Intellect and innovation for warfighting capability.

Case Study – Chief of Army Scholarship

January 12th, 2016 by Clare O'Neill


The best way I can describe the Chief of Army Scholarship (now called the Army Foundation Scholarship as part of the Chief of Army Scholarship Program) is that recipients choose-their-own-adventure in order to advance an idea that will improve Army. I was honoured to be the 2013 recipient and never imagined my year would end as a Visiting Fellow at Georgetown University in the United States.

Historically, the scholarship has been awarded to Captains and Majors, so for Lieutenants, the Army Foundation Scholarship is something to keep in mind as a career ‘aiming mark’ in the future. The scholarship provides you with an intellectual aiming mark in the early years of your service and can also act as a motivating factor for scholarly pursuits conducted as an out-of-hours individual activity. The earlier you can start strengthening your professional development and academic record for the scholarship application, and also start thinking about your concept/idea to improve Army, the better. By the time you get to applying for the scholarship, you should be truly passionate about your idea.

For junior officers, I see the benefits of the Army Foundation Scholarship as follows:

  • creating a culture of scholarly activity during an officer’s impressionable formative years
  • reinforcing Army’s intellectual capacity and insights from the ground-up
  • tangible recognition for innovation and intellectual skills (things that now appear on the Officer PAR but are hard to measure quantitatively)
  • developing and retaining talented junior officers to secure Army’s future capability and grow tomorrow’s senior leadership

Path to Scholarship

Many opportunities exist through the Foundation Scholarship for both academic research and also professional development. My year provides one example of the academic research pathway. Here is what it entailed.

Firstly, I had an idea (and a bee-in-my-bonnet) about the linear MAP in non-kinetic environments and I felt we were doing our junior commanders a disservice by not preparing them to think strategically at the ground-level. Not wanting to jump to rash conclusions, I decided the best way to research this topic was through professional academic research (which I knew very little about) through a Masters by Research with a thesis dissertation.

I was never under any belief that I would actually be awarded a Chief of Army Scholarship so early on I decided that I would undertake this Masters regardless of Army sponsorship. What did this actually mean?

  • February 2012 – I spoke to my Career’s Advisor and was told that the Chief of Army Scholarship didn’t exist for officers and that there were no Long Term Schooling positions available for me in 2013. I believed my Career’s Advisor. The morale to the story – ask about your career options widely and probably see if you can verify sources while keeping professional courtesies.
  • Early March 2012 – I decided I would request to take a combination of Long Service Leave and Leave Without Pay in order to conduct the Masters on my own ‘time and dime’ so to speak.
  • Late March 2012 – To further complicate matters, I was also due to be presented at Sub-Unit Command (SUC) PAC so I formally requested to be excluded from this PAC. At this point in time, I was told by numerous and highly respected senior officers that I had destroyed my career and that I would now never become a SUC. Some of my peers thought I was mad and lectured me on importance of ‘seniority’. (As an aside – seniority seems important as a junior officer but hardly anyone remains in their original cohort – the world doesn’t stop because you change cohorts.) I would be lying if I said I ignored their advice and it was all water off a duck’s back. I was internally nervous but I resolved to embrace the madness and I also decided to avoid questions about my future and became a master of the vague answer … I also started to scrutinize the cost of a cup of coffee in more detail as I did the maths on what it would cost to self-fund a year of study.
  • April 2012 – By chance I spoke to the then Senior Career’s Advisor (SCA) during a mess function. The SCA asked about my posting preferences in 2013 so I outlined my plan for leave without pay in order to study. I was then informed that the CA Scholarship was still available for officers and applications were due that week. I didn’t sleep for a bit as I hurriedly wrote my application. Thankfully I already had an idea and was passionate about it.
  • July 2012 – I was told I had been awarded the Chief of Army Scholarship. I was shocked and truly grateful. I celebrated by buying a now seemingly inexpensive cup of coffee and breathing a sigh of relief.

Some people will just apply for the Army Foundation Scholarship and have an easy path. I tell this story, as for me, it first took personal risk combined with belief that the study was worth some personal sacrifices. I had five months of being told I had ruined my career before the relief of being awarded the scholarship occurred. I hope you take away from this – not that you shouldn’t try for the scholarship as it’s too hard – but that if you have internal nerves as you apply, that you have not been the only one.

Scholarship Year

The stars then did align for me as I gained a Commonwealth funded position under the Research Training Scheme and also a Fulbright Scholarship. In 2013, my research commenced in Australia supported by the Land Warfare Studies Centre (now renamed and within the Directorate of Future Land Warfare). I enrolled as a research student at the University of Canberra working with supervisors from the National Security Institute and ANZSOG Institute of Governance. My research scope did change over time from a civil-military focus and narrowed in June 2013 to focus on junior commander’s thinking for complex environments. I engaged with a number of Australian Other Government Agencies including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australian Civil-Military Centre, Australian Federal Police and Australian Agency for International Development (now part of DFAT).

The Chief of Army Scholarship also allowed me to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship. After a demanding application process, I was lucky to be awarded the Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Australia-United States Alliance Studies. Thanks to this generous grant, and an official invitation from the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service, I was given the opportunity to work at the world-leading Georgetown University in Washington D.C. My program in the United States included activities at West Point, Marine Corps University, National Defense University, Army War College, State Department, United States Agency for International Development, and United Nations as well as a number of think-tanks. Georgetown University combined with the Fulbright Scholarship exceeded my highest expectations; it’s easy to conclude that the opportunities initiated by the Chief of Army Scholarship are impressive and one small outcome of my year was the inspiration and motivation to start the Grounded Curiosity website.


The Chief of Army Scholarship combined with the Fulbright Scholarship were extraordinary and I was humbled by the experience of having 12 months of working with inspiring Soldier-Scholars in Australia and the United States. I commend the Army Foundation Scholarship to all interested officers and recommend commanders discuss this opportunity with their subordinates. The scholarship provides an excellent career aiming mark as junior officers draft their five career plans for their impending Career Advisor interviews.

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