NEWPORT, R.I. – Sixty-three officers received diplomas from the College of Naval Command and Staff (CNCS) during a graduation ceremony at the Naval War College (NWC) on Feb. 3.
Phased in during the academic year’s third trimester, the students had joined the college in February of 2010 for a year-long academic program. The intermediate-level students took graduate courses from NWC’s three academic departments: Joint Military Operations, Strategy and Policy and National Security Decision-Making. Their studies were also complemented by an electives program that provided opportunities to explore subjects not included in the core curriculum or to investigate in greater detail specific elements of the core curriculum.
Maj. Sean Elward, USMC, and CNCS student, introduced Dr. Marc Genest, who was chosen by the class of three Marine Corps, five Army and 55 Navy students as commencement speaker for the second consecutive year.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for our students and to be selected as graduation speaker again is a tremendous honor,” said Genest, professor of Strategy and Policy at NWC. “One of the great things about teaching at the War College is realizing that our students are so extraordinary. Because of their experience and maturity—our professors really do learn as much from them as they learn from us.”
As with last year’s graduates, the speaker’s address focused on his memorable experience of working in Afghanistan during the summer of 2009. On that occasion, the professor and a colleague were invited by a former NWC graduate to serve as civilian advisors to the 4th Brigade Combat Team in Jalalabad.
“My career had been centered on sharing my knowledge with students from the standpoint of an academic who spends his time researching in comfortable surroundings,” the professor noted. “Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to research while walking in your shoes. Education requires each of us to share a bit of ourselves for the enrichment of all.”
He used that experience to provide additional insights on how education is an ongoing journey between student and teacher.
“You’ve been writing essays, reading scholarly books and articles, and engaging in intellectual combat with Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Mahan and the plethora of great minds that you were exposed to over the course of your studies,” Genest said. “For men and women whose careers have focused on the harsh realities associated with kinetic operations on the battlefield, your experience at the Naval War College must have presented a very different type of challenge.”
“For many of you this has been as far outside of your comfort zone as was my time in Afghanistan visiting your world,” he added.
During that summer, Genest received a small glimpse of the scale of sacrifice and remarkable work performed each and every day by U.S. troops serving in combat outposts in remote areas of Nuristan, Nangahar, Kunar, and Laghman Provinces.
“I learned that Clausewitz was right when he said ‘that no degree of academic study can possibly supplant the knowledge acquired from actually experiencing the battlefield,’” Genest said. “It was to say the least, a real education.”
The professor added “my understanding of the human element has grown immensely and that has, hopefully, made me a better teacher, scholar and man.”
Genest closing remarks mentioned his respect and admiration for the sacrifices that the officers and their families make each day in serving their country. He also shared a quote from Isaac Newton that says, “If I see further, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
“When I say that I stand upon the shoulders of giants, I’m not referring to the great scholars that we study here at the War College, although my mind has been greatly enriched by reading their works; nor I am talking about my superb colleagues, although I have learned more from them than I can ever recount,” Genest explained. “I am talking about you and all of the students who came before you, whose selfless dedication to a cause greater than yourself is truly breathtaking to behold.”
After the ceremony, Genest also offered his appreciation for Rear Adm. James ‘Phil’ Wisecup’s leadership efforts at NWC. On Jan. 31, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced that President Obama had nominated Adm. Wisecup for appointment to the rank of vice admiral and assignment as Inspector General, Department of the Navy, Washington, D.C.
“I’d like to thank Admiral Wisecup for his outstanding performance as president of the Naval War College,” Genest said. “His wise stewardship and intellectual curiosity have made this institution an even better to place to study and work.”
Capt. Raymond Keledei, Dean of Students, recognized Lt. Cmdr. Matthew B. Ross as this year’s honor graduate. The award is presented to the student who best displays the highest standard of academic performance, extracurricular activities and community service.
“I appreciate the honor—it’s surprising and humbling,” Ross said. “This year at the Naval War College has allowed me the time to reflect, study, read a lot of introspection, and think about the profession as it is.”
The intermediate-level curriculum at the Naval War College examines the operational level of war and operational-level leadership with a solid introduction to the theater-strategic level of war as well as a foundational overview of national strategic requirements and strategies. The ten-month program is designed to produce broadly educated leaders who possess an operational-level perspective within a strategic context, underpinned by analytical frameworks.
The students earned Joint Professional Military Education phase I credit, a critical milestone in an officer’s professional development, in addition to a Master of Arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies.
NWC has been educating leaders for 125 years and graduates approximately 600 resident students annually. The College is accredited by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the New England Association of Colleges and Schools.
By David Reese, Naval War College Public Affairs