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Searching for a Purpose in Professional Military Education

by David Kahan

My time at the Captain’s Career Course (CCC) was a disappointment. 

Arriving at Fort Huachuca, Arizona in April 2022, I hoped that Military Intelligence CCC (MICCC) might help either to prepare me for my next position or teach me useful skills that could be broadly applied within Military Intelligence (MI). 

Neither proved to be the case. 

Instead, I was met by a poorly designed course that left all attendees that I spoke with feeling unprepared for their follow-on assignments. It was not only difficult to engage with material that is of little use to our military careers, but even more so in an environment that diminished our experience over the past three to four years in leadership roles. This was exacerbated by the Army’s requirement that officers planning on separating within the next two years still attend. The end result was an expensive Army investment that seemed to only increase officers’ desire to separate as soon as possible. But perhaps the most frustrating part of all is the knowledge that the Army does have the resources to provide a more enriching, engaging and overall worthwhile educational experience. 

My frustration with my experiences led me to want to understand CCC as a whole: its purpose(s), mission statement (if any), authorizations, and organization. A course that I imagined would replicate graduate level education (all attendees being 4+ years post BA) is taught like high school. Slides and tests are set, learning outcomes determined by a board which instructors have no seat at, and change is slow. As I looked into my CCC experience, a much larger bureaucratic system came into view. I found a patchwork of vague regulations and intertwined proponents struggling to both modernize the course and define its purpose. Just as I don’t believe MICCC succeeded in preparing me for my future assignments, I’m not sure I’ve fully grasped its role in further developing officers. 

Therefore, let this be a starting point for further conversation about the specific components of CCC that are clearly inadequate followed by a few major takeaways and suggestions for a more productive and in general, more meaningful, road ahead. 

The Intended Purpose of CCC: A Brief History

In my search for the purpose at CCC, I decided a review of the past was a good place to begin. Understanding what was meant to be with CCC allows a clearer analysis of its shortcomings. Attendance at the Captain’s Career Course is an officer’s first (and only) step into the Mid-grade Learning Continuum (MLC). The MLC is a product of the 2010 Professional Military Education reform kick-started by then-Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

TRADOC is the overall proponent for CCC and has delegated to each branch’s Center of Excellence the responsibility to create their own technical/branch curriculum for the course. As a result of a 2010 study of CCC instruction, the School of Advanced Leadership and Tactics was created at the Combined Arms Center to develop the MLC. Their proposal had officers undertaking a sequence of courses.

The original proposal had five blocks that can be seen in the image below and were aimed at intermediate leader development. However, despite the original design, the ‘continuum’ now only involves one dedicated course – CCC. Gutted, the MLC means nothing today and while the proposed model might have been beneficial, its continued existence in the regulation is a mirage.

What, then, does doctrine say about the Captain’s Career Course? Besides describing basic administrative requirements, it simply states that CCC:

Provides [Captains] with the tactical, technical and leader knowledge and skills needed to lead company-size units and serve on battalion and brigade staffs. The course emphasizes the development of leader competencies while integrating recent operational experiences of the students with quality institutional training. It facilitates life-long learning through an emphasis on self-development. The curriculum includes common core subjects, branch-specific tactical and technical instruction, and branch-immaterial staff officer training.

These vague words are the only guidance which regulation provides concerning CCC’s purpose or mission. Although this does provide maximum flexibility to Centers of Excellence to innovate, I have seen no examples of this. 

Concurrently, TRADOC has charged the Combined Arms Center with the development of a Common Core curriculum that officers receive at the beginning of their CCC. Combining this with each Center’s branch/technical instruction in sequence is what yields the CCC experience that every officer goes through today. 

In 2015, the Combined Arms Center created ArmyU to manage the Common Core curriculum on its behalf. What does this change mean? Any curricular updates are a convoluted process that requires over twelve months to implement anything significant. Branch-specific changes to curricula are an equally slow, cumbersome process. 

What comes next? “Modernization”?

The last modernization of CCC took place in 2004-5 when today’s Common Core was created and the course shortened from 24 weeks to 20. Officers starting CCC after April 2023 will experience the first “modernization” of CCC in 17 years. As laid out in the “Captains Career Course Modernization Initiative White Paper” from January 2022, Common Core instruction will change dramatically. 240 hours of in-person Common Core instruction (6 weeks) are reduced to 72.5 (2 weeks) with the remaining time being given back to Centers of Excellence for more technical/branch-specific instruction. This reduction is paired with the creation of a required 74.5 hour Common Core Distance Learning Course to be completed prior to reporting to CCC and available through the Army Learning Management System upon promotion to 1LT. Additionally, all Centers of Excellence are redesigning their CCC technical/branch instruction programs to incorporate a new scenario centered on the Pacific, rather than the current model that focuses on Eastern Europe. 

My primary takeaway from this modernization is further frustration and confusion in the system. Although it shortens Common Core instruction (certainly boring and worthy of cutting), the new CCC modernization will not implement a more efficient or productive course experience for participants. While I would like to believe that my branch’s Center of Excellence will effectively utilize the extra time to teach skills that will be helpful, my experience at MICCC does not leave me with any confidence in this – my issue with MICCC was never that it was too short – the material and curriculum itself was poor. 


So where do we go from here? There is no solution for the issues that I encountered but I would propose two solutions that could begin to hack away at the institutional issues. 

First and most importantly, the Army needs a new formula for creating and updating curricula as well as appropriate personnel for carrying out curriculum development and instruction. It is apparent that along with being mostly led by civilians, officers involved with curriculum development have no specialized or formal training in the subject. Moreover, the Army’s ability to develop curricula appears to be extremely limited as ArmyU outsourced the development of the Common Core Distance Learning course in 2022 to a contractor team. This decision is surprising and even concerning given the depth of training, knowledge, education, and experience residing in the combined faculties of the DOD which include the United States Military Academy, Army War College, National Defense University, and National Intelligence University. If these repositories of skill and experience are unable to shoulder the burden of curricular development for, at a minimum, all resident Army officer courses, then the Army should look to create a new functional area dedicated to this crucial task supporting TRADOC.

Second, the Army should easily allow officers who believe that they do not wish to continue service to opt out of CCC and still move forward with their next change of station. Regulation states that officers should attend CCC before the end of their 7th year of service, however Branches do not allow that flexibility. They treat attendance as a requirement prior to moving to a second duty station. This means that officers whose initial commitment runs past 4 years but plan to leave the army within the next two years spend over 6 months attending a course they do not want to attend and will never utilize. Units may prefer to not hire officers who indicate that they will not attend CCC, however forcing multiple moves in a short span of time does not help retention and is an expensive waste of resources. 

Allowing officers who intend to separate to decline Professional Military Education and yet still move to another duty station will save the Army and its Soldiers money and provide the Army an indicator of whom to focus resources on. These officers will still be able to attend CCC prior to the end of their 7th year of service if they change their mind. Beyond saving resources, this would also ensure that the officers who do attend CCC want to be there, increasing general motivation, work ethic, and learning.

But these two solutions still fail to address a simpler question. What constitutes success for CCC? Is it a course that makes an officer more likely to stay in the Army? Or is it an officer who receives a Most Qualified evaluation in their first key development position following CCC?  Where does the emphasis lie between subject matter knowledge and critical, creative, and adaptive thinking? The answer to all of these requires the Training and Doctrine Command, the Combined Arms Center, and all Centers of Excellence to establish clear, specific goals for the CCC experience. Until then, CCC will remain a source of frustration to those Captains who stay in and will continue to drive other Captains to leave the Army.

CPT David A.B. Kahan is a military intelligence officer and recent graduate of MICCC. He is now stationed in Vicenza, Italy and was previously an intelligence officer with 1/10 MTN DIV.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent those of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or From the Green Notebook Team.

7 thoughts on “Searching for a Purpose in Professional Military Education”

  1. I read that instead of attending a branch CCC, an officer could attend the USMC EXPEDITIONARY WARFARE SCHOOL, this sounds like a viable alternative.

    • A person who attended MCEWS in 2020, I highly discourage it. It was an even bigger waste of time. More work for a longer period of time for the same identifier. They were planning way above what we would as a four-year officer. Many of them were already being looked at for MAJ. Plus you lose the opportunity to network with people who can actually help you in the future. Not to mention the start date and lengths puts you a year behind your timeline in comparison to your peers.

  2. It would be helpful if you identified what you were actually taught, explained why it wasn’t helpful, and recommended what you think you should have been taught. If the MICCC didn’t prepare you for your follow-on job, or teach you any useful skills for MI, how are all these MI officers doing so well and getting promoted? We all went to the same CCC as you. If you decide to stick around, you’ll eventually realize that PME will never be perfect, but it is what you make it. It’s basics. It’s the foundation. The rest is all self-development and OJT. Good luck.

  3. If the Army’s CCC, especially the MI-CCC is to be restructured – then Captain Kahan + LTC Steve Pendleton (MICCC Senior Instructor 2003-2004) should work together to revamp the CCC for the Army… and definitely fix the MI-CCC at Fort Huachuca.

  4. While I agree that there is a huge need for more academic rigor and better design across almost all levels of PME, I have to disagree with the idea that officers who plan to resign be allowed to opt out of CCC.

    I was enlisted, and I recognize that there are differences between NCOES and the officer equivalent. However, one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from my PSG when I was an E-4: I was next on the order of merit for PLDC and, upon learning the next slot was mine, I told him that I was only still in uniform due to stop-loss and that I planned on getting out as soon as I could; give the slot to someone who will actually use it.

    That PSG then took me to the NCO Club and bought me a shot & a beer (mentorship was more effective, back then) and had me lay out every reason why I wanted to get out. He listened and understood and then, resolutely, informed me that my concerns didn’t matter – I was going to be the best soldier I could be until the day I took off the uniform for the last time.

    It had nothing to do with my future plans, it was what the army demanded of me and I owed it to the soldiers below me and the leaders above me that, should I be put in whatever position the mission demanded, I was as versed and capable to fulfill that need. I graduated as Honor Grad and, though it’s not the primary reason I re-upped and I was disappointed with how unchallenging the school was, I ended up putting more than two more decades into the job.

    I realize a move can be inconvenient, and the last thing any “last camp” officer wants to do is waste their time on something they believe is useless. However, the job has never been about convenience – it doesn’t matter. If it might make an officer better tomorrow than he is today, he owes it to all his brothers and sisters to be that better officer.

    • I was enlisted for nearly 10 years before commissioning, also was an honor grad from ALC, but eventually attended the MICCC with CPT Kahan here. I suspect I felt similarly about NCOES as you: not challenging, but still somehow important to put effort into. But I ultimately agree with CPT Kahan and, after experiencing MIBOLC and MICCC, no longer see a viable comparison between PME for NCOs and PME for officers at Huachuca. The curriculum (and the process for fixing the curriculum) seemed to be pretty broken for MIBOLC and MICCC and just didn’t have the potential to make an officer better the way NCOES did for NCOs.
      The things absent from the curriculum were most telling for me: no history of the branch, no real tradecraft, no exposure to other disciplines, no exposure to real world reporting or even global events – all things that I would think would be pretty crucial to teach at any MI officer PME. CPT Kahan explained it better than I could, but the MICCC just never gave me the sense that MICCC graduates go on to do something that produces victories.
      But, I do think the CG there wants to make the right changes in the next few classes and I sincerely wish him and his students luck.

      • I never experienced any actual value from attending NCOES. There was some clout that came with the check mark, and there were a lot of lessons from analyzing why others might fail, but it never directly improved me as an NCO. None of this seems to conflict with your experience at MICCC. Even if you learned nothing from it, the troops at least want to believe your intel is better than what the local shepherd says about his wife’s uncle. Yes, I’ve often learned that that is not an accurate assumption, but I’m more likely to accept your bad intel if you’re properly credentialed. You can argue whether that’s a good or bad thing on your own time; in the interim, just give me better intel.

        I was fortunate to have been involved with leaders who not only taught their subordinates how to replace them but regularly drilled it into them. They assumed those subordinates already knew how to do their own jobs – should those assumptions prove wrong, then pity the E-6 who couldn’t do his job come sergeant’s time… he’d learn fast. Clearly, I was the exception, as I rarely had any real competition for honors…

        I have no doubt that the schoolhouse needs improvement. I disagree with the idea that that is the heart of the issue or that that is any excuse for the officer in question to be allowed to decline a slot. There are three legs to the training stool. If one is failing, then strengthen the other two so the guy on the ground can lean on the bar without falling down.

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