The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.
– General James Mattis

Recently there has been a significant increase in independent professional military education (PME)-specific literature, websites and associated content. The majority of these resources, if not all, are written by senior officers and aimed at their own cohort. This is not a bad thing, but all ranks should be seeking to develop themselves further – not just those at the top driving the desks. The pursuit of professional mastery should be a necessity for anyone, regardless of rank. We don’t just need soldiers to follow blindly only knowing the bare minimum, we need them to excel in all aspects. We are creating the leaders of the future and that’s why PME is not just for the officers.

A soldier’s perception of PME  

A number of soldiers I have spoken to are unaware of what PME is, or believe it’s an officer thing, not applicable to their work. Many of these soldiers don’t make the time to read anything – other than social media. Doing ’extra work‘ during and after work hours is something foreign that eats into personal time. Being forced to sit through ’mandatory‘ briefs, training and lectures on a variety of topics is often seen as a chore, taking them away from their ‘real job’.

The younger generation, of which I am a part, have been brought up with an expanse of resources at their fingertips, yet reading – or taking on new information – is almost non-existent. I am not just talking about reading books, but also reading blogs and eBooks, watching or reading the news, listening to podcasts or audiobooks and everything in between.

What PME means to me  

In its simplest form, PME is anything that improves your personal and professional capability. I am not talking about diving into the theory and tactics of Hannibal or Napoleon – yet.

I don’t particularly need to know how to command a Brigade or about Australia’s foreign policy in South East Asia or how to train host-nation security forces – but I read about it anyway. These resources provide snippets of knowledge applicable to anyone and, if anything, enhance my knowledge of the world around me and my situational awareness.

Many resources provide excellent information applicable to everyone from the Digger to the Major General. I’ve learnt a considerable amount from the expanse of military-specific PME resources online including The Cove, Grounded Curiosity, From the Green Notebook, Wavell Roomand The Strategy Bridge. However, I also learn a lot from non-military resources like podcasts, TED Talks, business websites and personal blogs. A good fiction book or movie also does wonders for the imagination.

Don’t get me wrong, PME is well-aimed at the military practitioner and the profession of arms; however, anything that makes me a better person, soldier, husband, and father is PME to me. If I can be better in my personal life I will be better at my job and vice versa. Reading books is a great start for PME and provides the deepest context and widest breadth of knowledge in my opinion – and I always have a few books on the go at any one time. However, when life gets in the way or I am short on time I regularly check in on these websites, blogs, news, and business and leadership resources – the majority of which are accessed through Facebook (yes it’s not just all memes).

What PME for soldiers COULD be  

PME doesn’t have to be a weekly lecture in the Officers Mess or a round table with the CO. PME for soldiers can be as simple as printing out a Facebook or blog post you’ve read and sharing it with your immediate team or network. A simple soldier’s five on what it means to you and why others should hear it is more than enough to increase your knowledge, and that of your mates. You could read a book on any topic and provide a brief review on it. PME could also include a discussion on a current world event and what it means to you and the Australian Army. How about, what’s happening in Iraq at the moment and how it affects your chance of a trip to Taji on the next rotation? Maybe PME could be watching a movie. Many excellent books have also been made into movies. Most of history’s key events have featured in movies in some form, and provide a good starting point for expanding your knowledge.

The mere fact of knowing broadly what is happening in PNG, what makes a successful leader, how the Soviets lost in Afghanistan or who Clausewitz was will make you a smarter, more well-developed, and conversant individual capable of a lot more in your personal and professional life.

Books on a shelf

How to make PME a part of your day

Picking up a book is an excellent start! Military-focussed books provide an excellent start point; however, don’t limit yourself by theme. Some classic books include On War by Carl von Clausewitz, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. More-recent titles include Jawbreaker: The Attack on bin Laden and al-Qaeda by Gary Berntsen, Ghost Fleet by P. W. Singer and August Cole, and Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. Some excellent non-military fiction books include The Road by Cormac McCarthy, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne, and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. The mere act of reading, regardless of content, is a means of improving your knowledge and linguistics abilities.

For those short on time, routinely accessing PME websites or following them on social media provides a quick an easy way to read and learn. Sites like The Cove, From the Green Notebook, Doctrine Man, The Strategy Bridge, 3x5 Leadership, Grounded Curiosity, Modern War Institute and my own personal favourite, the Twitter account of MAJGEN Mick Ryan (@WarintheFuture). These sites all post regular content that will take less than five minutes out of your day to read with topics ranging from history, the future of war, leadership, tactics, operational successes and failures, health and fitness, self-development, leadership and even book reviews. If you can’t make the time to read a book, read a review of a book and get all the best bits in a short succinct post.

If you just can’t force yourself to read anything at all, try a podcast or an audiobook. Put some headphones on during the commute to work or listen in your car. Audio versions of the books Lone Survivor and 13 hours provide excellent accounts of recent events and the actions of those involved. There are numerous military-specific podcasts available including The Modern War Institute and The Dead Prussian. I have also learnt a lot from a wide variety of non-military podcasts including The Jocko Podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, Hardcore History, and TED Talks.­

All it take is a few minutes a day! Then you can share those few minutes with your mates, consequently imparting that knowledge on them by “paying it forward” with PME. A smarter work environment is a more successful work environment. Successful soldiers are happy soldiers and happy soldiers achieve more. in the hopes of building a more successful and more capable Defence Force for the future, PME should not be restricted to the Officer’s Mess and should be fun and accessible to all individuals, regardless of rank.