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Defense University Aims to Produce Visionary Senior Leaders

By By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity
FORT McNAIR, D.C. — After 15 years of war, senior military leaders might be excused if they think attending to their professional military education will be a break for them.

Except it’s not.

That’s what Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the Class of 2017 at the National Defense University, yesterday.

To be sure, the National Defense University and comparable schools in the services for officers and noncommissioned officers are academic institutions. The professors and administrators have credentials Ivy-league schools would envy, and many have recent operational experience as well. They are experts in exploring the profession of arms.

The students have regular hours, weekends off and sporting and social events to attend. There is a balance between work and family often lacking in the operational world.

And the students are no slouches either. NDU and the service war colleges are often jokingly called “the school for generals [or admirals].” If you are selected to attend, that means someone believes you are able to handle the next level. Since the students are primarily colonels or Navy captains, that means flag-rank.

National Security Contacts

The university also offers the opportunity to meet and relate to civilian counterparts in other agencies. Dunford said other U.S. government agencies send the best they have to the school, and given the whole-of-government approach to national security, these contacts are invaluable.

The United States has the most-extensive network of allies in the world, and NDU has international students from around the globe. Dunford urged all students to learn from each other.

NDU is a year-long course that provides its students the opportunity to read and think, and talk and write and consider, Dunford told the students.

Dunford graduated from the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, 17 years ago. He said that as he looks back, that was the last year he had the time to read and think and write about his profession. It allowed him, he said, to think critically about the future while drawing on the lessons of the past.

The chairman met with faculty and staff before his talk to the students. He asked them if anyone told the students the required reading was “only a lot of reading if you do it.” The faculty blanched.

Dunford said he did the reading. Not doing it “is not my approach to life, nor my attitude,” he told the students.

The chairman added, “From my own personal experience, when I look back on my time at the War College … it was pretty foundational in preparing me for the challenges throughout the rest of my career.”

The chairman encouraged the students to take full advantage of this unique opportunity in their careers. He told them to take full use of the university’s “center of gravity” -- the faculty and staff.

He told them he would be checking.