STUTTGART, Germany –
The Future Strategic Leader Program (FSLP) is a Michigan National Guard (MING) professional development opportunity designed to equip MING officers with comprehensive knowledge and experience in regional areas focused at the strategic level.
In its most recent iteration, twenty mid-grade officers, consisting of senior captains or junior majors from MING, competed for ten spots. A four-member board reviewed each application packet, which consisted of a commander recommendation letter, the last two officer evaluation reports and a writing sample from the applicant. The ten officers selected began a challenging introductory phase to familiarize themselves with strategic issues such as civil-military relations, geopolitics/economics, and command relationships and authorities at the geographic combatant and service component command levels.
U.S. Army Col. Ravindra Wagh, MING’s chief of staff, explained, “FSLP is a unique leadership experience in that it exposes our mid-career officers to operational and strategic formations and senior leaders in a direct and transparent manner. Perhaps most significantly, it provides these captains and majors the opportunity to engage daily during the capstone event with our adjutant general.”
The program used a building block approach that began with self-study academics, progressed to written assignments and Microsoft Teams group discussions, and culminated in key leader engagements (KLE) with senior leaders in the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) region.
Concluding each day of KLEs, all cohort members participated in a roundtable discussion with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, MING’s adjutant general and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Each officer reflected on information captured throughout the day, challenged their peers by asking thoughtful, analytical questions, and fostered enduring relationships through targeted networking.
Wagh added, “Our approach is to immerse participants in reading and writing over a variety of topics, to include theater/region-focused materials. We then provide the chance to engage senior leaders at the component command, embassy, and geographic combatant command (GCC) levels.”
He explained that one of the objectives is to help leaders acknowledge and understand a problem from multiple perspectives, such as sister services, interagency partners, NATO allies and partners, as well as adversaries. Ideally, the end result is a better understanding of the current and future operating environment, and with a higher level of strategic fluency.
The first cohort, conducted in the first quarter of fiscal year 2022, focused on the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) region. MING strategic leaders met with senior officers and civilians at INDOPACOM headquarters, U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Army Pacific headquarters, U.S. Pacific Air Forces, 25th Infantry Division’s Jungle Operations Center and the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. Participants gained a comprehensive understanding of the INDOPACOM operating environment which broadened their military expertise, preparing them to lead during this ongoing period of strategic competition.
Current conflicts in EUCOM demonstrate the importance of understanding this region’s operations, strategy, and threats, and the second FSLP cohort drew timely attention. Participants were required to read Joint Doctrine Notes, U.S. Army Chief of Staff white papers, think tank research articles, current strategic environment periodicals, and the novel, “The Ugly American” by William J. Ledererand Eugene Burdick.
The academic syllabus instilled a deeper comprehension of full spectrum challenges in Europe and prepared leaders to execute military strategy.
“The most beneficial part of the program for me was the interaction with other members of the cohort,” shared FSLP participant U.S. Army Capt. Andrew Turner. “While it was enlightening to interact with senior leaders across EUCOM in the KLEs, seeing the way each cohort member approached the program and the KLEs was valuable. As future senior leaders, we will all be working together throughout our careers, and it is valuable to have the shared experience of the cohort together to lean on each other moving forward.”
The program syllabus also included three written assignments, the first of which was a two-page paper on strategic narcissism, associated risks and what the U.S. can do to avoid this conceptual pitfall. The program encouraged members to overcome strategic narcissism by examining issues from the viewpoint of U.S. allies and adversaries, rather than only through an American lens.
U.S. Army Capt. Nicole Cosman, a participant in the first cohort and staff member for the EUCOM cohort, shared, “This is a very beneficial leadership program. It provides an opportunity to not only connect with peers from other branches and another service, but also allows us to interact with senior leaders and receive mentorship from them.”
She emphasized that the program focuses on the strategic level, requiring participants to think and write for general officer consumption. Cosman shared that this opportunity is rarely afforded until officers reach the lieutenant colonel or colonel level.
Cohort members also participated in a Microsoft Teams call with Dr. Graeme Herd, a Russia expert from the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. Dr. Herd outlined his analysis on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Ukraine just weeks after the initial invasion. The presentation prepared officers to engage with senior leaders in a meaningful way during the capstone travel event.
“The academic readings were beneficial to create a starting knowledge level within the participants,” shared U.S. Air Force Capt. Sam Sunderland, cohort two participant. “Many of us took the readings as a starting point for the knowledge we would need for our capstone and then researched and read more information to help us understand the EUCOM environment, which led to better group discussions before and during our capstone.”
The capstone included visits to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and other historic areas throughout Belgium, EUCOM headquarters and U.S. Army Europe and Africa (USAREUR-AF) in Germany, and the U.S. embassy in Latvia. Participants learned the importance of NATO’s Allied Command Operation and its mission of preserving peace, security, and territorial integrity of NATO member countries.
This experience empowered members to recognize the importance of relationships, readiness, strategic messaging, and interoperability with allies and partners, which will follow them throughout their careers in the National Guard.
“FSLP provides a great perspective based on a lot of wonderful insight from senior leaders,” said U.S. Army Maj. Catalin Bugan, Michigan bilateral affairs officer to EUCOM. “The SPP is driven by relationships with our partners. Developing formal and informal relationships based on trust, respect, and long-term commitment sets the stage for MING, as well as the combatant command and embassy country team, to have access to key leaders and achieve national security objectives.”
Program requirements did not end when the participants returned to their home stations. As a final writing assignment, members wrote an essay that answered Rogers’ foundational strategic question: “What’s next?” Participants analyzed this question throughout the experience and their answers reflected diverse perspectives that the FSLP provided.
They were compelled to think critically, learn about a geographical combatant region, solve problems through innovative thinking and demonstrate dedication to their profession.
Wagh explained, “We recognize that leader development and investment in our junior leaders might be one of the most important things we can do. Maj. Gen. Rogers is committed to a focused program that provides a chance for future senior leaders to engage at the strategic level.”
He emphasized that the program serves as a way to develop critical thinking and communication skills which MING leadership believes will produce a high return on investment in the form of more capable future senior leaders.
"This is a profession: a profession of arms,” Rogers added. “For someone to get everything they want out of a profession they have to invest in the profession, and they have to invest in themselves. I encourage people to look at themselves honestly and understand your limitations, your strengths, and the opportunities in front of you.”
He concluded, “It’s important to build these relationships and I think that will be the foundation that will continue to move the organization forward for years to come.”
The planned third iteration of the FSLP will be in AFRICOM in fiscal year 2023.