Saturday, February 16, 2013

Back to School


The U.S. Army War College
Saturday 16 February 2013
0830

Last summer I started posting to my blog again after a long hiatus, and then stopped as abruptly as I had started.  What happened?

The answer is that I went back to school, specifically the U.S. Army War College.

In October of 2011, I had the opportunity to apply for admission to a senior service college (SSC).  The SSC system includes the four service war colleges, the National War College, the Joint Advanced Warfighting School, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Attendance at one of these colleges is the culminating professional military education (PME) experience for a military officer. Admission is determined by a competitive board selection process, and frankly I didn’t think I’d ever have the chance to study at one.  But I decided to apply, and in late January of 2012 the board results were published and I received an acceptance notice to the U.S. Army War College Distance Education Program. 

One year ago today, on 16 February 2012, I sent in my acceptance.  My life was about to change substantially, although at the time I really didn’t appreciate the magnitude of what I had gotten myself into.

The U.S. Army War College is located at Carlisle Barracks near Harrisburg, PA. They have a ten month resident program and a two year distance education program. Completion of either of these programs results in the award of a Master of Strategic Studies degree.

U.S. Army War College Website: http://www.carlisle.army.mil/usawc/about/aboutUs.cfm

The distance education program is organized into a series of discrete courses, each of which has a specific theme. Most are presented online, and last approximately two months.  There are also two summer resident courses, each of which lasts two weeks.  Our class will graduate after the second resident course in July 2014.

The first year courses are:

     Introduction to Strategic Leadership Education
     Strategic Leadership
     National Security Policy & Strategy
     War & Military Strategy
     Regional Issues & Interests
     Strategic Leadership in a Global Environment

The school uses a variety of instructional methods, although it is primarily based on directed reading. Each course has some sort of participatory online graded exercise as well as one or more papers or exams by which we are evaluated. 

We had an orientation weekend in May, and the first course started in July.  So right about the same time that I was feeling energetic and optimistic about being able to maintain my blog again, I started into a rigorous and time-consuming academic program.

When I signed up, I had already had substantial experience with the Army’s online distance education, as that is how I completed the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Intermediate Level Education (ILE) in 2006-2008.  I thought this would be a similar experience, but I was very wrong!

Whereas ILE was completely self-paced, the War College is highly structured and run on a tight schedule. The course opens (online materials become available) on a certain date, and there are published dates for submitting assignments and for mandatory participation in online forums. The reading lists are extensive, and consist of a variety of articles from contemporary journals, public documents, military manuals, selections from textbooks, and classic books on military history and strategy.  Because I have a fairly extensive personal library, some of these books were already on my shelves, but most of the material has been new to me.  The program is very interesting and challenging, but it has completely changed the rhythm and structure of my life.  In order to stay on top of the work, I have to spend 2-3 hours per night as well as substantial time during most weekends either reading or working on the assignments.  The rest of my life has been relegated to the sidelines. It has, quite literally, turned my life upside-down.

I still manage to squeeze in some shooting now and again, but there’s been almost no time at all to develop match loads for my rifle shooting or to practice as much as I’d like.  I’m lucky to be able to make it to our monthly vintage rifle match or perhaps an NRA match, and I hardly ever go out to shoot just for fun.  Not quite what I expected when I joined the Cross Creek Rifle & Pistol Club last year!

Teresa has been very understanding and supportive, but of course it’s impacted us as well. Our long-distance relationship had been sustained by long hours on the telephone talking and working together on book-related projects.  Now I’m an absentee husband, not only physically but to a great extent mentally as well.  I’ve almost completely abdicated my ATLH business manager responsibilities with the exception of periodic website updates, and instead of long hours on the phone, we talk while I’m on my daily drive home from work and to say a quick “good night” before bed.  We’re still trying to see each other every 4-6 weeks, but now the visits have to be timed to take War College assignments and due dates into account. This is a four-day weekend for me, but as I have three papers due next week it’s hardly a holiday, and she won’t be coming here until next week after I’ve turned them in.

If the material was less interesting or the program less well run, I probably would not have stayed enrolled this long. But it is fascinating and intellectually challenging, and the quality of the instruction is first-rate. The faculty and my fellow students are very impressive, and interacting with them keeps me on my toes.  Additionally, I am finally beginning to feel like I’ve got a handle on how to manage the workload, and am feeling somewhat less stressed than I have felt for most of the past seven months.

So as I close in on the end of my first year as a War College student, I am glad I chose to do it, and I’m beginning to believe my own constantly-repeated mantra that “it will be worth it when I’m done”.

Meanwhile, for those few people out there who might occasionally look at my blog and wonder where I went – now you know.  I’m still here, but I am otherwise occupied.  Perhaps now that I’ve broken the ice (again) I’ll find the time to write about something here now and then.  Or maybe I’m just being overly optimistic (again)…

Mood:  Optimistic  J
Music:  Georg Phillip Telemann – Concerto for Oboe, Strings, & Harpsichord Continuo in D Major

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