As a boy, Maj. Justin Bierens always looked up to law enforcement and those in the military. Today, as a member of the Michigan Army National Guard, he prepares to attend the School of Advanced Military Studies; an incredibly rare occurrence for a Guardsmen. Upon graduation, he will become the first Michigan Army National Guardsmen to complete the course.
Growing up Bierens looked to his grandfathers for stories of military war and achievement. Instead, he was met with quiet reserve. Both men served in WWII and were generally quiet about their time serving overseas.
Although he still felt the pull to join the service, he lacked direction and began going down the wrong path. In his 6-9th grade years of schooling, Bierens fell in with the wrong crowd. As such, his academic performance began to suffer. Recognizing this, his parents placed him in a private school.
“I went kicking and screaming but after six months, I began to thrive in the smaller setting with more intense academic requirements,” said Bierens.
It was during this time at the private school that Bierens discovered his love of learning. Soon after, he made the decision to pursue a career in the military as an officer. The principal of the private school pointed Bierens toward the Virginia Military Institute knowing he would appreciate the school’s long and storied history.
“After visiting the institute I knew immediately that I wanted to attend,” said Bierens. “Although the living conditions were stoic and the lifestyle rigorous, the campus is a national historic landmark filled with the legacy of great leaders.”
Numerous significant leaders taught at or attended VMI including, Stonewall Jackson and George C. Marshall. Bierens also noted that VMI was the only Corps of Cadets that has fought as a unit in battle [The Battle of New Market].
Bierens graduated from VMI, class of 2004, with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and a minor in modern languages with an emphasis in Arabic.
Upon graduation from VMI, Bierens served on active duty for six years at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He deployed twice; first in 2005-2006 to Iraq, then again in 2008 to Afghanistan. During his deployment in 2008, Bierens was the detachment commander of the illustrious 101st Pathfinder Company; the company known for their aerial assault into Normandy. After completing his active duty tour, Bierens returned to Michigan where he attended the police academy at Grand Valley State University before becoming a police officer in Kentwood, Michigan.
He joined the Michigan National Guard in 2009 after separating from active duty. In 2013 he accepted a full-time position where he has proven to be instrumental to the success of Northern Strike; the annual exercise in Northern Michigan assesses joint, air-to-ground capability and involves more than 20 different states as well as multiple countries.
“Maj. Bierens was absolutely the pivotal planner who advanced Army participation in Northern Strike beyond a platoon level live-fire exercise into the joint brigade combat team operation that it is today. Justin took my vision and the concept of how to implement this vision, and single-handedly built the framework for this exercise which accelerated our timeline by years and significantly contributed to our Joint Accreditation nomination this year,” contributed Lt. Col. Ryan Connelly, director of plans and operations for Michigan Army National Guard and Bierens’ supervisor. “In essence, he caught us up to match the tremendous Air Force efforts that enabled our competitiveness and ultimate nomination by the Joint Staff to pursue accreditation.“
The School of Advanced Military Studies, located at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is designed to educate members of our armed forces at the graduate level to become agile and adaptive leaders who are critical thinkers and can produce viable options to solve operational and strategic problems. It is open to service members within the ranks of O4 or O5. The application process involves numerous steps. An entry test that includes history, doctrine, geopolitical situational awareness, essays, in person and telephone interviews, and an assessment and recommendation from your supervisor.
Col. Jeffrey Terrill, the commander of the 63rd Troop Command, Bierens’ unit, describes him as a team player with the unique ability to bring a group together in a coordinated effort to successfully complete a mission.
“Bierens is a leader who has the ability to comprehend complex issues, translate a solution into understandable guidance and has a proven success record,” said Terrill.
Terrill’s assessment and recommendation of Bierens didn’t come lightly.
“I was proud to recommend Justin for this achievement. He has shown time and again that his capabilities as an officer are above and beyond the average person. I expect him to excel at SAMS,” said Terrill.
Connelly believed that setting Bierens up for this prestigious school was something not only well deserved, but necessary for Bierens and his future in the military.
“It is clear that Justin possesses an aptitude for high level critical thinking at the tactical, operational and strategic levels that we normally see only in our top one percent performers. The fact that he was a captain during his tenure as my lead planner illustrates why we encouraged him to apply to SAMS,” added Connelly. “His acceptance to SAMS validated what we were seeing regarding his abilities, and there was zero hesitation to fund him for this one-year course. It is fitting that he is the first MIARNG officer selected to attend this prestigious and highly selective course, and we will all benefit from his education upon his successful return.”
According to Bierens, the school enforces a mix of operational art and design, creating officers adept in framing any environment who can then translate that understanding into actionable plans that link strategic ends with tactical means. It focuses on conceptual planning, the process that leads to the guidance which typically induces detailed planning, or the Military Decision Making Process.
“This is a great opportunity for myself and the Michigan National Guard,” said Bierens. “What the school provides, what I’ll be able to bring back to the general staff level…I’m just honored to be able to attend.”
The honor extends to only very few Guardsmen each year. In total, only 38 National Guardsmen have graduated in the school’s 32-year history.
While the 11-month course is certainly rigorous, Bierens will graduate in May 2017 with a master’s degree in Military Arts and Sciences. After graduation, Bierens will return to work in the plans and operations section for the Michigan Army National Guard.
“I’m looking forward to completing the course and returning to the state to share my knowledge and contribute to the future successes of the Michigan National Guard,” said Bierens.