Above: United States Corps of Cadets

Article by A170 Tom Rozman

The color of the U.S. Corps of Cadets, a 218 year old corps

From a five-decade perspective as a member of cadet organizations and user of the cadet organization model to develop leaders, I think there is some value in reflecting on the contribution of cadet corps organizations as valuable experiential leadership laboratories for the developing leader.  Those organizations and institutions that employ this vehicle often have a good sense of the contribution the cadet organization can make to developing leaders.  But some organizations are not as effective in use of the vehicle.  As well, the “model” may be applied in other types of organizations and situations if understood properly and to good effect.  The following perspective discussion reviews personal experience with and use of the cadet organization model to enhance the development of prospective and practicing leaders.

Also worth pointing out, these cadet organizations to a degree are underestimated in their contribution to effective leader development.  Experience and exposure to five decades with both the Army’s and other service’s along with knowledge of programs in other armies and with leadership development in organizations, has consistently demonstrated the importance of a hands-on leadership laboratory for the developing leader.  When the development is occurring literally in the organization, i. e., in a U.S. military sense a second lieutenant directly commissioned during World War II from the ranks in a combat theater…the unit of assignment is the leadership “hands on” leadership development laboratory of the newly commissioned officer leader.  Effectiveness of the use of the device has immediate life and death consequences. This is an extreme case that illustrates the importance of using the “cadet device” effectively wherever it is applied.

A note, in the following discussion the “cadet corps” organizational device and leadership laboratory vehicle will be referred to as the “model” interchangeably.

Personal experiences with the cadet corps device and its applications have included the following.

  • Service as a U.S. Army Reserve private for duty as an Army Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet from 1965-66 in the University of Connecticut cadet battalion, Storrs, Connecticut
  • Service as a U.S. cadet assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment United States Corps of Cadets, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York from 1966-70
  • Assignment as a Ranger candidate to the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia from 1970-71
  • Employment of the model while a company commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 58th Infantry (Mechanized), 197th Separate Mechanized Infantry Brigade, Fort Benning, Georgia from 1976-77
  • Work with the Tennessee Army National Guard sister unit supported for Active training while a company commander at Ft. Benning during Summer 1976
  • As a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Masters in Business Administration Program…participation as a member of various “Harvard Case Study” organizational  teams  that essentially used the model to form the organizational staff groups and work the exercises from 1978-79
  • Assistant Professor of Military Science and plans, operations, training, and curriculum officer and Military Science III cadet advisor to the cadet battalion at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts from 1979-1982
  • Three tours of duty with the 1st ROTC Region Advanced Camp Patrolling Committee, two summers on the lanes and the third summer as the committee operations officer at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina from 1978-81
  • Participation as a U. S. Army Staff College student at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas as a member of staffs configured to work problems for certain of the courses in the Command and General Staff Officers Course from 1982-82
  • Select applications of the device at battalion level in a 1st Battalion Mechanized, 46th Infantry Regiment, Erlangen, Germany (1983-85)
  • Policy and training support development work 1st Armored Division, Ansbach, Germany from 1985-86
  • Policy and development work U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia from 1989-92
  • Policy and training development work with the Virginia Division of State Parks, Richmond, Virginia from 1992-1993
  • Various applications of the model with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, Richmond Virginia from 1987-2016

From these experiences, fairly extensive in scope, I have concluded that application of the model has many possibilities and effective use produces superb results.  I have also, through observations of other programs and study, noted that the model can be under-applied, if not spectacularly misused, with very negative results.   I include in the consideration of the model not just deliberately constituted cadet organizations such as the Brigade of four three battalion regiments I was assigned to at West Point but organizations constituted for brief specific purposes in, say, a graduate policy course.

Much of the latter poor result derives from the dismissal by many participants and persons applying the model of its relevance.  An example would be dismissive attitudes of those involved in four-year U. S. Corps of Cadets experience as leader development relevant to following career.  In the personal 3rd Cadet Regiment, United States Corps of Cadets case, I would from long perspective say that it does.

To emphasize this latter point, with the primary objective of completing what at the time was a four year undergraduate engineering program to the credential of a bachelors degree…the cadet corps model experience of four years clearly imprinted on the developing military leader the organizational structure of squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment and brigade, a chain of command, tactical leadership and staff function all against a real mission, albeit not yet line Army.  The cadet organization in place could function effectively as a standing organization if ordered to do so away from the academic mission.  In fact, one U.S. cadet corps famously did just that when the Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets deployed as an infantry battalion participating in the battle of New Market during the U.S. Civil War.

While a realistic balance in use of the model relative to the academic mission has to be retained, the dismissal I noted more than once in the relevance, effectiveness and use of the device of the model by too many individuals was a concern and dissonant with my sense of the model’s contribution.  My sense was that these individuals failed to appreciate the powerful and valuable lessons the model imparted and how it leveraged resources to provide a “leader” experience that would translate if approached properly.

This reality came home dramatically when confronted with a much more constrained situation but in similar academic priority environment.  The potential and benefits of effective application of the “model” came clear with assignment to a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadet organization as cadre.

I had had some preamble with a previous assignment to a different university ROTC cadet battalion as an Army Reserve private 15 years earlier.  But in comparison that was a resource rich environment at the time.  Confronted in the latter experience with significant resource constraint I did note the value of the cadet battalion organization as a leadership learning and experiential vehicle but at a time of relative plenty in resources in comparison.

Now returning to this ROTC battalion environment after the U. S. Corps of Cadets experience, combined with seven years of assignments to line units and formations of the field army, the cadet battalion’s resource environment for leadership development that was in place was dramatically more austere.  Yet more than ever the “model” seemed to offer a resource that leveraged properly, could greatly mitigate the austere resource conditions in terms of fashioning an effective leadership development laboratory.

The facility from which the Army ROTC program operated that the model would have to be leveraged to optimize the leadership development capabilities of the  program.

I had noted from the experiences I had had that those who understood the power of the “model” to provide a leader development laboratory that leveraged very scarce resources, had produced very good results despite constraints.  These leaders had used the model to produce a leader development experience that developed effective leaders.  They understood the power of the model and applied it very well.

Others did not and in the case of these ineffective users of the model…the results became apparent at the ROTC Advanced Camp each summer for the Military Science III (academic college/university juniors) cadets deployed to the camp from their many schools.  At the camp, the cadets from these schools struggled to do well.  The then four region ROTC advanced camps all applied the model extensively in an environment that for the various cadet chains of command were functionally real and demanding.

The effectiveness of the various school’s applications of the model on campus was on display at the camps in form of their cadet’s performances.   Cadets from schools that did not apply the model well, tended at best towards middling performances. It should be noted that performances were not necessarily a function of the individual cadet’s potential but a product of schools not applying the model well on campus.  Some cadets were able to overcome this constraint because of their embracing response to the model’s use at the camp combined with their inherent abilities and adaptability.

My experience with the model over a long period of years in both military and civilian environments, as a developing leader within the model and as an applier of the model has been that when used properly it works extremely well.   It is one of the most effective systems for placing developing leaders into a mission and organizational structure that allows them to develop their leader skills to a level that makes them effective when they move on to the operational organization leader role.  The sustained practical working experience within the functioning model exposed the developing leader to organization, roles within the organization and scenarios that caused them to function as leaders in that environment.

If the model is not employed in some form and a pedagogical approach is relied on to develop leaders, the likelihood of successful leader development will be limited.   Practice and situational awareness of the leader to hands on situations is critical to tempering their skills.

The model provides the hands-on training ground to meet that need.  In this regard and retrospectively, the U.S. Corps of Cadet as an example and as experienced was a superb application of the model.

I and several colleagues, as one instance, applied the model in adjusted form at the University of Massachusetts with excellent results as the collective performance of cohorts of an average of over 30 cadets for three consecutive summers saw a performance that rose from some 24 of 98 schools to 12 of 110 schools.  This included such schools as the Citadel, Virginia Military Institute and Norwich University, all much larger programs in a more resourced and fully military environment.

The highly competitive collective leader performance of the University of Massachusetts cadets over a three-year period given the much more austere resource base available on campus in comparison for example to these all military schools, was noteworthy.  It begged the question as to how that result developed as it did.

The answer rested significantly on the innovative leveraging of the model to compensate for any shortfall of resources.  The exceptional advanced camp results spoke volumes for the model’s significant multiplier effect when used well.  It should be noted that before application of the model collective performance of the cadets had been ranking at the camp in the 90s among the 98 participating schools.

The author’s sense as a participant in and user of the model was and remains that it is a powerful leadership development vehicle when used well.   But emphasis must be placed on the word well.  When the model was simply a pro forma exercise with little substance its value eroded into posturing and its effectiveness greatly diminished.  But the author noted that in every case where the model was applied with imagination and engagement by the users, it was a powerful and effective multiplier in the development of leaders.

United States Military Academy

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