- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 27, 2006

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — The war was going poorly for coalition forces when the U.S. Army commander briefed the international press in a large auditorium.

He said that insurgents had just captured a critical offshore oil platform, apparently with the assistance of a former U.S.-allied nation. The press, alarmed by this development, demanded more information. But the commander cut short the briefing, citing the need for operational secrecy.

That’s when Clay Easterling, a civilian instructor at the Army’s Command and General Staff College at this lush Army post near Kansas City, stepped in, ending the simulation.

“OK, press corps, how’d he do?” The role-players portraying reporters consulted their notes. One recommended that the “commander” in fact, an Army major from a secret Special Forces unit and a student at the college hand out press kits beforehand in order to orient reporters and head off redundant questions. “Control the briefing,” the role-player advised.

“We felt they would have been a distraction,” the major said of the press kits. This began a discussion on press etiquette.

The simulated press conference in late April is a typical exercise at the college, where more than a thousand midlevel officers from the U.S. and foreign militaries study the art of 21st-century warfare.

For a year, they take classes in history, culture and languages. They tackle complex command exercises combining computer simulations and human role-players.

They stage briefings for their superiors, their subordinates and real and simulated press. And at every turn, they defend their decisions to resident and visiting specialists.

Steve Rounds is a former State Department press officer visiting the college to offer advice on media relations. He was involved in the discussion following the major’s April briefing. “I’ve done a lot of press conferences, so I can help,” Mr. Rounds said.

For more than a 100 years, the college has been a training ground for the Army’s future colonels and generals. For half of that history, the school focused on preparing officers to fight the Soviet Union.

Changes inspired by the end of the Cold War and accelerated by September 11 have seen the college emphasize “education” over “training,” said Brig. Gen. Jim Warner, the college deputy commandant.

“Once upon a time, we had the wonderful strategic certainty of the Cold War, where we knew who the opponent was,” Gen. Warner said. “Now we don’t know who we’ll be fighting or where. [So] instead of training officers to operate in a narrow band of tactics, we have to prepare them for a wide-open field.

“This defies training and requires education,” he said. “The global war on terror is a thinking man’s conflict.”

The new emphasis on education has precipitated a sea change in the college’s faculty. Just a few years ago, nearly three-quarters of the faculty were senior military officers on short tours as instructors.

In his three years at the college, Gen. Warner has overseen the hiring of large numbers of civilian instructors who are specialists in their fields, and who are expected to remain with the college for many years, developing their curricula and networking with professors at civilian institutions.

Gen. Warner estimated that the faculty is now three-quarters civilians.

Requirements for students have changed, too. “There’s a heavier emphasis on counterinsurgencies, theory, culture and regional studies. … and a little bit of language,” Gen. Warner said.

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