About military leaders in the 21st century: “Theirs Is to Reason Why”

Summary:  It’s Vandergriff week on the FM website.  Today we have the third article in this series, an excerpt from “Theirs Is to Reason Why“, Proceedings of the US Naval Institute, February 2010.  It’s about building an army for the 21st century, where the right training might prove more decisive than the right high-tech vehicles and weapons.  Posted here with permission of the author.


Outcome-based training teaches the art in a manner that encourages retention while fostering independent and creative means of obtaining the end goal.

War is an art and as such is not susceptible of explanation by fixed formulae. Yet, from the earliest time there has been an unending effort to subject it’s complex and emotional structure to dissection, to enunciate rules for it’s waging, to make tangible it’s intangibility. One might as well strive to isolate the soul by the dissection of the cadaver as to seek the essence of war by the analysis of it’s records.
— “The Secret of Victory” by General George S. Patton Jr.  (1926)


The challenge the Army faces today is not one of over-thinking situations, rather it is the failure to think clearly in situations that require sound judgment at junior levels, and leadership’s hesitation to believe that juniors can or will think clearly. Soldiers and junior leaders who are trained or conditioned to look at the situation — to assess, exercise judgment, and make a decision — are more decisive, deliberate, and correct in their actions.

This is particularly important in the complex environment of full-spectrum operations. The most important capability needed for the future Army of 2030 and beyond are thinking Soldiers and junior leaders who seek the “why” of a situation, task, or directive. They are interested in this primarily to understand and make better use of the purpose behind it. But the future is now.

In light of this, thinking young men and women who have been taught the purpose behind military operations understand that anarchy leads to failure. An organization of thinking individuals, working in unity of purpose with a strong understanding of intent or why, is more readily able to adapt to the unexpected realities of today’s missions. The Army acknowledges the need for change and has begun a revolution in the way it develops—trains, educates, accesses, promotes, and selects—leaders and Soldiers specifically for adaptability. As a result, the Army has adopted an approach to training and education called Outcome Based Training & Education (OBT&E) with a new teaching method under its umbrella called the Adaptive Leaders Methodology (ALM).

No More Assembly-Line Training

In the past, the competency theory of learning dominated course curricula, and signs of it continue today in leader development. This theory is a product of the old, industrial-age outlook that once, by necessity, governed the way our military approached preparing for war. Order and control are central to instruction programs based on this theory.2 During the time when we relied on a citizen army consisting of draftees, this assembly-line mentality made sense, but the disadvantage was that it emphasized output more than individual quality of the product. Today, some leader-centric programs within the institutional Army still reflect this approach.

Leader development for the full range of 21st-century military operations must be based on quality, not quantity, at every grade level. The rule should be, Soldiers deserve and require trained leaders. Schools must constantly put students in difficult, unexpected situations and then require them to decide and act under time pressure.

Schooling must take students out of their comfort zones. Stress — mental and moral as well as physical— must be constant. War games, tactical decision games, map exercises, and free‑play field exercises must constitute the bulk of the curriculum. Drill and ceremonies and adherence to “task, condition, and standards” (task proficiency) in the name of process are not important, although there are a number of requirements where it is still relevant.

The Army has begun to embrace outcome-based training as a doctrine, which evolved out of the efforts of Colonel Colonel Casey Haskins and his 198th Infantry Brigade at Fort Benning, Georgia, from 2006 to 2008 in the approach they took in developing new infantry Soldiers. Colonel Haskins is currently implementing the newly adopted training regime in the U.S. Military Academy’s Department of Military Instruction. (See sidebar.) Several other courses at Forts Knox, Benning, Huachuca, Jackson, Leonard Wood, and Sill are also putting the techniques to practice as attested by instructors in recently published Army journal articles.

Put simply, outcome based training looks for results and is best described as developmental training. It puts a burden of professionalism on the shoulders of the student while the instructor determines how they get results. This is much like mission orders or tactics where the “how” is left to those executing the mission with little or no oversight from higher authority.

For more information about our military

  1. America’s national defense strategy and machinery
  2. Military and strategic theory
  3. An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports

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