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"Students Compete in Annual Essay Competition"
NDU Press Blog
May 20, 2010

The 4th Annual Secretary of Defense and 29th Annual Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Essay Competitions took place this week. Students at the joint professional military education colleges, schools, and other educational programs competed for a chance to catch the ear of the Secretary of Defense or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dr. James A. Mowbray of the Air War College stresses the importance of the competitions, stating that “writing is an important part of officer training. It is important to encourage officers to write well so that they can express themselves well.”

Dr. Mowbray, who has been a judge in the essay competition for over 23 years, says the competition is fun and extremely educational. He “likes seeing what the other colleges do” and explains that “it is a great honor to have someone from your own college win the competition.” Mowbray laughs as he remembers one Air War College student, a Naval officer, who had originally been enrolled in the college’s writing program because his writing was so poor. But the student had the last laugh: his end product was a phenomenal research paper that won the competition in the early 1990s. Mowbray believes that the competition has always been startlingly objective: “The judges have a genuine heartfelt desire to send forward only the best.”

Professor Chadburn reviews essays at National Defense University. (Photo by NDU)This passion for excellence in strategic studies is echoed by fellow judge Professor Charles C. Chadbourn III of the Naval War College. Professor Chadbourn is the longest standing judge in the competition; he has been participating since its inception in 1982. Chadbourn, a Professor of Strategy, says the essay competition gives him a unique opportunity to reconnect with the judges, many of whom come back year after year. He loves reading the papers and seeing the ideas that are generated. One of the best papers he ever read was an essay by Charles L. Dunlap, Jr., called The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012, about a fictional overthrow of the government. The essay suggested that the blurring of the military role of the armed forces into civilian missions might be dangerous to democracy and civilian government.

Chadbourn chuckles as he remembers how a movie studio tried to buy the rights to the Dunlap essay. Dr. Frederick T. Kiley, then Director of NDU Press, told the studio that the essay was not for sale. After Kiley refused a very enticing offer, the studio explained that money was not an issue; the studio could afford to pay whatever he wished. Dr. Kiley then explained why he could not take their money: because the essay was written by a military officer for a government-sponsored contest, it was public property and the rights were free to the public. Chadbourn isn’t sure if a movie was ever made after the request.

The seasoned essay judge explains how the papers submitted for the essay competition really run the gamut, covering almost any issue the military has ever faced. When students ask him what they should write about, he counters with, “If you had five minutes to speak with the Chairman, what would you say? That’s what you should write about.” Chadbourn fondly remembers meeting Chairman Colin Powell when a student from the Naval War College won the essay competition. Part of the prize was a meeting with the Chairman. Chadbourn accompanied the student to the meeting and remembers being struck by Powell’s penetrating comments. Powell had done his homework and obviously read the paper, which both surprised and delighted the Professor.

The Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Essay Competitions wrapped up yesterday afternoon and the votes were tallied. Final results will be posted by NDU Press after the winners are notified by their schools.

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