U.S. Army Joint Professional Military Education offers growth, experiences, diversity in the age of COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Andrew J. Moseley
  • 177th Fighter Wing

The global pandemic has not stopped the Department of Defense from growing future leaders but has actually brought about new ways to foster strategic learning.

Protection of the participants and the goal of avoiding the spread of the coronavirus forced the Army War College’s Distance Class of 2020 instructors to make a number of the in–resident experiences virtual ones and the Master’s degree-level course allowed the students to find new ways to respond.

“This Joint PME course afforded me a lot of growth, knowledge, experiences and diversity of interaction,” said Lt. Col. Joseph W. Leonard, 177th Fighter Wing Maintenance Group commander. ”I was able to interact and learn from the unique experiences of members of our sister services, from their point of view and their processes, procedures and heritage.”

The master’s degree program began in March of 2018 with a three-day orientation at the War College Barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, followed by a series of on-line courses through July 2020.  At the mid-point, in June of 2019, Leonard attended the first two week resident course in Carlisle. The student body of almost 400 traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with senior leaders at federal agencies and foreign embassies in Washington D.C., and examined senior leadership at historic battle sites like Gettysburg and Antietam.

“We learned to see things from the strategic versus just the operational or tactical level,” said Leonard. “The COVID-19 pandemic, the effect it’s having, and finding new ways to do things and learning about other things that could happen that we have to be prepared for.”

The final two weeks of the two-year graduate program is typically in residence, but this year explored the integrated application of the DIME elements of power: Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economic.  The distance learning’s capstone exercise, the South China Sea 2023 Matrix Game, was a virtual one, in which students acted as different countries within the region to create actions, describe why they would work, and then vote on them.

“This exercise allows students to synthesize all they have learned over the past two years,” said Sylvester Brown, deputy director of the USAWC Distance Education Dept. “This war game takes a real-world, international problem and combines it with some artificial elements to test the students' strategic thinking skills while problem-solving.”

The last event before the Class of 2020 virtual graduation, July 24, was a special engagement with Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, who discussed strategic leadership roles and responsibilities, and commented on the South China Sea, which enhanced the students’ experience in the capstone exercise.

 “It’s impressive we have a Group commander that is now Joint PME trained,” said Col. Bradford R. Everman, 177th Fighter Wing commander. “This type of hard work and dedication sets the standard for the Air National Guard leaders of the future.  Not only are they on-par with their active duty peers, but they also have the training and breadth to understand how the DoD operates across the Services.”

Because this PME course was Joint service, it is considered a level II course, which is required to attain the rank of General Officer.

“This course offered me a lot of diversity of thought and interactions to help me learn and grow as a military officer and leader,” said Leonard. “In the Air Force, we all have the same instructions, books, policies and we all start thinking the same ways sometimes, so it was nice to hear leaders from the Marines, the Navy and the Army and to see their point of view. I would 100 percent recommend taking the course. It was a lot of reading and a lot of work, but it has been valuable for my growth, not only as a military member but as a person.”