The Corps is amid a large-scale modernization of its enlisted professional military education in an effort to prepare its noncommissioned officers for a future fight.
Upcoming changes include the renaming of the Enlisted Professional Military Education Directorate to the College of Enlisted Military Education, adding a week to the resident Sergeants School, and streamlining curriculum to ease accreditation at civilian universities.
The driving principle of these efforts, according to Col. Christopher Williams, the director of the College of Enlisted Military Education at Marine Corps University, is that “a smarter Corps is a more lethal Corps.”
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller’s vision of a future force that is capable of confronting near-peer rivals calls for smarter sergeants and staff sergeants capable of assuming command positions on the battlefield.
But Williams told Marine Corps Times that, historically, that’s been the case for the Corps, and that the education modernization effort was just simply “long overdue.”
At the battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War, it was “sergeants on the tops of those hills,” not officers, Williams said. And the same could be said of the Corps’ infamous battle of Hue City during the Vietnam War. It was Marine NCOs who cleared Hue City because most of the officers had already been killed, Williams explained.
But the attrition style warfare that engulfed the Corps during and following World War II is a grim reality Marines might once again face as the Corps faces down aggressive rivals on the European continent and in the Pacific theater.
The task of commanding small, decentralized fighting forces of Marines disbursed on small island chains or floating barge bases across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean is likely to fall on the shoulders of the Corps’ NCOs.
To outthink sophisticated rivals on this future battlefield, the Marines will need to become skilled thinkers and problem solvers.
And it’s not just in command roles that future Marine NCOs will bear a larger burden of responsibility in a future conflict. New tech like drones, tablets and electronic warfare sensors being pushed down to grunts means the average infantry Marine will be forced to hone new skills that were once the purview of supporting elements.
“The question is: What will an infantryman look like in the future?” Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green said in April at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space exposition near Washington, D.C. “In the future, they may have to have multiple MOSs, because now they have drones in their backpacks."
The task to modernize the Corps’ enlisted military education then boiled down to how the Corps can make Marines smarter, Williams told Marine Corps Times in an interview.
The Enlisted College came up with three things Marines needed to become better thinkers on the battlefield: think critically, solve problems creatively and communicate effectively, he said.
And now, the Corps is rolling out some of its changes to the enlisted education program.
Starting this October, Marines will be able to attend a resident Sergeants School that has been lengthened from four weeks to five. It also includes a new streamlined curriculum that is more palatable to civilian colleges and universities, Williams said.
The new format and lessons taught at the school will be recorded in semester hours, not training hours, and will also include a new naming convention for courses to better help civilian colleges and universities award credit at their schools.
But this isn’t about helping Marines get college degrees, Williams said. The goal is to make a more lethal Corps.
And while the new Sergeants School is being expanded, no new curriculum is being added to the program, Williams said.
The school is actually taking stuff out because “we need more time to do less,” Williams added. “Our sergeants are getting so much information that they don’t have time to reflect.”
Marines have long complained of information overload and difficulties retaining information from the sergeants course.
Some of the changes already being instated by the Enlisted College may bleed over to other advanced schools and courses.
The Marine Corps Gazette in May provided some details of the Corps’ education modernization effort.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.