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ROTC cadets develop beyond basic learning

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Oct. 20, 2015) -- It's not enough for newly-minted officers to be able to replicate on command the tasks they learned as part of their ROTC experience, said the commander of Army Cadet Command. Those officers must also be agile problem solvers.

"We are focused now on the officers of 2020 and beyond, on producing young leaders that can meet the challenges of a complex world," Maj. Gen. Peggy Combs said. "Our overarching goal is to produce officers of character that are agile and adaptive leaders."

More than 35,000 college students at nearly 1,050 campuses are now participating in Army-led ROTC programs. Combs said she believes the diversity of the United States is well represented by the Army's ROTC footprint.

Because ROTC happens on college campuses, Combs said the Army is in a good position to better prepare young Americans to meet the challenges of being new officers.

"Because we are in an academic environment, we have the wonderful opportunity to really utilize an education platform, to really get our officers thinking up to the next level, and really develop a thinking skill," she said.

As the Army moves from an "Army at war" to an "Army of preparation," she said officers will need to not just recite information, or perform tasks, but creatively solve new problems they've never seen before, using the knowledge and experience they have already learned. That means doing more than demonstrating their ability to perform a task, she said.

"We're taking our officers up what they call 'Bloom's Taxonomy,'" she said. "At the very base of Bloom's Taxonomy, you have knowledge, where you memorize information and then spit it back out. But as you go up Bloom's Taxonomy, you get where you can analyze first, and then synthesize that knowledge, so you have a full understanding of everything. So when you are given a complex problem you have never seen before, and don't have a checklist to solve that problem, you have able to go into that box of knowledge you have, pull it apart, take knowledge from multiple places, and solve the problem."

The Army, she said, wants "agile thinkers ... leaders that can solve a complex problem in a short amount of time using creative solutions."

Also critical for new officers, she said, is an adherence to ethics. "Ethics in our decision making is front and center," she said, adding that the concept will be permanently solidified in Army doctrine by the spring, with implementation of the "Cadet Character and Leader Development Strategy."

The strategy, she said, "integrates this approach individually for character development, leader development, and knowledge-based kinds of things."

Today, the Army Cadet Command commissions about 5,000 officers a year into the Army. ROTC produces about 78 percent of new officers. The rest come from Officer Candidate School and from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, she said.

Combs said when a commander brings a new second lieutenant into his command from a ROTC program, he can expect "a leader of character that is committed to the Army profession: a leader that can think, who is capable of solving problems, and who is responsible for him or herself and others."

The Army Cadet Command is also responsible for managing the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or JROTC, program at high schools.

"That program centers on developing greater citizens with a desire to serve their community," Combs said.

More than 330,000 high school-aged cadets participate in JROTC at nearly 1,700 schools throughout the United States as well as at Department of Defense Dependents Schools overseas, she said.

About 25 percent of those JROTC cadets choose, after high school, to pursue some form of military service - either by enlisting in one of the four branches of service, or by first going on to participate in a college-level ROTC program.