NEWPORT, R.I. – Adm. Robert J. Papp, Jr., of the United States Coast Guard, accepted the 2010 Distinguished Graduate Leadership Award from the Naval War College (NWC) during a ceremony held at the Washington Navy Yard on May 6.
Papp, who will succeed Adm. Thad Allen as Commandant of the Coast Guard on May 25, recently commented that his NWC experience gave him an opportunity to focus his attention away from Coast Guard operations and consider the art of maritime strategy, policy and critical decision making.
“It was a truly transitional experience for me because it allowed me so many more opportunities within my career,” Papp said. “I came to the War College as a simple buoy tender sailor – and left with a much greater understanding of the forces that drive strategic decision making. That experience has served me very well in every tour that followed.”
Papp graduated in 1990 as a member of the College of Naval Command and Staff, NWC’s intermediate-level joint professional military education program.
Papp explained that most mid-level Coast Guard Officers, at the rank of lieutenant commander, have not had the opportunity to consider the writings of Sun Tzu, Mahan, or those issues that foster successful joint maritime operations.
“They have not considered the “Lessons Learned” from Athens versus Sparta, or what worked or did not work during the D-Day Invasion,” Papp said. “The Naval War College provided me this opportunity, in an academically rigorous environment, which has helped frame my approach to leadership. My classroom experience, which brought together representatives of all the armed services, international students and government civilians, led by a world class faculty, is an important part of my personal “tool kit”.”
Established in 1996 by the Naval War College Foundation, the Distinguished Graduate Leadership Award honors NWC graduates who have attained positions of prominence in the field of national security. The criteria for selection include the attainment of a position of senior leadership in government service, career accomplishments which are inspiring to NWC students and an expressed interest in professional military education. The award is presented at an annual College of Distance Education dinner with approximately 250 guests attending this year.
When asked for his advice regarding the importance of finding the time to cultivate one’s ability to think critically, Papp commented that “today’s Coast Guard men and women, along with every other member of the armed forces, operate in dynamic and complex environments.”
“Every day, our service balances competing strategies, requirements and demands seeking to balance security in concert with a thriving Maritime Transportation System, operating against a back-drop of risk,” said Papp. “We work as smoothly with our DHS partners as we do our international, DoD, and industry stakeholders in this endeavor.”
Papp elaborated that to be successful, Coast Guard officers need to think critically at every level of the organization to ensure national, departmental and service goals are met and the risk is minimized as effectively as possible.
“To accomplish this, members of the Coast Guard, need to understand the issues that drive our world of work,” said Papp. “We need to understand the threats, vulnerabilities and consequences and how can we critically address each since there is a measure of ambiguity in any endeavor we engage in. In a hectic world, driven by competing demands, taking even a few minutes a day to read, write and think critically is time well spent. An officer is truly effective when they have an understanding of the bigger picture – and how their decision may affect it.”
Papp’s most recent assignment was as Commander of Coast Guard Atlantic Area, where he served as the operational commander for all U.S. Coast Guard missions within the eastern half of the world. He concurrently served as Commander, Defense Force East and provided Coast Guard mission support to the Department of Defense and Combatant Commanders. Other previous assignments included Chief of Staff of the Coast Guard in Washington, D.C., overseeing all management functions of the Coast Guard and Commander, Ninth Coast Guard District, with responsibilities for Coast Guard missions on the Great Lakes and Northern Border.
The U.S. Naval War College has been educating leaders for 125 years and offers both resident and distance professional military education.
By Cmdr. Carla McCarthy, Naval War College Public Affairs