By Melissa Bower November 17, 2011
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Nov. 17, 2011) -- When he was an instructor with the Combat Studies Institute, Walt Kretchik kept hearing the phrase, the "last war."
Army leaders were always trying to fight the last war, Kretchik was told, they didn't consider current events and couldn't be innovative.
"But it didn't make sense from the perspective of how armies train, how they organize … what bothered me is that we're teaching this, we're teaching our students that this is exactly the way it is," Kretchik said.
Kretchik published a book, "U.S. Army Doctrine: From the American Revolution to the War on Terror," in September 2011 with some of his findings. He spoke to staff and faculty at the Command and General Staff College Nov. 10 as part of a professional development effort by the Faculty and Staff Development Division.
Kretchik served the Army from 1977 to 1999 and retired as a lieutenant colonel. He worked for the Battle Command Training Program as an observer-controller as well as taught at CSI. Kretchik obtained his bachelor's degree from Arizona University and a master's degree from the University of Louisville. He attended the Intermediate Level Education program at CGSC in 1991 and graduated from the School of Advanced Military Studies with a master of military art and science in 1992. Upon retiring the military, Kretchik earned a doctorate from the University of Kansas in 2001. During that time he was also hired as a contractor at Fort Leavenworth to help write the 2001 edition of the Army Field Manual 3-0, "Operations."
Kretchik is now a history instructor at Western Illinois University.
After historical study, Kretchik said he thinks the "last war" ideology might have been true at a particular point in time -- especially after the Vietnam War -- but is not constant. Kretchik said what Army leaders do throughout American history is look to foreign military policy that is successful and find ways to implement it in U.S. Army doctrine.
"To understand the Army's thinking (in post Vietnam-era) you have to not just focus on one data point, which is Vietnam, you have to understand the period around, of what's going on globally," Kretchik said. "Many Americans … are totally fixated on their own history."
Other things that change Army doctrine are latest technology and new ideologies, which focus on looking forward, not back.
The 2008 edition of Army FM 3-0 was no exception, Kretchik said.
"That manual was not written to replicate the last war," he said. "It was designed to fix a current conundrum, which is, 'How do we deal with what just happened in Iraq between the shift from conventional war to counterinsurgency? How do we deal with this situation? What intellectual guidance can you provide to the service?'"
He told CGSC instructors that it's their job to teach future Army leaders "the box," or current thinking and doctrine, but it's also the students' job to know how to adapt and think outside that box.
"You are teaching 'the box' at this school," Kretchik said. "And so when your Soldiers, your students go into the field, they take the box with them. What you have to teach them is when they run into certain situations in their lives, they have to take what they know and balance against what they're seeing and see what fits and what doesn't fit. And where it doesn't fit, they have to do something different."
Rich Barbuto, professor at the Department of Military History, said giving students that perspective of doctrinal thinking is important.
"It's extremely important that we instructors can get an overview of doctrinal development that causes us to change conventional wisdom," he said.