PME in a time of CoronavirusBy Greg Colton March 18, 2020
The impact of COVID-19
The impact of COVID-19 is being felt around the world and the Australian Army is not immune from the consequences of the pandemic. As I write, training programs are being rewritten as commanders implement direction from Canberra to limit the spread of the virus. Events, such as the upcoming Cove Conference Brisbane, have been postponed until later in the year and FORCOMD staff are currently working up contingency plans for collective training activities.
For some, the implications of social distancing will mean battling with DREAMS to log on to the Defence Protected Network remotely, but for a much larger proportion of our soldiers this will not be an option. They simply do not have access to DREAMS, nor does their daily work revolve around outlook emails and track-changed word docs. The gunners, sappers, craftsmen and infantry soldiers of the Army do not spend their days in soulless cubicles in Russell Offices; they are the highly skilled, hands-on executioners of government policy. They are the fighters, logisticians, signalers, and combat support soldiers that together form a living, breathing Army. What to do with them in a time of coronavirus?
The role PME can play
Well, one good option is Professional Military Education, or PME. The purpose of PME is to develop the intellectual component of fighting power. In essence, this means developing our people so that they can tackle a broader range of more complex problem sets. Importantly, this can be done independently as individuals or remotely as part of a larger group.
As such, PME is an ideal way in which we can continue to develop our soldiers while adhering to COVID-19 mitigation measures. Below are some suggestions for how PME can be used over the coming weeks.
PME for individuals
Read. Read a lot and read widely. The more you read, the broader your knowledge base. This supports your ability to think critically and develop novel solutions to complex problems. While there are no rights and wrongs of reading, here are some resources that you might find useful:
The Cove. Yes, I know I am pushing our own site here but there really is something for everyone at The Cove. The best part is, most of the articles are written by serving soldiers for serving soldiers. Indeed, last year over 20% of all articles on The Cove were written by Warrant Officers, NCOs and private soldiers, so it really is the one website dedicated to the profession of arms which is directly aimed at all ranks in the Australian Army.
The COVEApp. Literally PME in your pocket! The COVEApp is now available in both Apple and Google Stores and provides all the most recent articles direct to your phone. The notifications function will let you know when a new article is published while the powerful search function means it is easy to find PME on a topic of your choice.
Other websites. The Cove has always argued that PME is about creating networks rather than creating exclusive audiences. There are some great PME websites out there. These are some of our favourites:
- The Australian Army Research Centre. Newly launched, the AARC site includes the Land Power Forum. A great resource for those interested in the future of land warfare.
- Grounded Curiosity. One of Australia’s most popular PME sites. Be sure to check out their book review page.
- Logistics in War. If amateurs talk tactics while professionals talk logistics, then the ultimate professionals should check out this Australian PME site dedicated to enhancing our understanding of combat service support and sustainment.
- The Forge. The ADF’s website for joint and higher defence issues. Also hosts the Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies.
- The Interpreter. The daily digital magazine of the Lowy Institute which covers a wide range of issues, both on national policy and international relations. The Interpreter provides perhaps the most comprehensive, independent viewpoints from this part of the globe.
- The Strategist. The website for commentary and analysis from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. A strong bent on national security issues, and home to some heavyweight thinkers such as Paul Dibb and Hugh White.
- War on the Rocks. One of the top US sites for national security issues. Should sit alongside The Interpreter and The Strategist for those interested in current affairs and international relations.
- Strategy Bridge. A US site designed to develop people in the areas of strategy, national security and military affairs. Often features Australian writers.
- The Wavell Room. The UK’s leading PME site which covers a wide range of topics. Recently branched out to include articles on Navy and Air Force issues. A great insight into thinking from Australia’s oldest ally.
- The Warrant Officer. A more personal blog from a British Army Warrant Officer. Contains some interesting ideas and perspectives.
Books. The Defence Library Service is a great place to order books. If you have any questions just email askalibrarian [at] defence.gov.au. There are also great bargains to be had online from second hand bookshops which will deliver direct to your door. Military history books are a great start. Perhaps read two or three on the same battle or campaign to get a deeper understanding of what happened, or you could choose several books on a theme, such as the role of intelligence in war or combined arms tactics. Once you have finished them, jot down some of the themes or lessons you have learned and spend some time reflecting on how you could incorporate those lessons within your unit.
Don’t forget that military history is not the only genre that can be useful to the military professional. Much can be gained from also reading biographies, philosophy, science fiction and novels. The best book I have read in a long time is the novel Rain by Barney Campbell. It had a lasting effect on me, and I highly recommend it to all who want to understand modern frontline soldiering and junior command.
Films. Self-isolated at home? Avoid the temptation to flick onto the latest rerun of Married at First Sight and consider watching an old war film. Some of the old black and white films are fantastic studies in leadership and moral courage. Of all of them, Twelve O’Clock High has to be one of the very best.
Other great films to watch include the classic submarine film Das Boot, the WWII epic The Longest Day, the seminal film on counterinsurgency The Battle of Algiers, and the modern documentary film from Afghanistan, Restrepo.
Writing. As well as reading and watching films, writing is an excellent form of PME. The process of ordering your thoughts and putting them onto the page really helps in broadening understanding. For more on why writing is an essential part of belonging to the profession of arms, check out the excellent Why We Write series on The Forge.
The editorial team at The Cove are ready and keen to help authors present their articles in the best possible light. It is through the contributions of you, the members of the Army, that we are contesting ideas and driving innovation and change. So, if you have an idea on how to improve the Army, now is as good a time as ever to jot it down and sent it through to us. Simply click the link on the top right corner of our homepage and add your details and it will automatically come through to the team. We will then work with you to get your article published.
PME for commanders and junior leaders
Commanders and junior leaders can use PME to ensure that they continue to develop their people while also adhering to COVID-19 containment measures. If social distancing means collective training is out, collective intellectual development can still take place. Here are some ideas leaders may want to explore.
Ensure all your people have the COVEApp downloaded on their phones. This will allow all members of your team to all access the same articles wherever they are.
Check out The Cove’s PME Resources page. We have a number of group PME activities which you can take straight off the shelf and run with your team.
Set your section or team an article that they all have to read. You can then discuss it as a group. If you cannot do this in the same location, consider using a Whatsapp chat group to discuss it and give everyone a time and date which they have to be online. What lessons can be learnt from it? What ideas does it generate that you can implement, or at least experiment with, when business resumes as normal?
Set your team a topic they have to learn about. Give your team a topic they need to research and get them to back-brief the team on what they have found. An alternate method is to set all the members of your team a different article to read, all on the same topic. That way, all members are bringing something new to the discussion and it gives even the most shy soldier a unique insight that none of the others will have.
Encourage your team to write. Conduct a discussion with your team on what they have seen over their time in the Army that could be improved. What lessons does the Army appear to ignore? How can the Army be better at warfighting, sustainment, training or leadership? Once themes have been identified, encourage members of your team to write an article for us. It doesn’t have to be long: 650-1,200 words is the usual. It should simply contain a clear argument and preferably be interesting! However, it does need to be linked to improving the intellectual component of fighting power; we do not publish articles that simply criticise existing policy as they don’t help us prepare to fight and win the next war.
We must all ensure we follow the direction and policies that will help limit the spread of COVID-19 and some of those measures will undoubtedly impact on the usual training programs across the Army. However, that does not mean we have to stop developing our people. PME is an excellent activity that can be used by individuals to develop themselves, and by commanders and junior leaders to develop their people, regardless of whether they are working from home, social distancing or meeting in small groups. Throughout the next few months, regardless of what COVID-19 may bring, The Cove team will be here to support PME across the Army. We look forward to reading your submissions!