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Retooling Leader Development in the Financial Management School

Achieving operational adaptability—the key to success in the 21st century environment— requires Army leaders who can think critically, are comfortable with ambiguity and decentralization, demonstrate a willingness to take prudent risk, and can adjust rapidly when needed. They must be able to handle hybrid threats and conduct full-spectrum operations, and they must be proficient in the latest technology and capable of melding it with their basic combat and occupational specialty skills.

Equipping our forces with the competencies that match today’s complex, ambiguous, and multithreat operating conditions ultimately depends on the Army’s ability to form and execute a viable leader develop-ment program. The Army Leader Development Strategy (ALDS) for a 21st Century Army, released at the end of 2009, advocates a balanced approach to the three pillars of leader development—training, education, and experience—through a deliberate, continuous, sequential, and progressive process. The Financial Management School at the Soldier Support Institute at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, is cognizant of the Army’s needs and the ALDS blueprint and is revamping and enhancing its leader development efforts accordingly.

Experience, Education, and Training

Among the most important changes, the Financial Management School has revised the career maps for financial management (FM) officers and noncommissioned officers. While it is possible for FM Soldiers to be successful by tracking in a single core function, FM leaders believe it is highly important that FM Soldiers acquire nearly equal amounts of finance operations and resource management experience. For officers, time in command also remains central to career development, although the specific assignment matters little.

The career maps strongly encourage education as well, particularly outside of the Army sphere. Certifications, such as a Certified Defense Financial Manager or Certified Government Financial Manager, graduate and postgraduate degrees, and training with industry are key to expanding the FM Soldier’s experience base and sharpening his professional skills.

The Financial Management School also is revamping its programs of instruction to reflect the requirements of the current environment. In accordance with the new general guiding principles, the school is more frequently employing the experiential learning model in a small-group-instruction setting. This allows students to serve as assistant instructors and share their knowledge and firsthand experiences with their peers. The school is also integrating active-based
and problem-based learning methods, which use the pattern of problem, plan, test, and reflect. Early results indicate that this methodology produces better comprehension.

The Financial Management School is seeking a better balance between “training” and “education.” Training focuses on equipping the student with specific skills that enable him to perform specific tasks for which success, failure, and completion are clearly measurable. Education is broader; it introduces the student to general, fundamental concepts and the practice of critical thinking, both of which are essential in today’s unconventional operational environment.

In the rapidly evolving conditions of Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, Soldiers have encountered situations that were not part of their training in either the schoolhouse or the unit. In these instances, their ability to use critical thinking to solve a problem, as opposed to trying to apply a pat solution or procedure, greatly increases their chance of success.

Courses That Reflect Conditions on the Ground

The Financial Management School is adapting course materials as well. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have clearly demonstrated the potential of money as a “weapon system”—that is, money as a warfighting tool that is equally essential to achieving tactical and strategic objectives as a Stryker vehicle or a Hellfire missile. Where civil society and the economy have been severely damaged or completely destroyed, injecting money through public works projects rebuilds the basic infrastructure required for daily life to flourish (such as roads, schools, sanitation, power, and medical facilities) and helps to establish trust with the local populace. As projects create jobs, directly or indirectly, cash flows into local people’s pockets, kick-starting the economy and providing an income alternative to illegal or enemy activity.

U.S. forces have primarily used the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) to leverage the power of financial resources. To ensure that FM Soldiers are prepared to help commanders “deploy” this important weapon as soon as they enter an area of operations, the Financial Management School curriculum now provides in-depth CERP instruction, including information on legal limitations and the proper administration of funds.

The Financial Management School also is working with the private sector to develop a banking course. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Soldiers have taken a significant role in building banking systems, which are vital to a modern, thriving nation but were absent in both countries. The school intends to expand the Army’s training-with-industry program in banking.

Iraq and Afghanistan have clearly demonstrated the importance of understanding regional customs and culture, both in terms of fighting the enemy and winning the support of local civilians. As part of the Army’s Culture and Foreign Language Strategy, the Financial Management School added a cultural adviser to the staff in June 2010.

The adviser is a subject-matter expert on Southwest Asia (which includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) and currently provides cultural awareness instruction to the Basic Officer Leader Course and the Captains’ Career Course. The school intends to expand cultural and foreign language initiatives and products for students, sharpening the program each successive session.

As with every other Soldier, financial managers must be ready for the physical conditions on the ground. The Financial Management School’s curriculum therefore includes Virtual Battle Space 2 (VBS2). A game-based training platform, VBS2 helps Soldiers learn how to anticipate and respond to tactical situations akin to those in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as encountering an improvised explosive device (IED), by moving in a shared, immersive, first-person environment.

Replicating the Operational Environment

Replicating the operational environment is essential to proper preparation. To ensure that FM Soldiers understand how they will perform their duties in the real world and can integrate their training, education, and cultural awareness, Financial Management School courses culminate with a field training exercise (FTX) at the Soldier Support Institute’s Warrior Training Area (WTA). A state-of-the-art facility that mirrors the design of forward operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the WTA engages students in full-spectrum operations and allows instructors to evaluate the students’ ability to survive and execute their mission.

Soldiers must prove their proficiency in the various systems and software of their profession, such as Eagle Cash Card, Paper Check Conversion, the Deployable Disbursing System, and the Commercial Accounts Processing System. In addition to FM-specific tasks, the FTX includes convoy operations, defense against IED attacks, and interaction with “local” citizens. The WTA also provides a setting for testing new financial management concepts and initiatives, such as the viability of using cell phones to conduct banking operations.

To strengthen financial management training further, the Financial Management School and the Soldier Support Institute, in conjunction with the Army Training and Doctrine Command, are exploring the possibility of expanding the WTA and making it the financial management equivalent of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. All FM units would be required to complete a field exercise there before deploying, and the facility would be used for regular sustainment training as well.

The Financial Management School is committed to continual self-evaluation to ensure that everything it does betters our Soldiers and keeps them prepared for all of the challenges they may face. The school will listen to and integrate into FM doctrine, training, and education the best ideas from junior Soldiers and senior civilian and military leaders alike. That input will be especially important as the school considers a redesign of its Captains’ Career Course.

The Financial Management School also will seek to expand opportunities for FM Soldiers to gain experience and knowledge from the private sector and nonmilitary institutions of higher learning. Exposing students to fresh thinking and different perspectives has proven critical to helping them adapt to today’s environment and will certainly remain so.

Ultimately, the dynamic and ambiguous state of modern warfare is unlikely to change any time soon, if ever. The frequency of decentralized operations undoubtedly will continue to increase, raising the responsibility bar for junior leaders; the types of missions that FM troops conduct will continue to morph and tread into the nontraditional; and the requirement for forward-deployed FM Soldiers within and beyond the wire will grow. No matter the situation, FM Soldiers will be ready to apply economic and fiscal power and give U.S. and coalition combatant commanders the decisive edge they need.

Dr. Dennis K. Davis is the deputy commandant of the Financial Management School.



 
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