Colonel Bernd Horn
In 1999, after some dark years for Canada’s Armed Forces (CAF), its senior leadership drafted a broad set of leadership doctrinal papers under the banner Defence Strategy 2020. Considered a roadmap to making better soldiers, its content was a forward-thinking testament to how the Forces should operate in the post-Cold War era. PBK (professional body of knowledge; including core, supporting and specialized knowledge), war fighting skills, and leadership competencies for regular and non-commissioned officers and members were to become the transformational pillars on which to build the “new military.”
Then 9/11 hit, and the words contained therein took on a whole new meaning. New lessons would be learned from the fighting in Afghanistan as the new doctrine was given a quick test drive. Post-Afghanistan, the 2020 strategy looks fairly prescient, however, looming budget cuts will no doubt have an effect down the road.
For Colonel Bernd Horn, Chief of Staff Strategic Training Education Programs, the accomplishments of the 2020 strategy will be tempered by the new reality of force-wide austerity. In a recent interview, he pointed out that, overall, the CAF is in much better shape now, than pre-9/11.
“Anecdotally, you look back at the ‘90s and you see a litany of scandals and morale problems that faced the CAF.” After 1999 and 9/11, you don’t see near the scandals or embarrassments that plagued the forces previously,” Col Horn said during a phone interview.
“In fact, Afghanistan was the first test for CAF leaders of the new leadership doctrine and professional ideology that was developed in the post 1999 era. The effects of the new professional development system, leadership doctrine, the military ethos and professionalism espoused by Duty with Honour, as well as a new understanding of the importance of education, all seemed to take root.”
Making a finer point on how the pre-Strategy 2020 CAF viewed education, Col Horn did not mince words. “The Forces were very anti-intellectual before 1997.”
The new reforms allowed the Forces to overcome that mentality and allow members, to “get the required education that allowed them to become more enlightened, capable leaders that are able to use reason and logic and make difficult and effective decisions in ambiguous and complex environments.”
Col Horn, a PhD in War Studies, believes that Strategy 2020, for the most part, was effective in creating a professional ideology for the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as a distinct Canadian military ethos and ideology of the ‘Canadian Profession of Arms.’ He is confident that CAF educational programs have prepared its students to lead in ambiguous environments and unpredictable situations.
But the reforms did not stop with Strategy 2020. A continual evolution of the professional development system, as well as training and education reform keep programs relevant. The creation of the Canadian Defence Academy Press, which has single-handedly created a distinct body of knowledge with regards to Canadian military operational leadership, ensures that everyone can take advantage of the rich well of operational experience from all rank levels.
In addition, the professional development system and capstone career courses continue to evolve to meet the needs of the Canadian Forces. A major modernization initiative is underway that will ensure that training and education remains agile, learner-centric, and relevant to the evolving needs of the security environment. The initiative leverages best practices and emerging technologies to make life-learning accessible to all CAF personnel. Cuts Loom Large
But fiscal realities may have an impact. When new Chief of the Defence Staff General Tom Lawson assumed command last fall, it was widely assumed that his term would be characterized by austerity and “making do with less.” Those cuts are being felt now, and the aftershocks have the potential to plague the Forces for years.
For Col Horn, some of his fears for professional development may be realized. “Going forward, the piece that scares me the most, as has been witnessed in most militaries in history during times of fiscal austerity, is that the emphasis on education, particularly post graduate level education, normally lessens. Education is an intangible. Unlike training, it’s difficult to actually show cause and effect. Extra time on the range normally results in higher shooting scores. But how do you measure extra time in a classroom? As a result, professional development often comes under the knife,” he says. “Cuts are coming, and, at times like this, an easy target is often professional development, which is seen by many as a ‘Nice to Have.’”
How much education is enough? Senior leadership may require proof that education makes better officers, and look for cost comparisons. As a result, Col Horn suggests “we may go sliding back down that hill and forget the lessons of the pre-reform years.” However, he is optimistic. The current CDS has made it known that professional development and its inherent investment in personnel is one of his top priorities, which bodes well for the Forces.
Strategy 2020 soberly stated that in 1999 it couldn’t accurately predict the future but it did say “perhaps Geo-politically, the United States will in all likelihood remain the dominant global power.”
However, with globalization, new economic realities and the overall changing geo-political situation, Canada is also looking outside its normal sphere of influence for new ideas.
Not surprisingly, the government’s global engagement strategy has also prompted the Canadian Armed Forces to seek out new ways of operating on a global scale and to source fresh ideas. This is no different for professional development and should include international partners.
Horn agrees that U.S. dominance is not what it once was, but he believes “they will still be the ones out front for the foreseeable future, and will remain [...] our dominant partner.” However, as professional development goes, “we are always looking at our friends and allies, and are always seeking best practices. As such, we have expanded our relationship with the Asian block and are also looking at practices in China, and other rising areas of influence.” For instance, he mentioned increasing professional development relations with such countries as Singapore and Indonesia.
The ‘Facebook Generation’
Today’s soldiers, sailors, air men and women, and leaders of today are likely to be engaged in social media, be more aware of the global community, and have more enticing career choices. The challenge for the Canadian Forces, in Horn’s view, is to make the service an “employer of choice” for the Facebook generation.
“The CAF inherently offers excitement, adventure and challenge by the nature of what we do. But, we can also provide additional challenges to individuals through our commitment to professional development and life-long learning,” he explains.
“A combination of professional development, combined with modernization of the professional development system will attract people with varied backgrounds. We’re looking at recognizing skills people bring with them so they do not have to redo training to check the box on a qualification they already possess. In short, we’re trying to get them from the classroom to the ‘shop floor’ as quickly as possible.”
Modernization, he believes, will aid the CAF in getting away from a ‘bricks and mortar’ mentality, and focus more on interactive learning. Shifting the old culture and leveraging modern technology should uncover new solutions to old problems.
For instance, one solution that was a long-time in coming was accreditation for prior learning. Another was time away from home and unit to attend courses. Horn stresses that by utilizing new teaching and learning methodologies, and leveraging technology, the CAF will realize efficiencies and increased effectiveness. Equally important, it will assist in retaining the interest and commitment of its personnel.
Innovation vs Stagnation
Professional Development is based on the four pillars of training, education, self-development and experience. In a perfect world, all ranks benefit from the spectrum of PD opportunities. With the fiscal axe poised to strike all areas of the CAF, the pillars look a little shaky.
“We have the best professional development system in the world at the moment. However, as former CDS, General Rick Hillier use to say, ‘we just can’t afford it,’” Col Horn proclaims, pointing out that austerity measures could dampen how quickly the CAF can move forward on modernizing the professional development system.
Horn remains optimistic about how the CAF can prepare people to lead. “We’ll have to use our creativity and continue to adapt and overcome,” he says. “It will be important to encourage people to think critically and innovate. Basically, we have to invest in our people, as the timeless constant and determining factor in conflict is always people.”
How can the armed services remain dynamic with regard to professional development in fiscally restrained times? “We have to push to modernize the accreditation procedures,” says Horn. “For example, technical trades such as military police, firemen, cooks and other tradesmen can for the large part be recruited right from colleges. We need to recognize the training they have received and then just top up the military-specific deficiencies in that training and education as opposed to making them redo their courses in military classrooms. That allows us to leverage that learning. This saves time and money and opens up capacity for other activities. We’re in the process of doing exactly that now.”
Professional development was credited with imparting another valuable lesson to CAF personnel, namely the ability to operate in the lethal modern battle space on operations. As Colonel Horn observes, “decision making in the contemporary operating environment is difficult. It’s fraught with ambiguity, chaos, complexity and extreme violence. And decisions have to be made by the most junior leaders.”
Will the Professional Development system be able to meet the challenge? “Moving forward, we can educate our soldiers for future conflict and operations through our evolving courses, as well as through robust lesson learned processes and initiatives such as the Canadian Military Journal and CDA Press. These tools provide individuals with vicarious experience.” Reading the experiences and observations of others provides a data-bank from which to draw from and assist in navigating uncharted waters. Not everyone can experience every operation or possible event, but through professional development they can have access to tools that will allow them to reason, apply logic and cope with unpredictable situations in an effective, ethical and professional manner.
“We have been vigorously building this unique Canadian operational body of knowledge and will continue to do so,” asserts the Colonel. “Knowledge is power and in the end, an educated, well-equipped military is unbeatable.”
Kean Doherty is a freelance journalist with over 15 years’ combined experience in the military and the defence industry.
© FrontLine Defence 2013