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Leavenworth-based SAMS celebrates 25 years

May. 19, 2009 - 04:47PM   |   Last Updated: May. 19, 2009 - 04:47PM  |  
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FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — At the end of the Vietnam War, Army officials created an advanced school to educate officers on how to better wage war, bridging the gap between tactics and planning.

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FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — At the end of the Vietnam War, Army officials created an advanced school to educate officers on how to better wage war, bridging the gap between tactics and planning.

Twenty-five years later, Fort Leavenworth's School for Advanced Military Studies continues to train staff officers to be more analytical when approaching war and to look toward the next conflict.

The school's director, Col. Stefan Banach, said the program was created after the Army took a hard look at leader development.

"It was a period of critical review and critique of operations coming out of Vietnam," Banach said. "That whole period was a revolutionary time for the Army, one of deep reflection and what it might need to do in the Cold War era."

Students are selected from each year's class of majors attending Fort Leavenworth's Command and General Staff College. If chosen, they stay a second year before getting their next military assignment.

Banach said over the years, the school has done a better job of linking military doctrine, history and theory to the contemporary environment. Those graduates have gone on to develop the plans for operations from Panama to Iraq.

"It's been an invaluable contribution to the country. When you consider how small the school is, it's remarkable," Banach said.

The next class of 82 officers graduate Thursday, with the program expanding to 144 graduates in 2010.

Army leaders said the training especially is needed now that the enemy is not always a traditional nation state.

"SAMS has been very clever about reinventing itself in a number of periods from its 25-year history," said Lt. Gen. David Huntoon, director of the Army staff at the Pentagon.

Retired Col. Jim Willbanks said he and other members of the first class "were an experiment."

"The instructors were only a day or two ahead. It was 14 students and it was just a really challenging time," said Willbanks, director of Fort Leavenworth's history department.

He was a captain in Vietnam and saw firsthand the condition of the force after the war.

"The Army was in pretty bad shape. Essentially, we had lost 10 years. We fell behind the Soviets," Willbanks said.

He said one reason Vietnam didn't go well was the missing link between the tactics and strategy.

Retired Brig. Gen. Huba Wass de Czege, the first SAMS director, said officers in the early 1980s knew the military doctrine of the day, but didn't understand how to judge or revise it. Also, there were concerns about investing a year of an officer's career and the cost of the training.

The course evolved to emphasize the art of operations, though the general said it should have maintained a broader theoretical focus. That might have helped the Army realize how future battles would be conducted by smaller sized units "to bring peace to a traumatized people."

"I think the reason for change is that some senior leaders didn't understand the difference between indoctrination and deep education," Wass de Czega said.

Willbanks called his advanced training "the most significant education experience in his life to that point," one that made him a better historian.

Maj. Michael Sullivan is a 2008 graduate of the school with the 3rd Infantry Division staff at Fort Stewart, Ga., which deploys to Iraq later this year. Sullivan said the training made him a better officer and person.

"It was not a competition, but rather teammates pushing one another to be that much better professionally and personally," Sullivan said. "You once again learned about leadership.

"And most importantly, you had the time to once again learn about yourself, remembering why you serve and why we love what we do."

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