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LTC Mark Balboni, USA (’13): Army Strategic Planner

Mark Balboni came to IWP in 2012 when he was transitioning from an infantry role to being a Strategist with the U.S. Army. Since graduating, he has worked on the staff of the 1st Cavalry Division, U.S. Army War College, and Combined Forces Command in the Republic of Korea. He is now serving as an Instructor at the Department of Distance Education at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

Mark BalboniMark had just returned from Afghanistan – his third deployment – when the Army ordered him to attend IWP to complete the Basic Strategic Arts Program (BSAP) as part of his transition from an Infantry officer to a Functional Area 59 (Strategist).

At the time, the Army had a gap in its capability to get officers through the BSAP program at the U.S. Army War College, so it sent several strategists to IWP to meet this requirement.

Once he had completed the BSAP program, Mark decided to stay longer at IWP to earn a Master’s degree in Statecraft and National Security Affairs.

Learning strategy and interagency cooperation

“IWP allowed me to take a step back and view the world differently,” said Mark. “When you’re an infantry soldier, you see things from the bottom up. When you are a strategist, you have to look from the top down, across a wide area. Instead of talking with one person in a village, you are figuring out how to support millions of people across the globe.”

Mark also found that the emphasis at IWP on interagency work was helpful. “I was encouraged to talk with people outside of the Department of Defense,” said Mark. “It is valuable to be able to talk with someone from the State Department or the Department of Homeland Security to understand what is really going on within their agency. It helps you build context for their organizations’ activities and why their processes and capabilities are the way they are.”

Mark appreciated learning from the IWP faculty: “What IWP does better than most of the larger schools is that it is staffed with practitioners. You have senior-level staff members who are teaching professionals and who actually have done the work and understand what is going on.” Mark distinguishes IWP’s faculty from “celebrity instructors” who may not focus on the steps they took to get where they are or the practical workings of their organization. “IWP’s faculty teach from a level that is actually useful for where people are in their careers.”

Serving as a U.S. Army Strategist

After graduating from IWP, Mark was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, where he worked on the division staff and was primarily focused on tactical issues. While with the 1st Cavalry Division, he deployed to Afghanistan, where he helped develop plans for the Army’s next few years in that country. Then he returned to work on division-level problems and how the division could best assist the subordinate organizations.

Mark’s next assignment was at the U.S. Army War College, where he served as a Joint Doctrine Analyst. “One of the best parts of my job was working for Dr. John Bonin who had studied under Russell Weigley at Temple,” said Mark. “We focused heavily on problem-solving each day. Dr. Bonin is one of those wise men in the Army. People would call him throughout the day, and he would be able to give them the background of what happened and why something was the way it was. We would then work on that problem.”

Mark and Dr. Bonin also worked with the BSAP students and taught an ancient warfare course. “It was interesting and challenging,” said Mark. “Working with Dr. Bonin expanded my knowledge of Army processes and the why behind many of the Army’s decisions over the last fifty years.”

Mark then journeyed to Korea, where he spent a year working on war plans for the defense of Korea at Combined Forces Command along with Korean partners. There were nuances in this work, as well as a need to work with different agencies that had capabilities other than those of DoD. It was important to understand the legal requirements, both on the American and Korean sides, as well as the special circumstances of each military. For instance, the Korean military can do certain things that the American military cannot do, and vice versa. During this time, Mark found that his exposure to interagency dialogue at IWP was useful. (Read an article co-authored by Mark on “Digital Interoperability during Multi-National Joint All-Domain Operations.”)

Teaching Army officers

Now, Mark is working for the Department of Distance Education at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. Distance Education students will have previously completed the Common Core Course portion of the course and then take the Advanced Operations Course, which Mark instructs, which teaches division-level operations. The students come to understand what a division needs to do during large-scale combat operations. They learn how to move a division from the U.S. overseas, how it is received, as well as division conducts a defense before transitioning to the offense.

The time the students spend during the Advanced Operations Course is especially important, as their experience levels vary significantly. As Mark explains, “Many of the students are Army National Guard or Army Reserve; there are drastic variances of experiences as some of the officers are almost Colonels, and some are brand new Majors. There are knowledge gaps, and we need to identify those gaps and fill them in the best we can.”

In his teaching, he brings some of the ethics that he learned at IWP to the classroom. “When I was going through these ethics classes at IWP, I was wondering why I was doing this,” said Mark. “But it has been helpful in the classroom, especially when there are discussions about risk and ethical decisions in the conduct of war as we try to enable our students to understand the importance of making not only the correct tactical, but ethical decisions.”

Highlights of IWP Alumni