By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jason Helfer, Fort Meade, Md.
Special to Soundoff!
May 16, 2013

On a rainy Wednesday night in early May, Fort Meade and the Naval College's Distance Education Program parted ways.

Inside a small classroom at McGill Training Center, students of the Naval War College delivered their final presentations before a panel of distinguished judges.

The panel included state Del. Barbara A. Frush, for Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties; retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard M. McGill; John E. Flynn of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense; and Air Force Col. William Bograkos.

But the presentation would be the last for the satellite school.

"Budget constraints and funding issues are the major reason why the Naval War College will end its satellite program at Fort Meade's McGill Training Center," said C. Philip Nichols, a retired Naval Reserve captain who teaches "Theater Strategy" at the college. [Garrison Commander] Colonel [Edward C.] Rothstein and the rest of the Army have been very accommodating to us."

Unforeseen events such as a court-martial on post have forced the students to relocate a few times.

But Nichols, a judge for the Prince George's County Circuit Court, described the mid-level officers and civilian students as "good troopers ... These are extremely intelligent men and women who will progress further in their professions."

The Naval War College was established in 1884 when Secretary of the Navy William E. Chandler signed General Order 325 stating: "A college is hereby established for an advanced course of professional study for naval officers, to be known as the Naval War College."

The war college has four missions: educate and develop leaders, support defining the future Navy and associated roles and missions, support combat readiness and strengthen global maritime partnerships.

Since 1884, the college has grown in both size and scope. There are 20 satellite campuses, and until May 8, Fort Meade was included.

This career-enhancing school, which grants a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies, is highly selective. Students must pass a board and a one-year school to be admitted to the program.

After completing their course of study, graduates will be able to better analyze, plan and prepare for maritime threats.

Inside the muggy classroom last week, Navy, Coast Guard and one Marine Corps officer sat alongside a Royal Canadian Air Force captain as well as agents from various federal agencies.

Their presentation addressed the next big challenge to America's Pacific Command within the next eight years. Topics included China's growing economy and its military spending as well as America's relationships with its Pacific allies.

Each of the student teams were graded for content, structure, support, style and how they responded during the question and answer session.

Many officers and agents could not speak on record about their two years in the Masters Level program because of the sensitivity of their work.

One Navy officer said the lessons taught in Nichols' class are directly applicable to the day-to-day operations of his assignment.

Capt. BJ Hahn, a 12-year veteran of the Canadian Air Force, said the training he received at the Naval War College will prepare him as he progresses in his career.

"I really liked the diverse group of people that we have in our class," he said.

As the evening went on, the judges -- a few of them Naval War College graduates themselves -- peppered the students with questions about their presentations. The soon-to-be graduates answered with confidence.

By the end of the evening, America's next generation of top military leaders were finished with the academic portion of the Naval War College.

All that is left is graduation.

And with that, the Naval War College wrapped up its final class at Fort Meade.

Editor's note: Jason Helfer is a staff sergeant with the Maryland Recruiting Battalion.
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