Military professional training

I have obsessed about learning about history for more than two decades. There are downsides to it and there are upsides.
Some benefits that I came to recognise are that I don't mistake many news about petty things as news about hugely important things, another benefit is that I don't fall for terrible politicians easily (though it happened once when I paid attention to but a few of his policies) and finally, knowing history teaches about the dominance of path dependency in our world. Just about everything is a product of the past – and what path was taken years, decades or even centuries age has a lasting impact on the present and future.

History also shows us how things have changed; the military used to be the single biggest organisation in almost every European society only a couple decades ago, and accordingly it had the most demand for innovation in how to run and grow an organisation. Some management and personnel affairs tools of today have their roots in 19th and early 20th century military organisations' innovations. The civilian world became more innovative at the latest shortly after the Second World War, and the newer management tools have almost all been devised in large civilian corporations, civilian start up companies, universities or (these are the most stupid ones) business consulting companies.

Enough of the introduction – did you ever think about what training for the job as a soldier would look like if the very concept of a military was invented only recently? Would it look as it does or would it look very differently (which would mean that the current training orthodoxy is a product of learning AND especially path dependency).

I suppose if we had to start from scratch we would look for an analogy – such as the police – and adapt their professional training model. Police forces and the military have a lot of similarities, including the rank system and uniforms.
Police forces in Germany have a thorough education and training program. You need to study for years at a university of applied sciences to become a basic police(wo)man and, and then you typically spend some time at the Bereitschaftspolizei, which is a kind of mobile reserve of the police forces. You may encounter them patrolling at crime hotspots, but more typical uses are security at football matches, security at demonstrations and other missions that require lots of law enforcement manpower in one place.
Another path is that one may study law for even more years and enter the upper career group of the police (equivalent to officers).

Let's compare this to a typical Western military professional training.
First, you enter a basic training that typically turns you into a rifleman (at least if you join land forces), and it lasts typically two to four months. Then you are sent to many different courses or attend smaller courses First Aid et cetera) where you're stationed at. Noncommissioned officers and officers usually attend especially long (months) courses to become an NCO or officer, and senior officers may do so as well to be promoted past a certain NCO grade. Studying at a university of any kind is typically reserved for officers, and the timing and nature of such studies varies greatly. There are also military academies in some countries which unleash very young men as lieutenants onto the armed forces after months or few years of (para)military education. 
(The watered-down personnel system and requirements of the current Bundeswehr are so painful to think of that I won't describe them – in fact my description above is rather representative of careers in the early 1990's, things have gone downhill since.)

Overall, it can be said that only (soon-to-be) officers get a professional training with a broad theoretical base that's somewhat similar to what's typical in the civilian world.

NCOs and especially enlisted personnel on the other hand get hardly any professional training, and all of it is AFTER they entered the active forces.
Compare this to two years professional training (part time on the job, part time school) that you need to become a hair stylist in Germany, and two years worth of university studies to become an NCO equivalent in a bureaucracy!
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At some point the armed services world-wide seem to have begun to lag behind equivalents in the civilian world in their ambitions for professional education and theoretical competency of the noncommissioned officers and especially the enlisted personnel.

I don't think that soldiering is so much easier than hair styling that there's little to no room for improvement. It's also rarely very different from civilian bureaucracy jobs

I suppose there were multiple reasons for why the armed services began to lag:
  • They didn't need to compete with civilian careers because of conscription. School graduates prefer a job with a respected and useful training over a similarly-paid job with a pointless training – the armed services simply grabbed personnel by threatening them with jail.
  • To be an enlisted soldier is no good for the long term due to poor pay. Theoretically enlisted soldiers could serve in physically demanding specialties until hey lost fitness due to injury or age and proceed to more cushy support specialties afterwards. There are enough of the latter that enlisted soldier could be a lifetime career. It's the poor pay that rules this out.
  • The armed services don't think that two years university of applied sciences training makes sense for enlisted personnel that typically enlists for two to four years due to their tunnel vision on active strength (which makes perfect sense if you think of them as a bureaucracy). It doesn't matter much to them that this personnel would continue to be reserve personnel for two more decades.
  • There were no wars between great powers in which one power benefited from a substantially lesser lag. There's not enough incentive to overcome inertia as long as the benefits of it are not demonstrated to good effect. Much of the private sector is in a fierce competition or at least able to compare profitability, and thus has much more incentives to improve itself.

I admit it may be disputed that they began to lag in modern times and that they lagged - save for professional warrior castes such as knights - since the invention of standing armies. I think they began to lag because in Germany the dual system of training for jobs  has begun to vastly exceed the training and education of enlisted troops at the very least. The terrible post-Cold War changes in the personnel system of the Bundeswehr (I don't mean the end of conscription here) also meant that reaching officer or NCO rank requires much less (if any) previous relevant education than to reach equivalent civilian positions.
The armed forces have improved the overall approach to professional education little post-WW2, while the civilian economy and civilian bureaucracies have greatly increased their expectations of candidates.

Well, what SHOULD professional military education look like today?

This depends greatly on how you sources your NCOs and officers. It's been a very successful model to let everyone begin as enlisted (wo)man, advance to junior NCO if suitable and then advance to either senior NCO or junior officer if suitable. Training models in which "gentlemen" get a quick intro about how to behave as officer* and then join the ranks as officer have been less successful.
The 'through the ranks' model on the other hand appears to have collapsed in all-volunteer forces where the smartest candidates can only be lured into military service by promising good pay from day one – and the inflexible bureaucracies and politicians have found but one way to do so; they handed out advanced ranks ("Neckermann Stuffz") – NCO and lieutenant – as entry positions. This is understandable for emergency room-experienced medical doctors, bridge engineers and the like – but it's idiotic rank inflation if applied as widely as nowadays in many Western armed services.

I think we should go back to the West German model of the Cold War era; you can advance to officer rank through the ranks, but many promising recruits enter the force knowing that while they're at the lowest rank, they are officially o track towards NCO or officer positions and will become NCO or officer unless they fuck up. We have the rank suffixes UA and OA (Unteroffiziersanwärter and Offiziersanwärter; NCO candidate and officer candidate) for this.
I don't think that basic military training has to happen at a university of applied sciences. It should rather take the German model for craftsman education and training as a model. Three days active service at a military unit per week, two days theoretical studies at a school per week. There's plenty theory to learn; safety rules, navigation, don't rape your comrade (sigh), driving theory, radio operation, friend or foe identification, reporting, supply system, hierarchy – armed services have hundreds of field and technical manuals full of theory, dozens of which are more or less relevant to every soldier. The practical part would follow the concept of trainees in major corporations; they would be sent to different units to do different things and learn about the organisation in general.
After two years of such studying we would have a well-rounded basic soldier, and the armed service would have enough test results and superior's reports to judge how best to allocate the (wo)man. This might include him or her being sent straight to NCO school, another year of theory and practical experiences.
Juniors NCOs who served well and showed promise for much more could be sent a university of applied sciences for three years. The outcome would be training for and promotion to senior NCO or lieutenant rank and a bachelor's degree in business/administration/logistics/psychology.
Enlisted personnel that did service well but didn't show enough promise for more should instead receive a proper job training that's respected in the civilian economy as well; car mechanic, aviation mechanic, gas turbine mechanic, heavy lorry driver, nurse and so on. Enlisted personnel of the active force should have an option to serve till retirement at enough pay to sustain a family of four if the spouse works half time on minimum wage.

Medical doctors could and should be hired differently. I suppose one should give soldiers who passes the basic two years training an opportunity to get a subsidised civilian university education as a general physician, emergency surgeon or oculist followed by a mandatory one year emergency room experience and then they could be reservists with several weeks active service per year till the age of 60. This should yield enough of them on active duty at any given time for the actual needs of the armed services.**
A parallel militia system could still make do with a 6 month basic training with standardised six month militia NCO and militia officer courses more akin to the current active forces personnel system. The reason for this is that quantity helps a lot and many young men could be motivated for such short reservist duties who could not be motivated to enter a military career. The compensation for the short training would be a severe limitation of missions they would be considered capable of. The militia level of competence would likely be comparable to air force security units' competence.

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Well, that's just my opinion, man. Other opinions differ, and no doubt wildly so.

Nevertheless, I think I made it clear that the current professional training models in use appear to be obsolete remnants caused by path dependency and sustained by inertia in absence of exogenous shocks. They are NOT optimally designed to prepare young men and women for high effectiveness on the job as a soldier in an army or air force.


*: A little bit of exaggeration here.
**: The current medical branch of the German armed services is inflated and oversized beyond belief. Its personnel figures are worthless as an indicator for how much such personnel armed services actually need in peacetime.



  1. "Police forces in Germany have a thorough education and training program. You need to study for years at a university of applied sciences to become a basic police(wo)man and, and then you typically spend some time at the Bereitschaftspolizei, which is a kind of mobile reserve of the police forces. "

    Here you make a not good comparison IMHO: German police only consistes of NCOs and officers!

    In contrast, even a peacetime Bundeswehr consists to a large part of enlisted men in addition to NCOs and officers and the proposed solution should allow to maintain a rank pyramide, this with good quality in all groups.

    While your modelling of the training as vocational training is nice for NCO/officer candidates, it does not solve the underlying issue that in times of humming economy it will be very hard to attract enough men/women for enlisted men.

    In case of German armed forces we have now the first time the situation that enlisted men have to be found in times of good economy, draftees nicely allwed to ignore this dilemma in the past.

    If you check the problems of companies to find enough apprentices I doubt that your proposal solves the issue.

    Long-serving enlisted men would change the chracter of this group and I do not know whether this will be good.

    1. The typical Western army is divided in enlisted, NCO and officer groups. There are divisions between junior and senior NCOs as well as between limited time volunteer junior officers and 'career till retirement' senior officers. Some Western armeis also have warrant officers, a NCO/officer hybrid.

      The typical German (state) police has three groups as well. The group ending on -meister, the group ending on -kommissar and the highest group ending on -rat or -direktor (mittlerer, gehobener and höherer Dienst).

      I think it's accurate enough to take the -meister group (mittlerer Dienst) as the police equivalent of enlisted men, even the rank inflation and top heaviness dynamics are the same.

      But you're right from another angle, and that's my point; in the German police there's no rank group that's marginally trained before being sent out to do the job.
      There are police forces in teh Western world with ridiculously short (few weeks)police force training, though:

      "According to BJS, the median duration of basic recruit training - excluding any field training component - was 21 weeks across all academies with a range anywhere from four weeks to six months."

  2. "The typical German (state) police has three groups as well. The group ending on -meister, the group ending on -kommissar and the highest group ending on -rat or -direktor (mittlerer, gehobener and höherer Dienst)."

    As son of a police officer who started in Berlin 1953 as member of the Bereitschaftspolizei and who retired almost 40 years later as Erster Hauptkommissar, I can tell you that this is not correct:

    company Officers (Kommissare = Leutnant, Captain)
    Higher officers (Major and above)

    Check the payments A6-A9 are typical NCO pay grades.

    BTW, the Feldjäger do not have any/many enlisted men.

    Ulenspiegel :-)

  3. In earlier times there was the so called Einfache Dienst in the german police which was much nearer to enlisted soldiers. The length of the german police training also results very much of the learning of the laws and how to apply, execute and enforce them in the right and lawful way. It is also very foamed and could be shortened much if it would be more efficient. That many of the training in germany in any kind of work is foamed through the so called dual education (combination of theoretical school and practical work) is more an disadvantage than an advantage. It wastes time and effort for nothing.

    Moreover, in many german federal states there is no Mittlerer Dienst any more. All police officers now have their the same group and be Gehobener Dienst. So the hierarchy has flattens very much through this and the equivalent of enlisted soliders in this federal police forces are alll Kommissars from there rank.

    The foamed and ineffective training of the police results in more than 3 years until a police officer begin his work in reality. It could be easily shortened to 1 year.

    For the military the main problem in my opinion is the internal military culture. No structure of training would create better warriors if not the military culture is changed for the better. Today western militaries disregard and ignore the spiritual side of beeing a warrior very much.

  4. Well, I proposed a two year basic training/education for all but militiamen, so my proposal is already a middle ground, not a full copy of lengthier civilian professional education & training schemes.

    I agree that the motivation ("culture") is the real problem, and the current German MoD is an almost perfect opposite of what kind of MoD would be needed to turn around.