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NEWS | Jan. 20, 2022

Future Strategic Leader Program – Born in Michigan

By Capt. Joe Legros Michigan National Guard Public Affairs

LANSING, Michigan – What does it mean to be a future strategic leader in the Michigan National Guard (MING)? For one, service members should be ready to discuss strategic narcissism and the regional concerns of U. S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDO-PACOM).

Those two subjects are at the heart of a recent initiative introduced by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general of MING.

“Our Soldiers and Airmen need to be proficient in INDO-PACOM operations,” shared Rogers. “Much of our attention the last 20 years has been on Central Command (CENTCOM), Afghanistan and Iraq, and I want to ensure we don’t neglect the needs and strategic importance of our allies and partners in Southeast Asia.”

After attending the U.S. Army Pacific commanders conference in the fall of 2021, Rogers returned to Michigan determined to bridge the knowledge gap between INDO- PACOM and MING. The result: An officer professional development series dubbed the Future Strategic Leader Program was introduced to Michigan Soldiers and Airmen.

“We developed some key criteria and asked for applicants from every major subordinate command and the air wings across the state,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3, Ian Mihlfeld, strategic planner for the adjutant general’s Directors Initiatives Group.

He added, “The program utilizes military doctrine and academic readings along with written assignments to develop critical thinking skills within the INDO-PACOM region. It culminates with a professional development engagement and staff ride.”

In the program’s inaugural year, 23 mid-grade officer applicants battled for 10 spots, with those selected to visit INDO-PACOM and review the command’s operations.

The process was very competitive and included writing samples, justification of benefit to the service member and MING, a letter of recommendation and most recent copies of each candidate’s officer record brief. All work was graded by a selection board who determined the order of merit list.

Even after the 10 finalists were selected, the assignments kept coming. Participants were further challenged with three additional writing assignments, various presentations, as well as reading several strategic and operational books, articles, and doctrine.

This is where strategic narcissism came into play.

The definition of this term provides the main reason why Rogers saw the need for a Future Strategic Leader Program, and he challenged leaders to write about its danger.

U.S. Army retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, former U.S. National Security Advisor, defines strategic narcissism as "our tendency to define the world only in relation to us and therefore to assume that whatever we do will be decided by our own desires and outcomes."

McMaster asserts that this view of the world fails to take into consideration the influence other countries have over the future. In a similar way, just because the Middle East has received most of the U.S. operational focus in recent years, adversaries have been busy in multiple other regions.

The Future Strategic Leader Program aims to raise awareness of MING service members regarding adversary activity in other parts of the world.

Along with illustrating the dangers of strategic narcissism, future leaders were charged to write a two-to-three-page information paper on a Southeast Asian topic. Later, they defended their argument in front of Rogers as well as command leadership while visiting INDO-PACOM headquarters in Hawaii.

“I know Maj. Gen. Rogers’ intent with this program is to develop future leaders and emphasize the strategic importance of the INDO-PACOM region,” shared program finalist U.S. Army Maj. Jonathan Bunge, intelligence officer (S2), 177th Military Police Brigade, Michigan National Guard. “My expertise, awareness and historical knowledge of this region have increased substantially.”
Participants met with leadership at U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, U.S. Army Pacific Command, U.S. Pacific Air Forces, and the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. They also visited the 25th Infantry Division’s Jungle Operations Training Course, dubbed the Lightning Academy.

The Lightning Academy opened in 2014 and is the only jungle training course currently offered by the U.S. Army. It was preceded by Fort Sherman, Panama, which operated a similar school from 1953 to 1999, preparing service members to fight in challenging and dangerous environments such as Vietnam.

“We wanted to give these future strategic leaders a chance to see what it was like to operate in the conditions of the Pacific and Southeast Asia,” said Rogers. “The ultra-humid climate and dense tropical terrain provide a glimpse into what our World War II Soldiers faced.”

Program participants agreed on the importance of a renewed focus on the INDO-PACOM region.

One participant, U.S. Army Maj. Jared Grooms, operations officer (S3) for 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment, Michigan National Guard, wrote in a program assignment that the U.S. needs to reinforce the confidence of regional partners in Southeast Asia.

“To consider the rising power and ambitions of our adversaries within INDO-PACOM is profoundly challenging,” said Grooms. “This program provided an excellent opportunity for officers to deep-dive into one of the most prescient and complex national security issues facing the nation.”

He added, “While this is definitely a national-level issue, the future leader program compelled participants to consider their role within a whole-of-government approach toward solving problems.”

Bunge agreed that the strategic leader program will continue to build the INDO-PACOM knowledge base for future participants, saying, “This week-long event is among the best developmental opportunities offered by any military organization.”

He added, “There were dozens of professional and historical readings and in-depth briefings from military and academic experts. As future decision-makers, we were uniquely exposed to future national, strategic problem-sets.”

Based on participant feedback, it is clear the program is off to a successful start.

Grooms added, “We will carry this experience throughout the remainder of our careers.”

Most importantly, the program provides leaders with a valuable new skill set to combine with the expertise they gained from multiple deployments in CENTCOM.

“It just makes sense that we prepare our future leaders by training them in INDO-PACOM strategic operations,” said Rogers.

“That is the whole intent of this new program,” Rogers added. “We want our officers to think critically regarding competition against peer threats in this emerging theater.”