Military officers with dreams of one day taking a greater role steering the United States on the world stage now have a new way to pursue that goal.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense has partnered with Johns Hopkins University to create the Secretary of Defense Strategic Thinkers Program, which will allow a select group of officers to work toward a master’s degree in international public policy.
“The heart of it is our people, their talents and capabilities,” said Fred Drummond, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force education and training. “And what we’re doing is ensuring that they have the education to expand their talents.”
The program will launch in August and run through Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies. Officers will be schooled in “the art and science of war fighting,” according to Drummond, and they will learn the strategic-thinking skills necessary to plan and execute military operations.
One of the program’s goals is to prepare more officers to eventually take on high-level policy positions with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other influential panels, according to Drummond.
“It’s an intellectual investment in our officer corps,” he said. “That’s really what this is about.”
This program is open to mid-grade officers — mostly those at the O-4 or O-5 level —who have completed at least 10 years of active-duty service, from any branch of the military. The first round of applicants resulted in 12 officers being selected for the 10-month course load.
To enroll in the Strategic Thinkers Program, officers must go through an application process that includes an essay and an interview.
Though not entirely unprecedented, there aren’t many similar programs to this one outside of the military’s branch-specific war colleges.
“The services provide opportunities for civilian graduate education to meet service requirements, and also partner with selected educational institutions and think tanks for policy-related fellowships,” Drummond said.
Then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis started developing this program in 2018, with the goal of providing a “broad strategic education experience with a specific military aspect” for these officers, Drummond said.
Mattis wanted to focus on a small cohort of officers “who were exceptionally skilled and talented,” according to Drummond. He envisioned this initiative as a complement to the war colleges, which don’t focus quite as much on the strategic-thinking elements that will be touched upon in the Johns Hopkins program.
Drummond said that Mattis’ ethos as secretary of defense was “readiness and lethality,” meaning that a more prepared fighting force leads to more well-executed tactical missions. That motto has continued under acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and informs what this program is attempting to achieve, Drummond said.
“We’re providing a pathway for more officers to broaden their intellectual horizons and for services to be able to take advantage of that in the future,” he said.
As Drummond put it, the military is full of gifted folks who, with the proper instruction, can become its leaders of the future. He hopes the Strategic Thinkers Program will help these rising military stars realize their full potential.
“There are many of us who have been looking, evaluating, writing, discussing the whole aspect of strategic thinking,” he said. “We’re very excited to partner with Johns Hopkins on this particular approach.”