Professional Military Education
It is Congress’ responsibility, through its authorization of funds and statements of policy, along with the leaders of the Department of Defense (the Department), to ensure that military personnel who are asked to support the national security of the United States are properly prepared and equipped for their missions.
A program for development leading to commissioning and continuing through the length of a career supports the preparation of military officers who lead the armed forces. For the most senior, those with the most responsibility, careers stretch from 20 to 40 years. Officer development programs include providing the right officers the right training, experience, and education at the right time. The principal purpose of professional military education (PME) is to educate officers throughout their careers in preparation for this unique public trust.
The U.S. Armed Forces generally recognize the value of education separate from training, and they place special emphasis on the importance of in-residence officer education. PME contributes to an officer being able to take on responsibilities and challenges commensurate with increases in rank. The services seek to instill competence in core service functions and specific weapon systems in their officer candidates and junior officers. This knowledge is to be broadened to the operational level (combined arms and joint campaigns) for majors and lieutenant colonels (Navy lieutenant commanders and commanders, O-4s and O-5s). Finally, the military requires policy and strategic-level thinking from its colonels and flag officers (O-6 through O-10). Generally, training programs are highly utilitarian while the education system, particularly at the senior level, is intended to develop habits of mind and modes of analysis. As many military leaders have said, “we train for certainty and we educate for uncertainty.” Still, all of the PME courses have elements of both training and education. By and large, the more junior the officers, the heavier the component of training in the courses they take. The more senior the officers, the heavier the education component in their courses.
PME encompasses a diversity of subject matter. Each service is responsible for educating officers in their core competencies according to service needs. Air Force schools, for example, primarily teach air and space warfare. Similarly, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps schools focus on land, maritime, and expeditionary warfare, respectively. The Department depends on the services’ PME to develop officers with these service-specific proficiencies. Over the years, service and joint PME have become intertwined to some measure, which should become evident in the system described in the pages that follow. This is in part due to the services embracing joint operations to the point where multi-service cooperation has become the norm. Joint doctrine in many cases also serves as service doctrine. This assimilation has even extended down to the level of joint tactics, techniques, and procedures. This overlap also gives rise to confusion in discussing, and sometimes equating, PME and JPME.