NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. (April 28, 2017) David Ainslie (left), a U.S. Naval War College (NWC) training specialist, and NWC students talk with people role playing refugees as part of the assessment process during a humanitarian crisis exercise held at Harold Parker State Park. Twenty-five students and 11 faculty members from NWC took part in the simulation, which was sponsored by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. (U.S. Navy photo by Daniel L. Kuester/Released)

By Daniel L. Kuester, U.S. Naval War College Public Affairs
May 3, 2017

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Faculty members from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), Cambridge, Mass., and U.S. Naval War College (NWC), Newport, Rhode Island, conducted one of the largest-ever civilian-focused crisis response training exercises at Harold Parker State Park, April 28-30.

The event allowed 120 students from Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Mass., Tufts University, Medford, Mass, and NWC to experience and learn how to effectively assist during a complex humanitarian crisis.

This simulation was set in two fictional countries in the aftermath of a natural disaster. The situation was exacerbated by poverty, rebel activity, militias and other obstacles.

“All of the students are getting an extraordinarily realistic experience in a simulation environment of the complex interactions that take place between civilian humanitarians, governmental organizations, and domestic and international militaries,” said Dave Polatty, director of NWC’s Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response Program and associate professor in NWC’s College of Operational and Strategic Leadership. “The international humanitarian response ecosystem is incredibly complicated and difficult to fully understand from lectures alone. This experiential learning opportunity lets us see it firsthand, truly be immersed in it, and think about how to better operationalize civil-military responses in the future.”

NWC provided 25 students and 11 faculty to the simulation. Eighteen of the students were from the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief electives course taught jointly by Polatty and HHI’s Dr. Michael Lappi. The other seven students were part of NWC's Maritime Operational Planners Course (MOPC).

The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), Annapolis, Md. was also represented by five senior midshipmen and one faculty member as part of their senior-year capstone project.

The remaining students were from Harvard, Tufts, MIT, and numerous humanitarian organizations that work with Harvard to help educate and train current and future humanitarian workers.

More than 150 volunteers participated as role-playing members of international humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other groups.

NWC students participated as leaders and planners within a military forward command element and were tasked to conduct on-the-ground assessments of humanitarian needs and begin planning for how the U.S. and other militaries could provide special capabilities to assist in the response.

USNA students constructed an innovative “gridshell” structure they had designed over the course of their senior year. Their project was specifically developed for use in humanitarian emergencies.

Militaries are often involved in the early stages of such crises as they are uniquely equipped to provide security as well as access to the equipment, transportation and supplies needed to provide rapid relief to affected populations. In a real-life emergency, as international NGOs get to an area, domestic militaries, and sometimes even international militaries, are often already involved in providing aid, according to Polatty.

This is the 12th year the cooperative simulation has taken place, and the third year NWC has taken part.

The simulation continues to grow in scope and numbers of students.

“As far as we know, this is the world’s most complex simulation for training humanitarian aid workers,” said Dr. Stephanie Kayden, director, HHI Lavine Family Humanitarian Studies Initiative. “The purpose is to train the next generation of aid workers so they know what to do in the field and how to meet international standards. It is better that they learn how to react to stress here in a simulation rather than in a foreign country thousands of miles away from home.”

The simulation training was valuable for the students.

“Like anything, it is valuable to get some hands-on experience that we wouldn’t get in the classroom,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jarred Burgess, MOPC student. “We got a great chance to get outside and see aspects of what other groups do, and meet some of these amazing people and better understand the different experiences they bring to solve problems.”

Harvard believes that working with NWC is a valuable learning tool.

“Naval War College is an important part of the learning,” said Dr. Michael VanRooyen, director and co-founder, HHI. “The military in general plays a complex role in humanitarian assistance because in areas of natural disaster they are tremendous logisticians and provide incredible support.

“My goal is two-fold with Naval War College. First, to help NGOs to work better with the military, and for military to understand the NGO’s world better. Second, to work directly with NWC and other military institutions to provide militaries with a deeper understanding of humanitarian principles.”

Working together benefits the exercise and the schools involved, according to Polatty.

“We are grateful for the chance to take part in something this special that allows our students to synthesize advanced educational concepts in such a dynamic environment,” added Polatty. “This is widely considered the most realistic humanitarian simulation in the world. For NWC to take part with Harvard and all of their partners is an exceptional and rare opportunity for our students and faculty.”

NWC is an upper-level professional military education institution that includes a one-year resident program that graduates 600 resident students a year, and a multifaceted distance education program that graduates more than 1,000 students per year. Students earn Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) credit and either a diploma or a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies or defense and strategic studies. Established in 1884, NWC is the oldest institution of its kind in the world. More than 50,000 students have graduated since its first class of nine students in 1885 and about 300 of today’s active duty admirals, generals and senior executive service leaders are alumni.

Edited and posted by Daniel S. Marciniak
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