Kansas City, MO – Fort Leavenworth is famous for its prison, but the Army is much more proud of the Command and General Staff College there. They call it the "Intellectual Center of the Army," a kind of grad school for mid-level officers. The college honored one its graduates Thursday, February 26. The ceremony highlights the school's diplomatic role one that may be key to winning the war in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. KCUR's Frank Morris reports.
Out in front of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, there's something you might not expect to see in a US Army Post in Kansas, a circle of flags from dozens of foreign countries, including a few with which we don't always get along.
Audio of National Anthem of Pakistan
Inside the building yesterday they were playing the National Anthem of Pakistan, as part of a ceremony celebrating a 1988 graduate.
ANNOUNCER: Be it known that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of army staff, Pakistan, in recognition or outstanding military achievement, in service of his country's armed forces, has been inducted into the United States Army Command and General Staff College Hall of Fame.
Before General Kayani assumed control of Pakistan's Army last year, he ran the country's spy agency. Kayani says that some of the classes he took here colored the way he's directed military operations in Pakistan. He says he also built some enduring friendships with his classmates. A group of them got together in Washington.
"Having met after 20 years, the very first time that we came across at the dining room in the hotel, it was just as if we just met yesterday, and we were carrying on the same association," says Kayani. "Now that is a kind of understanding, and something I think is very great."
One of those from Kayani's group of 16 at Fort Leavenworth is Major General Jay Hood. Hood has done pretty well over the years, too. He's now the Chief of Staff of US Central Command; that's the US military's command division that covers all of the Middle East. So one of the highest ranking US officers in the Middle East, has known arguably the most powerful person in Pakistan, for more than 20 years because they had classes together at Fort Leavenworth.
Kayani says that, and other such relationships, are a good thing. "A very good, very deep understanding between Pakistan army and US Army, which we carry to this day. And this of course helps a great deal in relationships between the two countries."
This isn't always an easy relationship. A lot of people in Pakistan hate the United States. US forces launch attacks against Taliban fighters in Pakistan, there's bound to be friction. Lieutenant General William Caldwell, a three star general who's in charge of the Command and General Staff College, and a number of other Army schools, says he can't say whether personal relationships made in Leavenworth have helped smooth over these conflicts. But Caldwell will say that they don't hurt.
"Those kind of relationships that you build, the friendships that you develop, the ability to talk across many cultures, is just, invaluable."
The Army's been running the foreign exchange program at Fort Leavenworth for a century. In that time 28 of the graduates went on to become heads of state, and more than 300 of them eventually rose to command their country's armed services. That's a lot of powerful people spread out across the globe, who spent a year studying at Leavenworth.
Jim Fain, who runs the International program says they'd like to expand it. "International participation by officers in all of our schools when we decide who we want to have here, and who we really, really want to go after in terms of who we want to go after."
Pakistan, for instance! Now Leavenworth takes two officers from Pakistan each year. Fain, at least, would like to double that number. Because, in an era when the US Army is trying to win conflicts with the very broadest approach and coming to rely on information, and diplomacy and consensus as much as raw firepower, the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth has a major role to play.