Category Archives: Education

Rethinking the Cryptologic Warfare Officer Pipeline

By Will Cavin

The Cryptologic Warfare Officer (CWO) community, like many other naval warfare communities, has a narrowly-defined career path for officers to successfully complete the requisite milestones to assume command. Unlike flight school for naval aviators or nuclear power school for submariners, cryptologic warfare officers receive a rudimentary overview of the broad cryptologic field before they begin their initial tour at a Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) collocated with a National Security Agency (NSA) site. Junior cryptologic warfare officers’ poor exposure to the incredibly broad field of cryptology and their limited insight into how signals intelligence supports the U.S. Navy fails to prepare them to serve in any meaningful role while completing their initial assignment at an NSA site. 

U.S. Navy cryptologic leaders need to send new ensigns to the fleet for their initial tour of duty to gain a broad understanding of the blue-water U.S. Navy, learn how signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic warfare are employed by naval units, and to ensure young officers develop a baseline knowledge to best leverage their operational experience in future support to NSA national missions. 

Importance of Early Exposure to the Maritime Navy

Historically, the CWO community believed that the Navy was best served by sending its new junior officers to work national missions at NSA sites to develop a broad understanding of cryptologic disciplines while gaining awareness of cutting-edge technologies that these junior officers could then bring to deployed forces in a follow-on “tactical” tour. However, signals intelligence, electronic warfare, and cyber operations have become increasingly specialized, making it more difficult for young officers to develop needed expertise in these three unique fields of study.

Without prior working experience in cryptology, new officers find themselves relegated to narrow-in-scope positions that often lack the technical challenges that Navy leaders hope will create subject matter expertise in their officer corps. Furthermore, without any actual experience with maritime forces, young cryptologists fail to recognize national mission capabilities or tool sets that could best be leveraged to support the Navy. 

This poor talent management is not a problem isolated to the cryptologic community. Talent management challenges span the Department of Defense due to ineffective evaluation systems used to measure performance and the poor placement of personnel to best maximize its talent. The cryptologic officer corps is uniquely positioned to make minor changes to greatly enhance its junior officers.

Navy Information Forces (NAVIFOR), the Type Commander for all of Navy cryptology, should adjust the traditional career pipeline for new CWOs by sending them to support deployable tactical naval units for their initial assignment. By serving a tour of duty directly supporting naval surface, subsurface, or air units, cryptologists would gain an understanding of how operational naval elements work and their different intelligence needs. 

Broad exposure to deployed forces provides fledgling CWOs with a unique perspective to carry to their follow-on assignment at an NSA site. Support for military operations, a primary mission set for the Intelligence Community, needs junior military officers that through tangible experience from prior assignments have the authority to explain both the intelligence needs and platform limitations of deployed military units. Having prior tactical experience provides CWOs a platform to inform their civilian intelligence analyst counterparts in how the national SIGINT apparatus can best support carrier strike groups, F/A-18 squadrons, and fast attack submarines.

The current CWO pipeline is a missed opportunity to support the warfighter because it strips first tour naval cryptologists of their most potentially valuable contribution to NSA’s joint environment, which is an ability to communicate the needs of deployed forces. 

Developing SIGINT and Electronic Warfare Expertise from Tactical Assignments

Thirty years ago, CWO leadership at NSA sites had the latitude to expose junior officers to a variety of national missions providing valuable hands-on experience for new officers to quickly develop a solid baseline in the cryptologic skillset. However in today’s construct, first-tour CWOs are expected to learn the theory of cryptology while supporting a single highly-specialized national mission. This silo of exposure limits the learning opportunities for young ensigns, and due to their lack of experience, young cryptologists are placed in largely administrative roles with little authority to support mission or to learn the complexities of cryptology. Thus, CWOs would benefit greatly from learning the basics of SIGINT and electronic warfare while attached to naval units in their initial assignment.

Through direct oversight of cryptologic elements attached to different naval units, CWOs would quickly learn the collection capabilities and limitations of various platforms. This early exposure would ensure that CWOs develop expertise and understand the warfighter’s perspective before working at an NSA field site alongside civilian intelligence analysts who spend their entire career working in national-level missions. Additionally, while completing tactical assignments these junior officers would develop much-needed experience in explaining the capabilities and importance of their mission set to the unrestricted line officers that their intelligence supports. 

In response to potential concerns of a young officer’s ability to assume responsibility for a cryptologic element with little to no experience, Navy senior enlisted personnel in the cryptologic element would provide the mentorship and guidance to young officers still learning the SIGINT and electronic warfare capabilities of their systems. This is much akin to the surface navy, which places new ensigns over divisions of sailors responsible for systems that are foreign to the young officer. Thus, young ensigns would complete a rich tour providing operational units with tactical cryptologic support while developing their own expertise through hands-on real-world application and overseeing the work of their sailors. These experiences would position them to successfully add value to NSA national mission sets with the ability to understand the capabilities and limitations of tactical naval units.

Tactical Cryptologic Competency Creates the Informed Leaders that NSA Needs

Finally, officers that complete an initial tactical assignment will have gained expertise needed to recognize NSA tool sets and emerging capabilities that can directly benefit tactical platforms. Under the current structure, new cryptologists lack the maritime experience to know which national capabilities can benefit deployed units. By altering the career progression path, officers will have the experience to know the limitations and needs of various naval platforms. In an era where over half of naval officers will separate from active-duty before completing eight years of service, the Navy must ensure it does not waste an entire tour of duty “developing” their junior officers. By reordering the career progression path and providing a clear understanding of the goals for each tour of duty, the cryptologic officer corps can best prepare its junior officers to not simply complete their expected responsibilities, but charge them to work alongside intelligence analysts to actively improve national support to deployed naval forces.

The current cryptologic warfare officer pipeline represents an outdated model in which senior officers had the flexibility to expose their new ensigns to diverse mission sets and applications of SIGINT during their initial tour, ensuring they developed a wide understanding of cryptology. In the increasingly specialized modern intelligence environment, NAVIFOR must adjust its career progression pipeline to ensure its young officers can provide better support to deployed forces. By exposing cryptologic warfare officers to the maritime navy as well as the practical application of SIGINT, they are better prepared to effectively assume leadership roles at NSA or other national SIGINT efforts. An additional outcome of this recommendation is that as CWOs continue in their career, the reorganization of the tactical assignment frees junior officers to specialize in one of the cryptologic disciplines, a growing need in today’s increasingly technical world. 

Lieutenant Will Cavin is a Cryptologic Warfare Officer in Washington, DC. He has completed assignments at the National Security Agency in Ft. Meade and served as an EP-3E Special Evaluator in Bahrain. He is passionate about the mental health of servicemembers and served as a Suicide Prevention Advocate. He graduated with merit from the United States Naval Academy.


Combest, L. (1996). IC21: The intelligence community in the 21st century. Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 1–421. Retrieved from

Karpf, B. (2019). Train navy officers for cyber lethality. Proceedings145(2). Retrieved from

Kuzma, R., Shaw, I., Danelly, Z., & Calcagno, D. (2018). Good will hunting: The strategic threat of poor talent management. War on the Rocks. Retrieved from

Schultz, B. (2020, May 31). Coaching trees (NSGA kunia 2002-2004). Station Hypo. Retrieved from

Snodgrass, G. (2014). Keep a weather eye on the horizon: A navy officer retention study. Naval War College Review67(4), 64–90. Retrieved from

Talbot, A. (2020). Truth #3: Division officers must learn to “see the future.” Proceedings146(5). Retrieved from proceedings/2020/may/truth-3-division-officers-must-learn-see-future

Featured image:  An EP-3E Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic System (ARIES) II, assigned to the “World Watchers” of Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 1 (VQ-1), transits over the East China Sea. (U.S. Navy photo )

Lifelong Student-Centered Learning: A PME Paradigm for Honing Our Intellectual Edge

By Dr. Mie Augier, Maj Sean F. X. Barrett, and MajGen William F. Mullen, III (ret.)

Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen remain our most important resource for prevailing in long-term competition. We will remain the world’s preeminent naval force through recruitment, education, training, and retention of diverse active, reserve, and civilian talent. Transforming our learning model for the 21st century will enable us to adapt and achieve decisive advantage in complex, rapidly changing operating environments. –Advantage at Sea1

The recently published Advantage at Sea, a Tri-Service Maritime Strategy signed by the Chiefs of the three Naval Services, provides guidance for prioritizing threats, integrating, and modernizing in order to prevail across the competition continuum. The strategy emphasizes the importance of training and education for developing an integrated all-domain naval force. Given the change, complexity, and uncertainty inherent in the security environment, Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen must develop the intellectual agility to adapt to rapid change and emerging threats and shape the organizations they lead.

This necessitates changing the industrial age training and education paradigm for Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen by placing a greater emphasis on skills such as creative, critical, and innovative thinking; holistic problem solving; and, lifelong learning. Doing so implies not only the need for comprehensive changes to current curricula, teaching materials, and methodologies, but also placing a greater emphasis on informal education and self-study as a lifelong professional duty. 

Today, discussions concerning military training and education include explicit calls for changing the industrial age paradigm to a post-industrial age one, as well as considerations of the kinds of training and education appropriate for the post-industrial age, including moving beyond the “lecture, memorize facts, regurgitate facts on command” model to one focused on cultivating growth mindsets.2

It is important, first, however, to recognize the tremendous progress that has already been made at U.S. professional military education (PME) schools, while acknowledging the work that remains to be done throughout the training and education continuum. Secondly, it is worth noting that paradigm change is difficult because it entails rejecting an otherwise well-established paradigm and substituting a new one, and paradigms by their very nature tend to reinforce themselves and are not intended to generate novelty.3 The industrial age training and education paradigm holds schools, educational institutions, and academic textbooks at the center of the “universe.”4 Today’s security environment, however, demands a new student-centered, outcomes-based approach that is lifelong and continuous. Learning must be valued and evaluated both in and out of schoolhouses to systematically produce the intellectually agile leaders needed to compete.

In this article, we seek to build on our previous conversation, which touched on the skills and attitudes that are important in a post-industrial age, as well as some barriers to cultivating and implementing the mechanisms central to this paradigm change. We also integrate elements of our understanding of paradigms and organizational change with research in learning, education, cognitive science, and individual and organizational decision making to discuss a few interrelated issues that are central to developing a 21st century approach to training and education. 

The Industrial and Post-Industrial Ages

We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us. Winston Churchill5

The Naval Services’ industrial age approach to training, education, organization, and manpower, among other things, has its foundation in Taylorism, the concept of breaking down complex production sequences into simple, sequenced, and standardized tasks. People are trained to be interchangeable parts to maximize efficiencies associated with solving fixed problems in stable environments. Taylorism was cutting edge management science at the turn of the 20th century, leading President William McKinley to appoint Elihu Root as Secretary of War in 1899 “to bring ‘modern business practices’ to the ‘backward’ War Department.”6 In the mid-1950s, this trend towards organizing for large-scale, stable problems was exacerbated as additional tools and techniques such as strategic planning and financial management were developed and employed to measure progress and efficiencies in solving known problems.

Applying known tools to known problems made sense in a relatively stable and predictable world. Such a paradigm gradually reinforced itself over time, not only in the U.S. military’s organizations, but also in its training and education institutions and approaches to learning. While PME schools have made great strides, the challenge is that military occupational specialty (MOS) training schools are still largely based on this outdated and ineffective approach, which undermines the ability to produce the leaders we need as a matter of course rather than by exception. 

One result of this industrial age approach is that education in particular is viewed as episodic and undertaken only when required. Even worse, in the profession of arms, attending a PME school is oftentimes viewed as a break from the operating forces or pressure cooker supporting establishment tours that comprise the normal career path. For some, it is also merely a “check in the box” for promotion purposes and not viewed as a serious educational endeavor requiring one’s best effort. Additionally, due to negative educational experiences earlier in their careers, warfighters oftentimes lack the intrinsic desire to better educate themselves and instead believe they are already smart enough, leading them to partake in educational endeavors only when forced to do so, and then only at the minimum level of effort required to graduate.

Industrial Age Post-Industrial Age
Characteristics of Larger Environment and Problems Confronted – Stable, well structured

– Changes slow and incremental

– Rapid change

– Wicked, ill structured 

– Changes blur boundaries between organizations, industries 

Central Aspects of Organization and Leadership – Large hierarchies, functional organizational structures

– Management of standard operating procedures and processes

– Decentralized, decomposed organizational structures

– Emphasis on resources (including human), competencies, and capabilities

– Agility built in to enable and facilitate organizational learning and adaptation 

Skills and Attitudes Critical to Learning and Leading – Knowledge (static)

– Functional (and individual) learning of facts, knowledge, and how to immediately use, measure, and control

– Fixed intelligence mindset enough

– Understanding (dynamic) of both knowledge and changing contexts, as well as how to interpret knowledge in different situations

– Holistic problem solving, strategic and critical thinking, imagination, active open-mindedness, and judgment

– Growth mindset needed

– Intellectual preparedness and ability for lifelong learning

Learning Types and the Role of Teachers  – Schoolhouse, passive learning

– Receive and memorize data teachers transmit 

– Instructional learning and lectures

– Test and forget 

– Doctrinal approach to learning

– Lifelong, active learning

– Dialogues, discussions

– Two-way learning between teachers and students 

– Teachers as mentors/coaches

– Dialectic approach

Educational Materials and Approaches  – Textbooks confined to disciplinary silos 

– Rote memorization 

– Static learning goals and procedures to control activities 

– Learning measured by tests

– Cases, simulations, wargames, and problem-posing approaches

– Learning goals are constantly revised and updated; best practices are explored and created

– Learning practiced through reflections and self-reflections

Civic Engagement  – Not really a focus – Fostered through critical thinking (i.e., enabling understanding others), we-leadership, and small group discussions

Table 1. Industrial Age Versus Post-Industrial Age Characteristics.

Table 1 provides an overview of some of the dimensions differentiating the industrial and post-industrial ages to help inform efforts to change the industrial age training and education paradigm.7 In particular, we focus on clarifying some dimensions of these differences, including the concepts relevant to learning, as well as fostering lifelong learning, active minds, and a sense of value beyond oneself. Several key themes differentiating the industrial and post-industrial ages that are relevant to training and education include the following:

From tools to thinking. Specific tools and techniques are adequate for solving structured, repetitive, known problems, but ambiguity, uncertainty, and ill-structured problems require intellectual agility, creativity, and the ability to think critically, rather than purposely overlooking or oversimplifying aspects of problems to fit prescribed solutions. Nobel Laureate Herb Simon cautioned, “What we must avoid above all is designing technologically sophisticated hammers and then wandering around to find nails that we can hit with them.”8 Rather, the prevalence and rapidity of change necessitates leaders who can take integrative, pluralistic approaches and make connections across disciplines, domains of knowledge, and methodologies. Leaders must not only be able to learn new tools quickly to adapt to the changing environment, but also understand when and how to employ them, as well as when to drop them entirely, if needed.

From knowledge to understanding. The wicked, ill-structured, and interdependent problems of the post-industrial age demand leaders who can think holistically and in an interdisciplinary manner in order to identify and understand the deep structure of a problem before they try to solve it. While important, knowledge is mostly static and needs to be paired with imagination, creativity, intuition, and improvisation in order to enrich understanding. Knowledge by itself, Alfred North Whitehead observes, “does not keep any better than fish.”9 Practicing problem formulation (and re-formulation), active open-mindedness, and purposely focusing one’s attention outside one’s domain of expertise can help nurture this imagination that enriches understanding and the ability not only to adapt to changes in the environment, but also to anticipate them.10

From memorization to learning. Warfighters are confronted with situations clouded by ambiguity and uncertainty in which they must make decisions when facing time and information constraints. Developing the intellectual agility to make these decisions and transfer knowledge across domains or apply it to entirely new and unforeseen situations or problems is enabled by first learning how to think, not what to think. The current industrial age training and education paradigm, however, is based on “the fallacy of rote memorization.” Simon explains, “Rote memorization, as we know all too well, produces the ability to repeat back memorized material but not the ability to use it in solving problems.”11 

From school-centric to student-centric learning. In the industrial era, schools were the central institution in education, and administrators developed procedures and mechanisms to enhance and measure the efficiency with which schools could transmit information to students. Learning was thus, by necessity, passive and objectives static. In the post-industrial age, the focus must shift to students and their learning, which must be active and lifelong. 

Post-Industrial, Student-Centric Training and Education 

After thinking about the trends and changes outlined above, we can start piecing together some key elements of what is needed for post-industrial age training and education. In particular, critical thinking enables leaders to widen their apertures and question information presented to them in the pursuit of ground truth. “Questions,” Ian Leslie explains, “weaponize curiosity, turning it into a tool for changing behaviors.”12 A questioning attitude enhances leaders’ understanding of the world around them while instilling in them the notion they will never know everything and thus must embark on a lifelong pursuit of wisdom. The ability to think critically and the curiosity underlying it must be cultivated and driven by a quest for knowledge and understanding, especially of questions with no definitive answer.13 The following considerations are relevant to this post-industrial, student-centered paradigm: 

Educating active minds. Mortimer Adler distinguishes between the doctrinal and dialectal approaches to learning, which embody the industrial and post-industrial ages, respectively. The doctrinal approach effectively indoctrinates and attempts to imbue students with as much truth (and no errors) as possible, and the textbooks upon which this approach relies simply reinforce disciplinary silos. In the industrial age paradigm, teachers and educational institutions are viewed as the principal causes of learning, and students are expected to passively absorb information without any real understanding of it. In contrast, the aim of the dialectical approach is teaching students how to think and pursue truth. In post-industrial age training and education, students must be taught to identify, engage, and sort through contradictions and contradictory ideas. Teachers aid students through this learning discovery process by helping them ask questions, identify problems, think through hypotheses, and so on.14 It is cooperative and inculcates a desire in students to adopt a growth mindset, seek an ever-increasing understanding of great ideas and issues, and pursue lifelong learning for their own betterment.

Learning and learning approaches. Today’s students are different than those in previous generations, so a student-centric approach to instruction must correspondingly adapt in order to foster a culture of continuous learning. Determining how individual students learn best and the pace at which they learn, and then tailoring their learning experience accordingly, is vastly more effective than the “one-size-fits-all,” industrial age approach to learning that placed a heavy emphasis on known problems for which providing students with specific tools for solving them proved adequate. Additionally, incorporating active learning approaches, such as historical case studies, sand table or map exercises, tactical decision games, terrain walks, or tactical exercises without troops, across the training and education continuum will benefit MOS training schools, and not simply PME schools. Active learning approaches focus on problem solving and making decisions rather than simply remembering information or theorizing. Students must be encouraged to think independently, practice making decisions, and learn from mistakes along the way if they are to develop the judgment needed to take intelligent initiative.15 Active learning presupposes that learning has to occur in—and transform—the minds of students.16

Building creative thinking. Today’s strategic documents and the rhetoric of many senior leaders emphasize the importance of innovation, which unfortunately, all too often leads to the misunderstanding that technology can solve any problem. As a result, leaders overlook the need for warfighters who can think critically and creatively and develop ways to incorporate and effectively employ these new technologies. Creative thinking can and should be taught in conjunction with subject matter content. Students must have enough domain-specific knowledge to have something about which to think creatively, but some useful guidelines for encouraging creativity include posing questions or problems that have more than one response, asking students for multiple solutions to open-ended prompts and to think through their implications and implementation, group work, solving analogies, and identifying novel relationships between two or more seemingly unrelated ideas.17

Learning leaders. To truly embrace a culture of lifelong learning, leaders must set the example, embody the warrior-scholar motif, and inspire junior warfighters to embark on a lifetime of learning themselves. Learning and professional self-study must be expectations. Implementing a student-centric 21st century approach to learning at MOS schools (and even boot camp) can help mitigate some of the negative educational experiences warfighters might experience early in their careers that turn them off to learning, but to be truly lifelong and continuous, leaders, especially senior officers, need to engage their junior warfighters, demonstrate the humility to learn from them, participate in activities with them, and empower them to experiment and learn from mistakes. 

 Obstacles to Change and Closing Thoughts

This article has discussed some central aspects of industrial age training and education, as well as the elements of what is needed to transition to a post-industrial age paradigm. Without understanding the differences and the mechanisms by which the industrial age paradigm reinforces itself, the ongoing (and needed) transformation of the training and education paradigm will necessarily remain incomplete. The U.S. military has made great progress implementing student-centered learning in its PME institutions, but the same changes must be implemented across the training and education continuum, especially at MOS training schools. 

To do so, military educators must focus on what students take with them after graduation and how it changes their thinking, not on the process that pushed them through to graduation. Bureaucracy and the formal school inspection process are the biggest obstacles to cultivating and implementing these changes since they simply reinforce the industrial age training and education paradigm.

As a result, on August 26, 2019, Major General William F. Mullen III, then Commanding General, U.S Marine Corps Training and Education Command, published a memorandum, “Training and Education Command Authority to Experiment With New Learning Practices Policy,” to grant “to Formal Learning Centers (FLCs) the authorities necessary to experiment with new learning practices with respect to innovative curriculum design, development, and delivery.”18 He granted commanders a pass on those aspects of the formal inspection process that no longer applied due to the experimental changes they had implemented. Some commanders embraced the ability to experiment and, for example, loaded curriculum onto tablets so Marines could make their way through training at their own pace with the aid of staff and avoid the long periods in which they would have otherwise been awaiting training. Marines responded to being granted flexibility and responsibility, and those in MOS training reached the operating forces more quickly and with the same (or more) knowledge and skills than the industrial age approach would have otherwise provided them. It placed the focus on what the graduates understood and retained rather than on the process.

Change is never easy since there are always antibodies to change in any organization. However, just as a paradigm change in the understanding of the solar system was once needed, today’s military requires a paradigm change for training and education that addresses the totality of the training and education continuum, including the self-reinforcing obstacles to change.19 This will require a lot of hard work and leadership, but as the Naval Service Chiefs identified in Advantage at Sea, the threats China and Russia pose to global peace and prosperity demand nothing less.

Dr. Mie Augier is a Professor in the Graduate School of Defense Management, and Defense Analysis Department, at NPS. She is a founding member of the Naval Warfare Studies Institute (NWSI) and is interested in strategy, organizations, leadership, innovation, and how to educate strategic thinkers and learning leaders.

Maj Sean F. X. Barrett, PhD, is a Marine intelligence officer currently serving as the Operations Officer for 1st Radio Battalion. He has previously deployed in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, Enduring Freedom-Philippines, and Inherent Resolve.

MajGen William F. Mullen, III, USMC, retired after 34 years as an infantry officer. Among his many assignments, he served 3 tours in Iraq, and as a General Officer, was the President of U.S. Marine Corps University and Commanding General of Education Command. He is also the co-author of Fallujah Redux, which was published in 2014 by the USNI Press. MajGen Mullen retired on Oct 1, 2020 and is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Colorado. He also recently started as Professor of Practice at the Naval Postgraduate School (Graduate School of Defense Management).


[1] U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Coast Guard, Advantage at Sea: Prevailing With Integrated All-Domain Naval Power (Washington, DC: 2020), 22.

[2] See, for example, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Developing Today’s Joint Officers for Tomorrow’s Ways of War: The Joint Chiefs of Staff Vision and Guidance for Professional Military Education & Talent Management, (Washington, DC: 2020); Department of the Navy, Education for Seapower (Washington, DC: 2019); Commandant’s Planning Guidance: 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps (Washington, DC: Headquarters Marine Corps, 2019).

[3] The notion of paradigms—a set of shared fundamental beliefs, concepts, ideas, models, theories, and practices accepted by communities of scholars and practitioners in a given era—is often associated with Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Regarding the self-reinforcing nature of paradigms, Kuhn explains, “Normal science consists in the actualization of that promise, an actualization achieved by extending the knowledge of those facts that the paradigm displays as particularly revealing, by increasing the extent of the match between those facts and the paradigm’s predictions, and by further articulation of the paradigm itself.” Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 50th Anniversary Edition (The University of Chicago Press, 2012), 24.

[4] Thomas Kuhn’s first book, The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought, documents the paradigm change from the geocentric to heliocentric model of the universe. We need an analogous paradigm change from focusing on school-centered processes to student-centered learning in order to develop a 21st century approach to training and education. 

[5] UK Parliament, “Churchill and the Commons Chamber,” accessed March 6, 2021, 

[6] As quoted in Don Vandergriff, Personnel Reform and Military Effectiveness (Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2015), 7.

[7] The table draws on and extends thoughts in, among others, Al Gray and Paul Otte, The Conflicted Leader and Vantage Leadership (Columbus, OH: Franklin University Press, 2006); Mie Augier and Sean F. X. Barrett, “Learning for Seapower: Cognitive Skills for the Post-Industrial Era,” Marine Corps Gazette 104, no. 11 (Nov. 2020): 25-31; Commanding General, Training and Education Command to Distribution List, “TECOM Commander’s Guidance,” July 18, 2018.

[8] Herbert A. Simon, “What We Know About Learning,” Journal of Engineering Education 87, no. 4 (Oct. 1998): 346. 

[9] Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education and Other Essays (New York, NY: The Free Press, 1929), 98.

[10] Herb Simon, for example, notes, “Problem formulating is itself a problem solving task.” Herbert A. Simon, Problem Formulation and Alternative Generation in the Decision Making Process, Technical Report AIP 43, (Arlington, VA: Office of Naval Research, 1988), 7. Unfortunately, we are prone to rush to identify solutions rather than taking the time to understand a given problem. Active open-mindedness entails treating forecasts as hypotheses we actively seek to disprove. 

[11] Herbert A. Simon, “Problem Solving and Education,” in Issues in Teaching and Research, eds. D. T. Tuma and F. Reif (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1980), 87.

[12] Ian Leslie, Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 98.

[13] Leslie differentiates between diversive and epistemic curiosity. He defines diversive curiosity as an “attraction to everything novel” and epistemic curiosity as a “deeper, more disciplined, and effort type of curiosity.” He also differentiates between puzzles (e.g., how many or where questions) and mysteries (e.g., how or why). We tend to be attracted to puzzles, since they can be definitively answered, whereas mysteries are more complex and intractable. Finding the key piece of information that enables us to solve a puzzle quenches our curiosity, but curiosity inspired by mysteries is deeper and longer lived. Leslie, xx, 47-49.

[14] Mortimer J. Adler, Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind, ed. Geraldine Van Doren (New York: Collier Books and Macmillan Publishing Company),––a4.size.pdf, 5-9.

[15] A case, for example, “provokes in the reader the need to decide what is going on, what the situation really is, or what the problems are—and what can and should be done.” Kenneth Andrews, The Case Method of Teaching Human Relations and Administration (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951), 60.

[16] See, for example, Herbert A. Simon, “What We Know About Learning,” Journal of Engineering Education 87, no. 4 (Oct. 1998): 346. Simon explains, “You can do anything you like in the classroom or elsewhere—you can stand on your head—it doesn’t make a whit of difference unless it causes a change in behavior of your students. Learning takes place in the minds of students and nowhere else, and the effectiveness of teachers lies in what they can induce students to do.”

[17] Emma Gregory, et al., “Building Creative Thinking in the Classroom: From Research to Practice,” International Journal of Educational Research 62 (2013): 43-50.

[18] Commanding General (CG), Training and Education Command to CG, Training Command; CG, Education Command; CG, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island; CG, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego; CG, Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command, “Training and Education Command Authority to Experiment With New Learning Practices Policy,” August 26, 2019. 

[19] For example, school accreditation requirements limit options available for implementing changes in PME institutions, and quotas at MOS training schools exacerbate an excessively short-term focus on producing the required number of graduates—even potentially at the expense of their long-term development. Epstein notes that excessive hint-giving (the proverbial “foot stompers”) may help a student pass a test but at the expense of long-term progress. See David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (New York: Riverhead Books, 2019), 85-90.

Featured Image: U.S. Marine Corps infantry squad leaders assigned to School of Infantry West, Detachment Hawaii, move to their next position during the Advanced Infantry Course (AIC) aboard Kahuku Training Area, Hawaii. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Optimizing the Warfighter’s Intellectual Capacity: The ROI of Military Education and Research

By Dr. Johnathan Mun

Gray Hulls and Gray Matter

Technology alone is not a capability. It requires people with the know-how to use it. At a time when great power competition is accelerating access to new technologies that can be employed by able minds to gain an advantage, the U.S. Navy is cutting its higher education funding in favor of platforms. The Fiscal Year 2022 budget request released on May 28, 2021, which includes cuts to the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), and U.S. Naval War College (NWC) by 20%, down from $615M to $498M—pennies in the big scheme of defense budgets, but a high opportunity cost.1 

This article attempts to shed some light on the value propositions and return on investment (ROI) of military education and research. Education and research are inextricably linked in that both aspects contribute to the value add of the warfighter of the future. The intangible value of military education is significant in developing skills in leadership; critical, creative, and strategic thinking; and quick tactical decision-making for junior and senior officers. In particular, as opposed to civilian universities, a military-oriented curriculum taught by faculty members with military-based academic and research backgrounds or special military knowledge allows the transfer of institutional knowledge and expertise to the students, as well as the development of deep intellectual capital in our defense-focused faculty. Strategic, tactical, and innovative changes and challenges in the future will require the continuous education of the joint forces to maintain a competitive advantage over our current and future adversaries.

The value of education and research has always been a simple concept to understand but one that is fairly difficult to measure. Generally, higher education adds significant value to the individual, both in terms of future economic returns through better and higher-paying jobs and in terms of incalculable and intangible values such as the deepening of one’s knowledge and perspective and the enrichment of one’s experience of the world. The literature is filled with descriptions of qualitative social benefits of higher education.2 The cost is relatively easy to calculate (particularly for parents of private school and college students). Contact the local private colleges’ admissions or financial aid departments for a good wake-up call. However, the complete ROI for education is difficult to quantify economically and mathematically. And determining the value of highly specialized education such as military graduate education and research makes the value problem even more complex.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) sends many of its mid-level officers (mostly O-2 to O-4 levels) to graduate programs to obtain graduate and advanced degrees or technical skills and nontechnical competencies that are highly valued in their respective billets. Sending a military officer to a 1.5–2-year graduate program costs upwards of $250,000 plus the opportunity cost of lost services. A doctoral program costs upwards of $500,000 per officer, plus their respective soft opportunity costs for being away for 3–4 years. The question is whether the benefits of such education are indeed more significant than the cost incurred by the DOD.

The U.S. Navy invests over $3.3B across the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) at NPS, NWC, and civilian schools.3 In the past, the ROI in sending officers to such in-residence on-campus education programs has been measured, to some degree, by retention or years of service beyond the education and requisite years of payback service. The assumption is that these officers will apply the knowledge and skills learned in their respective billets or positions. Retaining our warfighting top talent and broadening their skill sets with the strategic and critical thinking attributes honed by these educational and research programs help build an officer corps that would be more capable of executing the DOD’s strategy and enhancing American national security posture. The future demands leaders who possess both the knowledge and the moral capacity to decide and act, and education is the key.4 A 21st-century education for U.S. military forces is vital to national security.

This current article is a short executive summary of the detailed technical research sponsored by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) Naval Research Program by the author, which looked at various novel ways (stochastic forecasting, artificial intelligence and machine learning, data science analytics, and advanced simulation analytics) to value the monetary ROI of military education and research activities.5 Although the intangible and qualitative aspects of military education are significant, our research focused on the more quantitative measure of ROI.

What’s the State of the Art?

In considering the importance of education and its associated costs, previous research indicated that the overall benefits and ROI to the Navy from graduate education could be measured, given certain assumptions.6 The report analyzes the political landscape, military policies, and guidance on education and continues with a highly simplistic set of assumptions to generate said ROI. This indicates that even detailed studies fall short of determining an adequately robust ROI measure for military education. Such previous research reinforces the fact that ROI determination in military education and research is not an easy undertaking. Therefore, our research did not evaluate the efficacy of the political status or policy deliberations but focused on a singular goal: determining a set of potentially viable methodologies and techniques from which a robust ROI for military education and research can be triangulated and ultimately determined. 

Challenges in Computing ROI in Military Education and Research

A decision maker’s primary responsibility is how to decide which investment alternatives provide the greatest return with the least risk of loss. In civilian organizations, numerous methods and models assist with these decisions. But in military and government agencies, these methods often fall short because typical governmental and military investments do not provide for a monetary return.7 In other words, the government is not in the business of selling goods and services. Instead, it provides intangible returns such as national defense, public safety, goodwill, and other public goods that are difficult, but not impossible, to quantify.8 Scholarly research into assessing the ROI of complete military education and research is lacking or, at least at the time of writing, insufficient and unsatisfying. 

The DOD sends its officers to graduate-level institutions each year to obtain advanced degrees primarily to fill positions in their services whose duties require the knowledge and skills gained in graduate school. Furthermore, the benefits of a graduate education extend beyond the specific assignment for which the officer was educated, applying to subsequent assignments. For fully funded education, the service must pay not only the cost of the education but also the pay and allowances associated with an officer’s billet allocated for education as well as assume the opportunity cost of the missing officer’s services, and that same officer will also have to forgo any experience that might have been gained while he or she is in school. Evaluating the quantitative effects of a graduate education poses multiple challenges. DOD educational policy suggests broader, more extensive use of graduate education than simply filling billets that have been determined to require it.9 The question, therefore, is whether the benefit gained from a graduate military education is worth the cost. 

Several past studies of individuals with privately funded education such as an MBA or other technical master’s degree show that they earn an average rate of return of at least 46% more than a bachelor’s degree in a 2008 study… and the ROI ranges between 27% to 36% for an MBA.10 However, applying a similar methodology would not work well within the DOD because the U.S. military’s human resource environment is such that it is a closed internal and hierarchical structure. For instance, an officer’s pay is based on his or her rank and years of service, regardless of educational background. It can be argued that higher education may result in higher efficiency and productivity, thereby increasing the speed of promotions, but these are relatively difficult to quantify. An alternate approach might be to consider the years of service beyond the time the education was received. This amounts to the value of retention: how much the military can save in costs by having a higher retention and reutilization rate than by having to educate a new officer to replace a billet due to attrition. Nonetheless, using comparables, traditional financial metrics can be applied to determine the ROI of education and research. 

Research Methodology

In our research, multiple technical approaches were applied. More traditional ROI methods such as knowledge utilization, frequency and impact of knowledge used, statistical significance comparisons between the less and more educated cohorts’ productivity and output, as well as the economics of a person’s working life were computed. These were also combined with more advanced analytics such as Integrated Risk Management techniques where Monte Carlo simulations and stochastic forecasting were applied to determine the uncertainty of knowledge gained and used, the lifetime economics of the graduate, combined with data science and pattern recognition with artificial intelligence and machine learning methods. Models like multivariate autoregressive unequal variance heteroskedastic general linear models were applied.11 We applied said analytics to determine the ROI of NPS and NPS-based Acquisition Research Program (ARP), a program established in 2003 that delivers warfighter-focused research that informs and improves acquisition policy and practice.12 

In addition, intangible and intrinsic value exists in military education and research but cannot be readily quantified in any standard ROI calculations. In nonmilitary college education in the private sector, higher education brings with it various intangible value-add (e.g., diversification and innovation of the economy, increased wages, and lowered crime rate). However, the intangible value of military education is different. The military is a closed vertical society. A survey of past naval students at NPS, NWC, and USNA indicated that approximately 96% agreed that formal education was extremely useful or very useful in their naval careers. The study found that military personnel have more positive perceptions of their institutions than civilian personnel. Our research results support this point of view. 

Key Conclusions

In the research performed, the ROI for military-based research has significant qualitative intangible worth and quantitative economic ROI using secondary data. The ROI ranged from 240%–600% for various military research programs. For example, using standard industry best practices and a specific case study, we concluded that the average conservative ROI for the ARP to be approximately 304%. In the analysis of the ROI of the NPS education programs, we found that from the point of view of the DOD, for every dollar invested in NPS education, the benefits return anywhere between 5.7 and 7.7 times the investment, which represents expected ROIs between 469% and 673%. These ROI values are minuscule compared to the holistic, intangible, and qualitative value of a military graduate university to the DOD. The global average for DOD education and research, on average, provides the government an ROI of approximately 485%. This is a favorable ratio rarely achieved in most DOD programs. Follow-on research can, of course, be applied to further calibrate the analytical models.

The basic fighting unit in the U.S. Navy is more than a ship’s hull, weapons, and systems, it is the Sailors that crew and fight the ship. Training only prepares the warfighter to deal with the known factors of conflict at sea (e.g., the importance of good seamanship), but education prepares warfighters to deal with the unknown factors (e.g., effective decision-making in risk-fraught rapidly changing circumstances). Well-educated warfighters create significant value-add and make up lethal and effective combat-ready units for the future.13

To echo the words of retired Admiral Henry Mauz (former Commander of U.S. Atlantic Fleet, U.S. Seventh Fleet, and Naval Forces Central Command), “My NPS education did more for my career than all of my other degrees combined. It taught me how to make the hard decisions under time pressure with insufficient information using the analytical decision-making I learned here.”14

To conclude, we feel that the goal of the research in creating actionable intelligence for decision makers using an objective, valid, and defensible quantitative measure of a subjective value was achieved. Institutions like NPS should be valued as capabilities to optimize, not costs to minimize, and it deserves further attention from senior leadership on how the DOD can leverage NPS, NWC, and USNA for their comparative and competitive advantages.

Dr. Johnathan Mun is a specialist in advanced decision analytics, quantitative risk modeling, strategic flexibility real options, predictive modeling, and portfolio optimization. He is currently a Professor of Research at the Naval Postgraduate School. By the numbers, he has authored 32 books; holds 22 patents and patents pending; created 12 software applications in advanced decision analytics; and has written over a hundred technical notes, journal articles, and white papers. He is currently the CEO of Real Options Valuation, Inc., and his prior positions include vice president of Analytics at Oracle/Crystal Ball and a senior manager at KPMG Consulting. Dr. Mun holds a PhD in Finance and Economics from Lehigh University, an MBA and MS from Nova Southeastern University, and a BS in Physics and Biology from the University of Miami. He is also a chartered holder of the CQRM (Certified in Quantitative Risk Management), FRM (Certified in Financial Risk Management), CRA (Certified Risk Analyst), and others. 

Acknowledgment: The author would like to thank RADM James B. Greene (USN, Retired) for his invaluable insight and inputs. RADM Greene was a surface warfare officer during his Navy career and was the founding Chair of the Acquisition Research Program at Naval Postgraduate School.


[1] Navy Times. Website accessed at

[2] Additionally, a cursory search on the Internet reveals that education correlates with lower crime rates, a better quality of life, and higher participation in volunteer work, and, therefore, creates intellectual and economic value to society. Some studies may also tell you that it can lead to longer lifespans.

[3] The Naval Postgraduate School is located in Monterey, California, and the U.S. Naval War College is located in Newport, Rhode Island. Department of the Navy (2018, December). Education for Seapower E4S Report. Website accessed at

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mun, J. (2020). Return on Investment in Naval Education and Research. OPNAV Naval Research Program. Website accessed at

[6] Kamarck, K. N., Thie, H. J., Adelson, M., & Krull, H. (2010). Evaluating Navy’s funded graduate education program. A return-on-investment framework. Santa Monica, California: RAND National Defense Research Institute.

[7] Mun, J. (2016). Real Options Analysis (Third Edition). Dublin, CA: Thomson-Shore and ROV Press.

[8] Oswalt, I., Cooley, T., Waite, W., Waite, E., Gordon, S., Severinghaus, R., & Lightner, G. (2011). Calculating return on investment for US Department of Defense modeling and simulation. Defense Acquisition University, Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Retrieved from

[9] Kamarck et al. (2010).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Mun, J. (2021). Quantitative Research Methods (Second Edition). Dublin, CA: ROV Press.

[12] ARP research connects military and civilian acquisition professionals, policymakers in DoD and Congress, industry, and acquisition researchers from a range of federal and independent institutions. At NPS, ARP supports 60–80 graduate student research projects each year. See: 

[13] U.S. Marine Corps, Learning (MCDP7). Website accessed at

[14] Website accessed at 

Featured Image: 364 Naval Postgraduate Students graduate in a June 2021 ceremony. (Photo via Naval Postgraduate School)

The Navy Needs Deep Readers, Not Reading Lists

By Bill Bray


In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on June 15, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday was grilled about his reading list. Watching the Navy’s top admiral defending some of the books on his reading list, particularly Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist, while the Congress struggles to fund the Navy the nation needs, was a spectacle to say the least and not the funny kind. But it did raise questions in my mind: who needs or cares for a reading list? And how does becoming a deep reader make for becoming a better military leader?

Reading Lists and Subjective Reads

There have been many reading lists for military leaders. To me, they always radiated a whiff of the haughty, didactic proclamation, even though I trust that was never the intent. To be a good leader, thou shalt read these 20 books. Many books on these lists are worth reading, for sure. A few are terrible, especially the ghost-written leadership pablum by former CEOs, a few who a decade or so later wind up embroiled in scandal or even in prison. But when I was a young officer and finally out of school, I found immense pleasure finding my way to books for just about any reason except being told to read them. Natural curiosity leads to discovery, and even more curiosity. Something catches our interest, something we see or hear or read, and it points us to a book. We cultivate a taste for good books. We read about the authors and how the books were conceived. This suggests other books we feel we must read. And so forth.

I have never read a book because it is on a reading list. I have no idea why I read the books I do. There is no method to choosing them, no overarching purpose beyond wanting to be challenged. I love reading great prose. I find it immensely rewarding. Much of it is difficult, although as with anything, one becomes a better reader by reading better material. A mentor once advised that when it comes to reading, when given a choice (and one always has a choice—the best books cost no more than the lousy ones), “read up.” That is good advice.

Many books should not only be read but reread. The experience one has with a book is different with each reading because, in engaging with the text, a reader brings the sum of their knowledge and experience to bear. This is why, for example, a military leader reading Crime and Punishment at age 40 after years of leading troops or sailors and dealing with the military justice system has a much different experience than he or she did reading it at age 20. However, there is seemingly never enough time to read while pursuing a career, so rereading a book usually takes a back seat to knocking out the next one. Even so, rereading is a habit I cannot recommend strongly enough.

A few thoughts about literary writing (fiction and nonfiction). There should be little patience for arguments that no such thing exists, that good writing is no more than a matter of taste. If something cannot be empirically measured, as the arguments sometimes go, any claim on its value is necessarily subjective.

Curiously, no one who ever said as much to me so quickly applied the same caveat to anything else in the world they cared about—architecture, automobiles, clothing, or what have you. When it comes to so many things and issues we encounter in the world each day, discriminating between the good and bad, beautiful and ugly, tactful and coarse, and so forth seems grounded in a deep belief that these distinctions are not hopelessly subjective. Why is writing any different? I do not listen to operas, but I surely accept that a good opera is beautiful music and better than what my middle school band was belting out. Surely, we can agree a similar judgment can be made about writing. That does not mean we cannot disagree about a single book or author or find what many consider good art to be pretentious garbage. We can and should from time to time. Be a harsh critic. But if we don’t enter the discussion accepting and appreciating that such a thing as excellent literary writing exists, we have very little to discuss. 

The military is a highly technical business that demands leaders with technical aptitude and educational foundations. But technical aptitude coupled with a strong science and math foundation is one thing, while over-specialization at the expense of a well-rounded humanistic education is quite another. Much of the latter in life is self-acquired and not absorbed while sitting in a classroom. Yet, reading lists appeal to the technical mind. Technicians like checklists and checking off books instills a sense of certitude in one’s knowledge. Read these 30 books and you’re certified to lead. Sure, the list can be a starting point. But even in that sense, a reading list seems unnecessarily constraining. The best leaders I have known read widely, deeply, and continuously. Their independent curiosity and imagination were their guides, not lists.

In August of 1988, three months after I was commissioned, then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Carlisle A. H. Trost spoke at the Superintendent of the Naval Academy’s change-of-command and said this on the subject of technical education:

“To compete in the world, to serve as a naval officer, today you must have a technical background. If you become an inveterate reader, if an idle moment never finds you without a book in your hand, the broad knowledge will come to you. But without a background in deep technical knowledge, and without the resulting confidence that moves you to unravel technical complexities wherever you find them, you will always be a wallflower in the ballroom of progress, and your success in our profession will suffer accordingly.”1

I agree with much of this. But what always troubled me was Admiral Trost’s nod to inveterate readers that always have a book in their hands. It begs the most important question: which books? Do the type and genre matter? Just history and books on current events? Or was he relying on technically educated officers to cultivate a habit of reading the best literature and philosophy as well? I cannot tell, but in perusing the many CNO reading lists over the years I can speculate that he was not.

Deep Reading and Strengthening Leadership Qualities

After reading books like William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying or Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness I find myself thinking about the story for a long time. The experience deeply resonates, as if I did not just read about something, but rather lived it in some way. I become invested in these characters as if they are real and their fates somehow matter to my fate, or even how history will unfold in the future. Only the very best writers can achieve this, and I am grateful for their gift. After reading so much of it from very early in my career, I believe it helped me be a better naval officer and leader. I fail to see how it couldn’t have.

Can reading literary writing help one be a better leader? It absolutely can. Reading literary writing nurtures thoughtful introspection, which in turn helps leaders police their profession for ethical and honorable behavior. The best writers are experts on the human condition, and reading them enlarges and enriches self-awareness, humility, and empathy, and a genuine respect for one’s fallibility as a leader. Pride alone is the source of many a leader’s downfall, and there isn’t anything to learn about pride in a course on thermodynamics (for the record, I enjoyed and did well in thermodynamics at Annapolis).

Thinking back on my nearly three-decade Navy career, the hardest problems were always leadership problems—human problems. The issues I dealt with are the same that future leaders will deal with, and in these books they are all there—integrity, honor, fairness, justice, courage, loyalty, accountability, greed, bias, deceit, sex, adultery, false piety, careerism, discrimination, race, ethnicity, culture—the list is long. At a minimum, reading good books will ensure one is never surprised at the human failures of military leaders beneath and above them. Art complementing real-world experience is the best recipe for a textured appreciation of human nature and all its mysteries.


Admiral Gilday was right to defend the books on his list against ridiculous partisan political attacks. Military leaders should be open to reading Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist and other books that challenge conventional thinking. Military leaders are responsible for the lives of Americans of all backgrounds and viewpoints. They should read widely and never be afraid to read an author with whom they might disagree. That is how one nurtures a genuine curiosity—and learns. But don’t read Kendi’s book, or any book, just because it is on a reading list, as if completing a chore. Read good books to be a deep reader. And become a deep reader to become a better leader.

Bill Bray is a retired Navy captain and the deputy editor-in-chief of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine.

Featured Image: ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 9, 2020) Sailors prepare for a fueling-at-sea aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69).  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Mo Bourdi)