Preparing to be a Company-Grade Officer in the Year 2030 By MIDN 2/C Alexandra Hudepohl


" Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) midshipmen candidates receive warrior toughness training at Recruit Training Command (RTC) as a part of New Student Indoctrination." (DVIDS)

(https://bit.ly/3DXD7aL)


Introduction

The debate on Force Design (FD) 2030 continues to rage.[1] My peers and I, midshipmen (MIDN) in Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) units, follow the dialogue. Many of us have thoughts on the debate but mostly we are silent out of ignorance and unfamiliarity. We do not know enough to contribute to the conversation, but we understand that we will inherit the consequences of today’s policies. Unfortunately, some midshipmen do not consider the changes at all, preferring to ride the NROTC wave until their careers begin. But many Marine-option midshipmen (NROTC MIDN on a Marine Corps-specific contract) want to discuss where the future of amphibious warfare will lead and what role the Marine Corps will play in it.


FD 2030 is the future of the Marine Corps and we must increase and enhance the role of FD 2030 education in the NROTC curriculum. We need better education, information flow, and resources on the subject, so my peer group can make informed contributions when we enter the naval services. To accomplish this goal, I propose an integrated curriculum of online, mandatory, self-paced, adaptive courses on Force Design 2030, accessible to all MIDN and Marine-option MIDN particularly. Virtual courses on FD 2030 for future officers could be quickly updated as the Marine Corps releases new tables of organization, operating concepts, and policies in real-time.


Prioritizing FD 2030 Education

Warfare is changing quickly.[2] Beyond just learning the basics of the profession of arms, aspiring officers must keep up with warfighting developments affecting their future service. Yet, a prominent Marine Corps doctrine writer recently told me that “...keeping up with FD2030 updates is [not] what aspiring lieutenants…ought to be spending their time doing.” Because of the velocity of changes and the theoretical nature of FD 2030 concepts, he continued, “[Midshipmen]...should be learning the basic principles of the profession.”[3] In other words, some believe the sole purpose of training institutions like NROTC is to create an understanding of warfighting basics, nothing more.


But the velocity of change should not deter us. In fact, with such a moving target as FD 2030, MIDN should follow each adjustment and update that much more closely, so we do not miss critical developments. Learning the basic principles of the profession of arms as the first step sounds reasonable at face value. However, today’s junior officers make decisions that can affect the strategic level. Imagine a lieutenant operating in the South China Seas, making split-second decisions that could start a war. Teaching the basics of FD 2030 to Marine-option MIDN will help us prepare and succeed in these and other conflicts.


Under the current NROTC curriculum, I have taken classes on traditional combined arms doctrine in the Marine Corps, learning about the application of artillery, infantry, armor, and aviation in concert to defeat the enemy and accomplish the mission. However, it remains unresolved what combined arms will look like in 2030. Proponents of FD 2030 claim combined arms now includes all the traditional arms but with the addition of precision fires, drones, information, cyber, and space assets.[4] While detractors of FD 2030 acknowledge the importance of rising technology, they insist that the combined arms approach of their era will remain dominant. I cannot resolve the debate, but if we intend to make doctrinal changes as indicated by FD 2030, NROTC curriculum should balance the two. For my peer group, our military education amounts to a few classes on conventional combined arms, the history of warfare, and setting up a bivouac. This is too limited. We can and should do more. While some units like mine make great efforts, the educational connection between FD 2030 and rising Marines is missing.

(https://www.marines.com/become-a-marine/process-to-join/officer-candidates-school.html)


The Current Situation

Midshipmen interested in FD 2030 are left taking personal initiative. We educate ourselves, read the relevant MARADMINS and publications, keep tabs on current events, and listen to various podcasts. NROTC units offer limited exposure to the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) with Summer Cruise training and interactions with active-duty staff. But these experiences can often be surface-level and do not represent the reality of developments in the FMF. Personal initiative, while encouraged by our leaders, can address significant educational gaps only so much. This is not the fault of instructor staffs or commanders but of the curriculum.


The current situation puts FD 2030 implementation at risk. New leaders will enter the force with little-to-no tactical, technical, or conceptual knowledge of FD 2030. According to the Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Berger, “The complexity of the modern battlefield and increasing rate of change requires a highly educated force.”[5] If this is true, then The Basic School should not be a lieutenant's introduction to FD 2030. If we want NROTC-sourced lieutenants to conduct “maneuver warfare in complex, uncertain, and chaotic environments” in the future, then NROTC education must be updated at the speed of warfare and its ever-changing character.[6]

FD 2030 Virtual Courses

A vital tool to assist in this effort are virtual courses on FD 2030 organization, concepts and equipment, similar to the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations course already implemented under the Marine Corps’ Continuing Education Program (CEP). The adjustment to NROTC curriculum could be as simple as granting MIDN MarineNet accounts to access the EABO course. Alternatively, the Corps should create Officer Candidate School-bound-NROTC-specific-CEP courses. Using this program, future officers will complete semesterly classes as updates on FD 2030 are released.


In accordance with the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s guidance for developing joint officers for tomorrow's wars, these courses will remedy knowledge gaps.[7] The courses should be mandatory. Mandatory courses advance the education of those already invested in learning about FD 2030 and inform those less willing to seek information on their own. The courses should be self-paced. Training in NROTC often falls into a zero-sum timeline and implementing mandatory changes means taking time away from other requirements. However, self-paced courses allow MIDN to educate themselves on their time. Finally, the courses should be adaptive. Adaptive courses will allow students to identify their weak areas in understanding and application of the materials and remediate as needed.


The courses could look something like this. ‘Course 1: Introduction’ consists of classes on Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 6-10 Leading Marines and MCDP-1 Warfighting. From here, ‘Course 2: FD 2030 Concepts’ examines the six concepts of FD 2030: distributed maritime operations, littoral operations in contested environments, expeditionary advanced base operations, the joint warfighting concept, stand-in forces, and recon/counter-recon missions.[8] Follow-on courses could expand on MCDP 1-4 Competing, emerging naval expeditionary force formations, and the redesign of the Marine infantry battalion, to name a few examples.[9] Finally, although this training is essential for future Marine officers, Navy-option MIDN should take these courses as well. FD 2030 relies on Navy officers who can carry effective distributed maritime operations.


Conclusion

The Marine Corps would benefit tremendously from encouraging NROTC to reform its curriculum to keep apace with FD 2030 developments. If the Marine Corps prioritizes such improvements, we will produce better junior officers. And with better junior officers, we increase our chances of not just successfully competing in peacetime, but winning in war. The time for change is now!


Author’s Bio: MIDN Second Class Alexandra Hudepohl is currently a Marine-Option Midshipman at The George Washington University. She studies public policy in political science with a minor in Arabic language studies. Currently, she is assisting with the Warfighting Society’s Project TANK. Upon commissioning in 2024, she hopes to pursue a specialty in combat arms.


*The opinions of the author do not reflect the views of The George Washington University, the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, the US Marine Corps, or the Department of Defense.


[1] Hwang, G. (2022, July 22). Marine Corps Force Design 2030: Examining the Capabilities and Critiques. Center for Strategic & International Studies.

[2] Marine Corps Installations Command (2022, May 16) Network Modernization: The Shift in Warfare Paradigm and How Marine Corps Installations are Supporting. Marines.

https://www.marines.mil/News/News-Display/Article/3032538/network-modernization-the-shift-in-warfare-paradigm-and-how-marine-corps-instal/

[3] Email to author, 20 June 2022.

[4] South, T. (2022, May 9). Marine 3-star: Technology remade combined arms, the corps must adjust. Marine Corps Times. https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2022/05/06/marine-3-star-technology-remade-combined-arms-the-corps-must-adjust/

[5] Berger, D. H. (2020). The Nature of Learning. In MCDP 7 Learning (p.1-4). Department of the Navy, Headquarters United States Marine Corps.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2020, May 1). Developing Today's Joint Officers for Tomorrow's Ways of War: The Joint Chiefs of Staff Vision and Guidance for Professional Military Education & Talent Management (p. 9). https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/education/jcs_pme_tm_vision.pdf?ver=2020-05-15-102429-817

[8] Berger, D. H. (2022, May). Force Design 2030: May 2022 Annual Update. Marines. https://www.marines.mil/Force-Design-2030/

[9] Berger, D. H. (2020). MCDP 1-4 Competing. Department of the Navy, Headquarters United States Marine Corps.

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