ARSOF Officer Education at Fort Leavenworth

By Lieutenant Colonel Paul Schmidt and Lieutenant Colonel Brian Petit
Originally published in the January-March 2012 edition of Special Warfare

The United States Army’s path of officer Professional Military Education, or PME, requires all majors to attend Intermediate Level Education, or ILE, between their 10th and 14th year of service. With few exceptions, majors in special-operations forces, or SOF, will attend resident ILE at one of the following locations: the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif.; the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security at Fort Benning, Ga.; or sister-service ILE schools or foreign ILE equivalents. This article will discuss the expectations, curriculum and goals for SOF majors of the Fort Leavenworth ILE program.


The Fort Leavenworth ILE experience for SOF students is demanding. Expect daily intellectual challenges, academic rigor, complex problem-solving exercises, impassioned peer-to-peer interactions and broad exposure to joint, interagency and multinational perspectives.

The faculty members intend to produce the field-grade officers that SOF Soldiers deserve: tactically proficient, professionally competent, intellectually grounded, organizationally skilled, ethically sound and readily able to exercise disciplined initiative in a battalion, group or joint SOF headquarters.

The stakes justify the rigor. Today’s dynamic operating environment continues to test our field-grade officers, exposing those who are unprepared and challenging the majority who are exceptionally prepared.


According to AR 600-3, The Army Personnel Development System, “ILE is the Army’s formal education program for majors. It is a tailored, resident education program designed to prepare new field-grade officers for their next 10 years of service. It produces field-grade officers who have a warrior ethos and a joint, expeditionary mindset, who are grounded in warfighting doctrine, and who have the technical, tactical and leadership competencies to be successful at more senior levels in their respective branch or functional area. ILE consists of a common-core phase of operational instruction offered to all officers and a tailored education phase (qualification course) tied to the technical requirements of the officer’s branch or functional area.”

At Fort Leavenworth, ILE is conducted through an 11-month academic year. Classes start both in the summer (July) and in the winter (January). ILE is run seminar-style, with 16-person staff groups consisting of Army officers complemented with a mix of Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force officers, international officers and interagency representatives. This intentional composition ensures that every staff group has joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational contributors, combining an array of unique perspectives to enhance learning and understanding.

For special-operations officers, the Fort Leavenworth ILE program consists of three lines of education: SOF studies, U.S. Army ILE, and a student selected graduate-degree program. The leading option for graduate degree study for SOF students is the fully funded University of Kansas-Interagency Studies Program.

Line of Education #1: SOF Studies

All ARSOF (Special Forces, Military Information Support and Civil Affairs) officers who attend ILE complete a comprehensive special-operations curriculum that complements the Army Professional Military Education. SOF courses are instructed by resident, active-duty SOF faculty throughout the academic year. SOF studies are composed of the SOF Preparatory Course (P940), SOF studies (mid-year) and SOF electives (end-of-year).

SOF Preparatory Course (P940). The SOF Preparatory Course is focused on SOF leader development and education at the field-grade level, with emphasis on setting the stage for academic success at the graduate level.

SOF students will arrive at Fort Leavenworth in early July, roughly three weeks prior to the start of ILE, for the 12-day SOF Preparatory Course. The course has four goals: (1) educate students on the full range of United States Special Operations Command capabilities in order to increase their knowledge of the strategic, operational and tactical application of SOF; (2) Mentor students through a complex, loosely structured unconventional-warfare planning exercise that introduces doctrinal design and planning methods; (3) Begin language refresher in their SWCS-trained language; (4) Prepare students with primers on graduate-level reading and writing to prepare them for the academic challenge of completing a master’s-degree program.

SOF studies, mid-year. (S400/401). Throughout the academic year, SOF students will periodically be excused from the core Army curriculum to conduct SOF-specific classes with their peer group. These lessons include case studies in unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, village-stability operations, military information support operations and civil-military operations; theater special-operations command strategies and operations; the role of military liaison elements; the role of the CIA; the role of special-mission units; current operations and plans for Special Forces, Military Information Support, Civil Affairs, 75th Ranger Regiment and the Army Special Operations Aviation Regiment; SOF authorities and funding; SOF-general purpose forces interoperability; and student briefs on current and past special operations.

Mid-year SOF studies are also offered for any ILE officer, branch immaterial, who requires SOF-specific educational outcomes. Normally, this includes logisticians; intelligence officers; judge advocates, Air Force, Marine and Navy SOF officers; and others who will be serving in SOF units following ILE graduation.

SOF electives. In the final 10 weeks of ILE, students will enroll in electives based on their SOF branch and their desired area of study. The elective program offers multiple courses that produce additional skill identifier, or ASI, and unrestricted elective courses. Students can study languages based on projected post-graduation assignments. Electives are implemented in two five-week sessions. Each student will complete eight electives from the 192 elective courses available.

Specific SOF elective classes are required for SOF students to complete their SOF professional development. SOF elective classes include SOF Independent Studies (A570), Special Forces Company Command (A572), Advanced Civil Affairs (A574), Advanced Unconventional Warfare (A576), SOF Foreign Internal Defense (A577), Introduction to MIS and Civil Affairs (A578) and Advanced Psychological Influence Methods (A579/580).

The electives period has SOF students in small classes where they conduct analysis and focused study in classified and unclassified venues. SOF electives are taught by resident Special Forces, MIS and Civil Affairs faculty, augmented by guest instructors, guest speakers and video teleconferences. SOF electives occur at the end of the academic year, allowing students the time to become immersed in their professions and mentally prepare for their follow-on SOF assignments.

Line of Education #2: U.S. Army ILE

ILE at Fort Leavenworth provides graduates with broad exposure to the six intermediate-level college joint learning areas1 in preparation for their Military Education Level 4, or MEL 4, and Joint Professional Military Education 1, or JPME 1, qualification.

The academic departments of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff School conduct instruction in their areas of emphasis to enable ILE students to use military forces competently up to the operational level of war. In ILE, students become field-grade proficient in doctrine, concepts and terminology necessary for visualizing, describing and directing effective military operations. ILE contains instructional blocks from the departments of military history, leadership, tactics, logistics and resource operations and joint, interagency and multinational operations.

Key areas of study include strategy, operations, tactics, history, leadership and the human dimension, politics, logistics, force management and force generation. These key areas of study are provided through four major blocks: Common Core, the Advanced Operations Course, Electives Term 1 and Electives Term 2.

Common Core (3.5 months). Experiential learning underpins the ILE academic experience, with great emphasis on the application of knowledge. Approximately one-third of the ILE Common Core is devoted to practical exercises. Staff group discussions are centered on the professionally relevant experiences of Army, sister-service, international and interagency students.

There are five Common Core courses: Foundations (C100) seeks to make students more aware of the contemporary operational environment and of self.

Strategic Environment (C200) introduces students to the doctrinal and theoretical concepts required for perceiving, understanding and analyzing strategic military challenges.

Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental and Multinational (JIIM) Capabilities (C300) focuses on strategic and operational joint-military-force capabilities, strategic and operational interagency and multinational considerations.

Joint Doctrine and Planning (C400) examines joint operational art and design.

Army Doctrine and Planning (C500) focuses on mission command, intelligence, fires, movement and maneuver, protection, sustainment and information operations across the operational continuum. These lessons focus on the practical application of Army doctrine and decision-making using the Army’s military decision-making process. Parallel blocks during Common Core include Managing Army Change (F100), Rise of the Western Way of War (H100) and Developing Organizations and Leaders (L100).

Advanced Operations Course (five months). The ILE Advanced Operations Course prepares graduates to serve as staff members and commanders with the ability to build and lead operational and tactical formations in full-spectrum operations within a joint interagency, intergovernmental, multinational, or JIIM environment. AOC is the ILE branch-credentialing course for all Army majors and has four primary blocks of instruction consisting of Campaign Planning (O100), Force Generation (O200), Major Combat Operations (O300) and Irregular Warfare/Stability Operations (O400). These primary blocks of instruction are supported by four parallel blocks of instruction consisting of Military Innovation in Peace and War (H200), Roots of Today’s Operational Environment (H300), Leadership Applied (L200) and Battle Command Technologies (B000).

Electives (2.5 months). The AOC concludes with the 10-week electives program described above in SOF electives.

Upon graduation from ILE, students are MEL 4- and JPME 1-qualified officers.

Line of Education #3: Master’s Degree Program

University of Kansas – Interagency Studies Program. Select SOF students will earn a master’s in global and international studies, with a concentration in interagency operations, from the University of Kansas Center for Global and International Studies. The KU-ISP curriculum is designed to immerse the SOF student in a broad, interagency-focused education. Students receive six credit hours for their ILE courses and take 27 hours of graduate classes with KU, for a total of 33 hours of graduate-level work. KU-ISP classes include Islamic law, public management, Central Intelligence Agency and the interagency, interagency studies and collaboration, negotiation and dispute resolution, approaches to international studies, globalization, cultural anthropology, and conflict and development.

The KU-ISP is an academically rigorous but highly rewarding interdisciplinary program. To date, there are 35 ARSOF KU-ISP graduates and 17 ARSOF students currently enrolled.

The KU master’s program is funded by the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, or SWCS. Students apply through their branch-assignment officer and compete for selection. Once selected by the SWCS board, the students apply directly to the University of Kansas. A Graduate Record Examination score is not required.

The KU-ISP is conducted in conjunction with the Army ILE curriculum. In the fall and winter, students will take an evening KU-ISP course on Fort Leavenworth. In the spring, KU-ISP students are excused from the Army ILE electives curriculum and become full-time graduate students, attending class at the KU campus in Lawrence, Kan. KU-ISP students graduate in late July, approximately six weeks after Army ILE graduation. KU-ISP students will spend 13 months in all at Fort Leavenworth to complete ILE and their KU master’s degree. KU-ISP students can expect to arrive at their follow-on duty stations in late July or early August.

For those students not enrolled in the KU-ISP, Fort Leavenworth ILE offers a variety of master’s-degree options. The most popular programs are the master of military art and science degree from the Command and General Staff College, Kansas State security studies and adult education master’s programs, Webster’s master’s of business administration and international studies program and the Central Michigan University master’s-degree program.

Advanced Military Studies Program, or AMSP. For a second-year option, students can apply to the prestigious AMSP at the School for Advanced Military Studies, commonly referred to as “SAMS.” AMSP is an intensive operational-art curriculum taught by a highly qualified military and civilian faculty, including battalion-command experienced ARSOF officers. AMSP focuses on military leadership at the operational level, conceptual and detailed planning, critical thinking and staff support to decision-making at the operational level. Historically, six to eight ARSOF students graduate SAMS every year. SAMS also accepts early nominations for ARSOF officers attending ILE and accepts field nominations for majors or lieutenant colonels who have completed their key and developmental assignments. Early application is recommended for ILE students so they can PCS to Fort Leavenworth for a two-year tour and withdraw from routine KD slating during their first summer.

ARSOF SAMS graduates are highly valued throughout the ARSOF community. A multitude of current and former group and battalion commanders are SAMS graduates, including the current commander of Special Operations Command-Central, Maj. Gen. Ken Tovo, and retired Col. Dave Maxwell, one of SOF’s leading intellectuals and strategists.

SOF Multidisciplinary  Approach Course

In 2012, select SOF students will participate in a pilot program that pairs special-operations-qualified officers with the University of Foreign Military and Culture Studies2 Red Teaming Course. This intensive, 18-week course, taught from late January to early June, will focus on irregular-warfare environments germane to SOF. Red teaming is a structured, iterative process that provides commanders alternatives to plans, operations, concepts, organizations and capabilities from our partners’ and adversaries’ perspectives. The SOF Multidisciplinary Approach Course, or SMAC, combined with Army ILE, offers an 18-month time-on-station at Fort Leavenworth. Interested ARSOF officers, warrant officers and qualified NCOs should inquire through the SOF Leader Development and Education element for acceptance.

Special Forces warrant officers. SF warrant officers in the rank of CW3 or CW4 who have the right qualifications are periodically offered enrollment in both ILE, AMSP and SMAC. Those options offer unparalleled education opportunities for SF warrant officers, and they expose non-SOF ILE students and faculty to the unique perspectives of our highly experienced warrant officers.

SOF Ph.D. Program

Starting in the fall of 2012, the SWCS will commit qualified and selected officers to a University of Kansas Ph.D. program. Officers with a strong intellectual foundation, demonstrated academic record, a commitment to the regiment and proven operational performance will compete favorably for selection. Graduates will serve in nominative SOF positions at the institutional, operational and strategic levels.

Beyond education

ILE also offers requisite time to reflect, learn and grow as an individual, an officer and a family member. Fort Leavenworth is well-known for its campus-like environment, historic location, outstanding public schools, student amenities, kid-friendly atmosphere, hunting and fishing, proximity to Kansas City and high-quality family programs designed for young Army families. These intangibles are as important as the academic curriculum in resetting SOF officers and their families in mind, body and spirit for the tough assignments ahead.


At Fort Leavenworth, expect to complement training, self-development and experience with a graduate-level education. The reward is a renewed personal synthesis of skills, experience, knowledge, judgment and character that prepares graduates for field-grade officer assignments.

Today’s operating environment demands supremely educated leaders who direct our highly trained and uniquely missioned SOF. Toward that end, Fort Leavenworth ILE provides three lines of education: SOF studies, U.S. Army ILE and graduate-degree programs featuring the KU-ISP. These three lines of education complement the training, experience and self-development domains that combine to produce the world’s finest special-operations leaders.  

Lt. Col. Paul Schmidt is a Civil Affairs officer and currently an instructor in the SOF Leader Development and Education Element at the Command and General Staff College. He has a master’s in international relations from Troy University and is working toward a Ph.D. in education with an emphasis on international training and development. In addition to CONUS assignments in Civil Affairs, he has served three one-year tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

Lt. Col. Brian Petit is the director of Special Operations Forces Leader Development and Education at the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Lt. Col. Petit has commanded SF units at the detachment, company and battalion level. He is a veteran of Operation Joint Forge (Bosnia), Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines and Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan.


1.  The six joint-learning areas are: (1) national military capabilities, command structure and strategic guidance; (2) joint doctrine and concepts; (3) joint and multinational forces at the operational level of war; (4) joint planning and execution processes; and (5) joint command and control; (6) joint operational leadership.

2. The University of Foreign and Military Cultural Studies website is

THIS issue

January-March 2012
Volume 25 | Issue 1

Special Warfare cover, January-March 2012

Special Warfare

Special Warfare is an authorized, official quarterly publication of the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Fort Bragg, N.C. Its mission is to promote the professional development of special-operations forces by providing a forum for the examination of established doctrine and new ideas.

Views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect official Army position. This publication does not supersede any information presented in other official Army publications.