MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va., --
Although Marine Corps commanders have a wealth of experience, the challenge many face is taking their accumulated knowledge and adapting it on a strategic level. That’s because of a gap in Professional Military Education between Top Level School, which most take as lieutenant colonels, and the Capstone, which is a general officers course.
To help senior officers hone their strategic-level planning and problem-solving skills to lead effectively in the joint and coalition warfighting arena, the Corps offers the “Senior Planners Course.”
The three-week course, which takes place at Marine Corps University twice a year, started its most recent session Aug. 5. Students learn about policy, strategic leadership, developing strategies and terrorism. Additionally, a panel of retired Marine generals offer intelligence and an open forum for questions.
Retired Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer was one of the panel members. Zilmer served as a combat leader during the Gulf War and the commanding general of Multinational Force–West in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He told the group of 12 leaders that, as defense climate changes, it’s critical to think more creatively, introspectively about the [Corps’] roles and missions, relevant to the future.
“Historically, anytime our military has entered a post-war period, as we are slowly getting to right now — with the exception to what’s happened in the last couple of weeks in Iraq, we see an era of declining budgets and smaller forces,” Zilmer said. “[During this time] all the services will do a lot of self reflection into who we are today and what we need to be in the future [to deal] with all these issues.”
Col. James Herrera, commander of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., said this course helps commanders like him understand the current Marine Corps narrative and effectively articulate that education to their Marines.
“The wealth of this [opportunity] is each one of us has a different vantage point but at the end of the day, we synthesize, bring it back together in a way that can be [translated] to our Marines at the installation or operational force,” Herrera said.
Challenging one’s paradigm, in regards to personal experiences and decision-making, was a common aim throughout the class, according to Col. Matthew Sieber, director of Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integration Division, Combat Development and Integration, Marine Corps Combat Develop Command at Quantico.
“We get exposure to so many different aspects of Marine Corps challenges and an opportunity to refresh our critical-thinking approach to those challenges,” Sieber said. “[It’s an important course because] we stock the shelves of the brain for years with information but the ability to be creative, pull information from the shelves of our brains and put it together in a way that’s militarily usable is what this course teaches you.”
A large portion of students who attended the SPC are standing commanders or have been commanders. As the military climate changes, these Marine Corps leaders are charged to push their thinking.
“The whole point of the course is to try and get these very senior colonels to open their apertures even further from their present points of views, positions and experiences,” Zilmer said.