General J.C. Breckinridge, who was commandant of Marine Corps schools in 1934, Gardner said.

Breckinridge summed up his concept of a military education saying, "It is my constant ambition to see the Marine officers filled with ambition, initiative and originality, and they can get these attributes only by liberality of thought - broad thought - thought that differs from precedent and the compulsory imprint of others."

Covering nearly 100 square miles, Quantico is also home to the Corps' Combat Development Command, which formulates war strategies, as well as the Marine Corps Research Center refining field equipment.

Currently, the university has 480 resident students enrolled in the four major departments - the Marine Corps War College, the Command and Staff College, the School of Advanced Warfighting and the Expeditionary Warfare School.  The first three schools offer one-year programs taught at the graduate-school level.

In addition, Gardner said, the university operates Marine noncommissioned officers' academies located worldwide and is responsible for a number of Marine fellows studying at other U.S. defense institutions like the Army Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  Total enrollment in all of the university's affiliated programs is around 3,500 students.