Officer Education – It’s Cool, (and Almost Expected) to Be Educated

“You are officers, you are grownups, you ought to know!” – Eugene Roe, Band of Brothers

Ever since I was selected for OTS I found myself spending more time with officers.  I am not sure if this was a deliberate or unconscious decision on my part, but regardless I started to notice minute differences between the officer and enlisted culture.  One of the first things I noticed is a clear difference in education between officers and enlisted.  Of course officers have a bachelor’s degree but so do a lot of enlisted, so I thought it was just a nominal difference.  The more time I spent with officers, the more I realized I was wrong.  Officers don’t just have an education or bachelor’s degree, they use it.  I alluded to this when I talked about spending time with my classmates, but this is something I noticed time and time again with almost every officer.  It didn’t matter what their field was or what we were talking about, but their education boiled into every other aspect of their life.  On the enlisted side, I found a lot of enlisted members just got the degree to check the block.  To be honest, this may be the reason I ended up getting my degree.  I may have only completed my degree because I thought it would be a good thing to do.  I can honestly say I wasn’t 100% committed to making myself better or applying everything I learned in college to making myself a better person, I just knew the degree would help me later down the road.

Now that I am an officer it is clear this method of thinking has to stop.  It is not cool to be an uneducated officer.  Sometimes I felt like as an enlisted member such thinking was accepted or even the norm.  To take this to the next level, I now realize everything I do should be for the purpose of making myself smarter, more informed, and more educated.  It doesn’t matter if it is to satisfy a mere curiosity or if it will help me with my job.  I now have a desire to want to learn more and make myself better, which is something my public school education didn’t teach me in high school.  It is a shame it took me almost thirty years to figure this out.  Imagine how much more I would know if I would have adopted this attitude when I was a teenager.

Here is a real world observation which helped me formulate my opinion on this.  After I commissioned I realized if I was in a group of 12 officers the group would likely have a solid foundation of education across almost every domain.  While I was in tech school it was not abnormal to overhear conversations about Genghis Khan, engineering fundamentals, or geopolitics.  I arrived at tech school with zero knowledge of orbital mechanics so I was struggling in the course, but it was review for the academy grads.  I could go into detail about my major and how it related to my career field, or how my degree related to my classmates, but that is not my intent.  My intent in telling you this is to emphasize that education is important.  I am not saying it is important to have a degree, I am saying it is important to learn while you are completing your degree.  Allow the knowledge to mold you as a person into someone who is smarter and better prepared to tackle the world of challenges ahead of you.

Another thing to think about as you prepare for your career as an officer is to focus on having a broad or diverse foundation of education.  I would say my education is very focused on business and information technology.  This knowledge does not necessarily help me as I start a career in Space Operations.  While addressing MBA students at Carnegie Mellon University, Brig Gen Gina M. Grosso (now Lt Gen) talked about how she believed she had a foundation of intellect.  At her level she often felt like she didn’t have enough time to make tough decisions but her education allowed her to have a stronger foundation to fall back on leading to better decisions.  Here is the link, it is a great discussion.

Take some time to reflect on this.  What is your current foundation of education or intellect?  How diverse is this foundation?  What type of knowledge will help you in the immediate future?  As you advance through your career, what type of knowledge will likely help you a few steps down the road?  Lt Gen Grosso’s advice really helped me with deciding which direction to go for my master’s.

The quote I opened with is a perfect summary of what I am trying to convey in this post.  As officers, I believe we are expected to be educated on any subject we are confronted with.  Eugene Roe chided Capt Winters and Lt Welsh because they did not know or adhere to the proper procedures for administering morphine.  I think having a diverse foundation of education will help us all make the best decisions when confronted with any situation in the future.  Our continuous challenge should be to prepare for the future by creating and building upon this foundation.