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How Iraq, Afghanistan have changed War 101

A college for officers at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., draws on the experience of those fighting the war on terror.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 28, 2006


A few years ago, Maj. Hilton "Bo" Gardner might have sat in this cramped classroom trying to unravel the riddles of the "green sheet."

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Back then, this college for mid-career Army officers had clear tactics and maneuvers in war, and the green sheet was the last word. These days, however, Major Gardner is probably the closest thing this class has to an absolute authority. As a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he is more precious than any handout, answering fellow students' questions about the insurgency and its lessons for the Army – with the quiet consent of the teacher.

The war on terror has changed the Army in many ways, from boot-camp training to Pentagon doctrine. Here at the Army's intellectual hub, it is reshaping the education and expectations of the service's next generation of officers.

Some of the changes are as obvious as the addition of counterinsurgency and language electives to the curriculum. Yet at the most fundamental level, Fort Leavenworth's Command and General Staff College has had to reorient itself to stay relevant for veterans like Gardner, who come seeking to make sense of wars when tactics seem to change every hour.

Where once the college sought to instill its officers with the tactical know-how to defeat the Soviets, it has now turned to the challenging prospect of teaching soldiers how to think for themselves.

"It's a shift from a baccalaureate education to a master's-level education," says Brig. Gen. Volney Warner, deputy commandant of the college. "It's about developing in an individual the capacity to handle a broad range of problems."

In many respects, this is a task allotted to the entire military, as the uncertainty of today's unconventional wars calls for more thoughtful privates and sergeants, as well as officers. Yet some of today's majors will become tomorrow's three- and four-star generals, who help set the course and character of the Army. The Command and General Staff College, then, is something of a weather vane for the future of Army thought.

At the moment, the arrow is pointing directly toward Iraq and Afghanistan. The college has already added eight counterinsurgency-related courses, and students can now take electives in Arabic and Pashtun. In a dim hallway outside the main auditorium, a metal rack holds reams of suggested reading lists – but the slots for "cultural awareness," "counterinsurgency," and "militant Islam" have already been emptied.

In Gardner's class, tabletops teem with copies of "The Sling and the Stone" and "No True Glory" – officers' must-read texts on the nontraditional warfare of the new century. The topic for this day's seminar, too, is a twist on the traditional.

A few years ago, a lesson about the Soviet Union would probably have involved detailed study of troop formations and geography in Eastern Europe. But this is one of the new counterinsurgency classes, so the subject is the Soviets' failed foray into Afghanistan – and what the United States can learn from it.