It takes a good mind to be a Soldier these days, Aca,!" it's a good thing the Soldier education system is keeping pace.

Back in the day, the military education system was pretty good, but it tended to prepare Soldiers to respond to a pretty narrow set of problems. We served a big machine designed to stop the commie hordes. Each of us had a little niche to fill and the military education system focused on that niche.

There wasn't the degree of commonality I see now. Heck, Soldiers even had different NCO courses, based on the part of the battlefield where they would serve. Combat arms Soldiers went to the Primary NCO Course Aca,!" PNCOC Aca,!" but combat service support Soldiers went to the Primary Leadership Course Aca,!" PLC.

I'll give you one guess as to which one was tougher training - of course PNCOC was. But those cooks and clerks and logisticians weren't expected to actually fight, so why run them through the woods the way you would an infantryman'

That began to change in the early '80s when PLC and PNCOC were combined to introduce the Primary Leader Development Course, PLDC. A couple of years ago, PLDC evolved further into the Warrior Leader Course, with an increased emphasis on the latest lessons learned and hands-on experience in leadership roles.

The world Soldiers operate in now isn't a simple one. Junior leaders need to not only master basic combat roles, but must be adaptable enough to deal with any of the surprising situations that arise in wars without front lines and easily identified enemies.

Soldiers now could be in a stand-up fight today and passing out relief supplies at a school tomorrow. Their decisions now affect not only their own small units, but could be front page news around the world. And the likelihood of that only grows as Soldiers go up in rank and responsibility.

All that calls for a force made up not of narrowly trained specialists, but adaptable and confident individuals who can understand broad goals and objectives and improvise and innovate without minute to minute guidance. No one in uniform can get by with just the basics. Every Soldier must know how to fight; every fighting Soldier must know how to think; and thinking Soldiers must be able to make smart and timely decisions.

Fort Lewis Soldiers were at the forefront of that new way of looking at Soldiers' roles. When Gen. Erik Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, called for revolutionary changes in how the Army was organized, equipped, trained and fought - and first labeled the process Transformation Aca,!" the initial steps were taken right on Fort Lewis. The lessons learned in fielding the Interim Brigade Combat Team, which evolved into the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams of today, have now been integrated across the Army. They represented what was described then as not just a new way to fight, but a new way to think about fighting.

In the Army of today, officers and enlisted Soldiers of all ranks benefit from an education system that helps each individual grow and develop, not to fill a rigid mold for a specific purpose, as in the past, but to reach their full potential in an ever changing world.

It is amazing that the Army has taken on such a difficult task. It is a confidence builder that the education system is showing the ability to succeed. But most remarkable of all, for an old timer like me, is how Soldiers have risen to the challenge and made it work.

David W. Kuhns Sr. is editor of Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri August 22nd, 2008 at 15:15