Egypt’s army chief trained at Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. |

Egypt’s army chief trained at Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Men ascend the stairs winding up the middle of the Center for Strategic Leadership Development at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA on Thursday, June 13, 2013. The Army War College studies include courses in strategic leadership, theory of war and strategy, national security policy, campaigning, regional security, and a series of more specific electives meant to train the next generation of military leaders in the military thought and strategy of the day.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Student Rob Altman takes notes during a discussion in the Center for Strategic Leadership Development at the Army War College in Carlisle on Thursday, June 13, 2013. Almtan is one of a group of students in majors designated for a track to become military strategists. The class was discussing and debating strategy as related to a historical case study on the 2006 Lebanon-Israeli War.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Professor Douglas Campbell talks to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review from a command conference room at the Center for Strategic Leadership & Development at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA on Thursday, June 13, 2013. Campbell is the director at the Center for Strategic Leadership & Development, leading a combat-seasoned group of leaders to think strategically and across government entities, incorporating policy, intelligence, and tactics together with other factors and assets to create strategies for the changing military situation.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Students at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA listen to Dr. Michael R. Matheny, Professor of Military Strategy and Operations, lead a historical case study on the 2006 Lebanon-Israeli War on Thursday, June 13, 2013. The students were majors designated to serve as Army strategists. The class is part of the course of instruction in the Basic Strategic Art Program, the Army's Basic Qualification Course for Army Strategist, Functional Area 59.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Upton Hall is seen through the trees where it borders the parade field at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA on Thursday, June 13, 2013. The land the Army War Barracks sits on has gone through several different military uses since the founding of the United States, originally dubbed Fort Washingtonburg in the 1750's during the French and Indian War.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
A bust of Army War College founder Elihu Root at the entrance of one of the college buildings in Carlisle, PA on Thursday, June 13, 2013. Root served as US Secretary of War from 1899 to 1904. The plaque behind the bust is inscribed with a quote from Root in 1903 on the founding of the Army War College, 'Not to promote war, but to preserve peace by intelligent and accurate preparation to repel aggression, this institution is founded.'
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Lt. Col. Kim Peeples, 42, a new student, listens to Commandant of the Army War College Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo speak during an orientation for the Army War College in Carlisle, PA on Thursday, June 13, 2013. The War College is known by many experts as the top military training program in the country, with the average student already having 22 years of extensive military experience. Students are selected by a board of military officials in Washington, drawing from across the US Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines as well as from a select group of civilians and international military minds.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Uniforms from the WWI 28th Division hang in a climate controlled storage archive alongside hundreds of other uniforms throughout US history at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA on Thursday, June 13, 2013.
Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a news conference in Cairo on the release of seven members of the Egyptian security forces kidnapped by Islamist militants in Sinai, in this May 22, 2013 file picture. He has called for nationwide rallies to give the military and police “a mandate to confront possible violence and terrorism.”
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
LTC. Chris Leljedal, Deputy Director at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, walks through the towering archives at the Army Heritage Museum at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA on Thursday, June 13, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Historical military photos flank the bust of Gen. Nelson A. Miles at the house of Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA on Thursday, June 13, 2013. Cucolo has clusters of military photos, posters, and other memorabilia grouped into related themes throughout his home on the Army War College Barracks, reminding him, he says, of certain relationships, milestones, and strategies throughout military history.

CARLISLE — With unrest in Egypt, U.S. military officials looking for insight might test the ties they formed with the Egyptian defense minister, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, when he was a student at the Army War College.

“In this little historical Pennsylvania town, the most important school in the world operates under the radar,” said retired Col. Stephen Gerras, a professor of behavioral science at the Carlisle Barracks.

Al-Sisi was Gerras’ student. In 2006, he watched the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10, in the Super Bowl in Gerras’ home. Gerras remembers him as a warm man, quiet and devout.

“My mother was at our little party, too, and al-Sisi took her around my home and explained to her the meaning behind the Turkish artifacts that my wife and I had picked up when we lived in Turkey,” he said. “At the time he was here, he was only a one-star general. We never dreamed at the time he would go on to lead the Egyptian army.”

Political unrest and a troubled economy marked the first year in office for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, until a military coup ousted him on Wednesday. Al-Sisi, who deployed troops to cities when clashes broke out between supporters and opponents of the government, said the chief justice of the constitutional court replaced Morsy, the first elected president.

Recruiting al-Sisi and military leaders from other U.S. allies to build professional and personal relationships at the Army War College is an investment in the future, said Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commandant at the college. Its international fellows program began in the 1970s.

“It is so critical to know that the voice on the other end of the line is someone you trust because you have spent a year together studying, talking about everything from Thucydides (a Greek historian and Athenian general) to ethics to favorite sports teams,” said Cucolo. Social events help their families to form bonds.

That can pay off when a crisis erupts in a country.

“You now have a friend, or at the very least a colleague, you can call to receive situational updates outside of known information from the media,” Cucolo said. “They also have the ability to call you for advice and guidance.”

Cultivating leaders

Situated about 120 miles from Washington, off the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Army War College is considered the country’s top military training program.

Armed guards at the entrance gate show visitors this is not a typical campus, though its mature hemlock and oak trees and 19th-century buildings give the feel of Ivy League grounds. A fly-fishing stream, Letort Spring Run, a tributary of scenic Conodoguinet Creek, runs through the property.

The average student comes with 22 years of experience, which these days includes Operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom. A board of military officials in Washington invites candidates to attend.

Despite its name, the college welcomes more than Army students for its yearlong course. The Class of 2013, graduated on June 8, included 225 Army, 15 Navy, 32 Air Force, 17 Marine Corps and one Coast Guard officer; 24 civilian intelligence officers from agencies such as the CIA and the National Security Agency; and 71 international officers.

Classes begin on Aug. 1 to teach military men and women leadership skills, the theory of war and strategy, national security policy, campaigning and regional security. Elective subjects include cyber strategy, the industrial base, stewardship, board security and exploring the legitimacy of and alternatives to targeted killing.

Many attendees come with battlefield experience that involves making black-and-white decisions.

“Our intent is take these soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and intelligence officers to go from tactical-level operations and decision-makers to direct leadership roles,” said Bill Waddell, director of the command and control group and the cyberspace operations. “… They have gotten promoted for being decisive and getting things done. Now they come here, and they have to get ready for roles where some of them will be general officers, admirals or on the staff of a senior leader.”

That means learning to think like those leaders and giving them a broader perspective, he said. At that level, there is no black-and-white; issues become complex.

“That officer who was being rewarded for being decisive and making things happen right finds decisiveness can be somewhat dangerous in the leadership environment,” Gerras said.

Thinking strategically

This is a college where professors do not lecture. Though military strategy is the mission, attendees swap their military regalia for shirts and ties.

They begin most days by discussing reading material from the prior day — typically topics such as the civil war in Syria, anti-government riots in Turkey and Egypt’s turmoil.

They are taught to think their way through problems, Waddell said, and to consider the perspectives of other stakeholders.

Government agencies and foreign countries “all have different cultures, and they don’t appreciate a military officer saying, ‘Do it because I said so,’ ” he said. “That just doesn’t work in this world.”

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, a four-star Air Force general, was one of four keynote speakers this summer at the college’s National Security Seminar on the implications of social, political and economic problems.

“The transition from tactical thinking to strategic thinking is not as easy as it sounds,” Hayden said.

He likes the international fellows program for its ability to introduce participants to American society.

“These people are living in Carlisle; they bump into normal Americans every day,” he said. “If they have children, they attend school here. They shop and dine here. You don’t get much more ‘Main Street America’ than the Cumberland Valley in Pennsylvania.”

Steeped in history

The land that houses the Carlisle Barracks has been some sort of military facility since the founding of the country.

Dubbed Fort Washingtonburg to honor a young George Washington, a post built here in the 1750s protected settlers during the French and Indian War.

During the Revolutionary War, captured Hessians from the Battle of Trenton became prisoners here. The guardhouse they built still stands.

And it was here that President Washington gathered his troops with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton to put down the Whiskey Rebellion, marking the only time a sitting president has led a battle.

The property served as an armory and recruiting station and, in 1838, became the Army calvary training center. Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart swept into town and burned the barracks on July 1, 1863, at the start of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was established on the grounds in 1879. During its 39-year existence, coach Glenn “Pop” Warner fostered distinguished athletic teams. His star athlete, football and track idol Jim Thorpe, is memorialized throughout the campus, including the gym where he honed his skills.

The Army War College was founded by President Theodore Roosevelt’s War Department secretary, Elihu Root, in 1901 in Washington. It moved to Carlisle in 1951.

Root wanted to school elite military leaders not to promote war, but to preserve peace through intelligent preparation to repel aggression.

Looking forward

The mission for Army War College faculty members won’t change as the U.S. military makes one of its largest transitions in decades after 12 years of war.

Cucolo, who commanded the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, said America’s battle-hardened military is tactically effective.

“For the future, I would offer, though, that our concentration on fighting over the last 12 years has caused us to atrophy in our abilities to apply the strategic art,” he said.

Though the military has effective strategists, he said, “we just believe they are too few, and I’m not sure people understand just how hard this sort of activity is and the education and skills required to do it.”

“It is said that at the strategic level, there are rarely any good options or course of action — only the best of nothing but bad options.”

Since 9/11, military leaders have been asked what element of surprise keeps them up at night.

“We just don’t predict very well,” Gerras said about enemy unknowns that nag at him. He worries, too, about diminished resources for the Armed Forces. “Because we don’t predict this stuff very well, are we going to have the resilience and agility and the resources to respond to what might happen?”

The steep drawdown of resources that inevitably follows the end of a conflict worries Waddell, too.

“If the budget cuts are catastrophic,” he said, “we just need to know we have some flexibility and agility with our forces.”

Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.