NEWPORT, R.I. – Senior students from Joint Military Operations (JMO) developed real-world humanitarian relief plans during the department’s capstone exercise from October 28 to November 10 at the Naval War College (NWC). The event also involved tactical and military evaluation and instruction by national and international experts and panelists.
“The goal was to intellectually challenge our students with a complex problem while reinforcing all the planning concepts and learning objectives that were introduced throughout the course,” said JMO Professor Mark Seaman, who served as capstone exercise director. “The students developed Crisis Action Plans and their final briefs were evaluated on how they understood the scenario, framed the problem, evaluated options, and developed solutions.”
The central objective for the capstone focused on developing problem-solving concepts in leading a multidisciplinary and multinational planning team addressing ill-structured problems in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment.
Seaman said the students’ Joint Planning Groups (JPG) were also required to “formulate operational objectives that supported theater campaigns and national military strategies across the spectrum of conflict and synchronized efforts at the operational level with the national strategic, national military strategic and theater strategic levels of war.”
This year’s fictitious, but realistic scenario, described a military crisis in a region of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 2015. This military insurrection—eventually put down by the existing government—exacerbated the existing serious humanitarian problems that included starvation and disease and left thousands of people homeless.
“In this situation, the North Korean government requested international relief efforts from the United Nations—with the United States taking the lead for the operation,” Seaman said. “This educational planning exercise provided students with the opportunity to apply the principles and concepts studied throughout the trimester while serving as a Joint Planning Group member on a Joint Task Force staff.”
Nine JPGs, 250 students, JMO faculty and staff as well as government and military personnel and panelists participated in this year’s event.
“Each JPG developed unique and distinct solutions by synthesizing complex logistics, operations and intelligence issues in order to provide Geographic Combatant Commander (GCC) with possible courses of action,” said Exercise Deputy Director Paul Povlock.
Povlock also pointed to a critical element added to the two-week process by leadership at JMO.
“It was essential to include recognized experts from the national and international community to educate the students on issues not mentioned or included within the bounded, complex parameters of our original exercise,” Povlock said. “They informed the students about specific problems involving transportation infrastructure and logistics capacity, military reaction in dealing with troop deployment and political questions regarding human conditions and starving refugees crossing country borders.”
The capstone’s Korea Panel was a prime example of utilizing these experts who have spent a majority of their careers studying and researching North Korea.
“This panel was brought in at the end of the capstone process to provide valuable insight to our senior officers about specific complexities in planning and conducting potential operations in North Korea,” said Marine Lt. Col. Dee Rosser, who directed this year’s panel. “Their expert testimony helped transition the students from the artificialities of the exercise to the realities surrounding the North Korean planning problem to better prepare the students for actual crisis action planning after they leave the Naval War College. This is the type of expertise that should be available in a global crisis situation when these officers will have to evaluate, recommend and execute similar operations in various Areas of Operation.”
Students appreciated working within an academic environment that provided a greater understanding of the complexities outside of pure military solutions. Many participants were inspired because the exercise presented them a challenging scenario with multiple possible solutions.
“The moderators, cells, white cell, and exercise facilitators did a tremendous job replicating the real world difficulties of coordination and communication during crisis action planning,” Marine Lt. Col. Chris Abrams said. “Our JPG used a Design approach to frame the problem because this effectively encompassed a broader scope of the situation. This approach to Mission Analysis brought into the discussion important elements such as cultural awareness, political background, regional powers, diplomatic concerns, and social friction points.”
“The most important element was the Mission Analysis and Course of Action Development transition,” Marine Col. James Brennan said. “Deciding up front how this was going to be structured ensured the flow of effort and solidified the mission to be accomplished and how it could be done.”
Brennan said his JPG “utilized the Joint Operational Planning Process to solve the problem.” He added that “our strategy was to identify our mission and its subordinate tasks and develop courses of action. Significant effort was put into the mission analysis involving all students within the JPG.”
The culminating event of JMO’s coursework offers benefits to both the students and NWC.
“Conducting a capstone as a class profits the college by better preparing the officers to step directly into a joint planning group, understand the process and their role in that process and actively and effectively contribute to a real planning situation,” Rosser said. “This reflects well on the War College and the preparation of its students.”
By David Reese, Naval War College Public Affairs