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NEWPORT, R.I. – Student seminars from the College of Naval Command and Staff (CNCS) presented security strategies to faculty panelists and representatives of the regional combatant commands (COCOM) during the National Security Decision Making (NSDM) Department’s Final Exercise (FX) from October 26 to October 28 at the Naval War College (NWC).
FX is the NSDM capstone event that provided 23 student seminars the opportunity to synthesize selected concepts and material learned during 11 weeks of study from the department’s three sub-courses. The courses are Strategy and Theater Security, National Security Policy Analysis and Leading Organizations Effectively. These teams of intermediate-level students delivered their presentations, which were developed during a two-week exercise period, to nine panels of faculty members.
NEWPORT, R.I. (October 28, 2010) Faculty panelists and students listen to seminar presentations during NSDM’s Final Exercise at the Naval War College. Twenty-three student seminars participated in the three-week exercise. (Photo by David Reese)“Each seminar simulated a geographic combatant command working group,” said NSDM Professor Sean Sullivan, director of this year’s final exercise. “This working group was assigned to produce and present an executive-level strategic estimate of the future security environment over the next eight years, a theater strategic vision that advances and defends United States national interests and a prioritized list of new or improved concepts and capabilities necessary to advance the strategy.”
To test the validity of the proposed strategy and concepts, each group provided implementation details on one aspect of the strategy or one proposed concept to see how an innovation could be executed. In addition, the groups identified performance measures to facilitate evaluation of the implementation caselet. Finally, after the initial round of presentations and grading process, one student seminar team from each geographic region was selected to deliver their security strategies to two panels of COCOM representatives and regional experts—who engaged the seminars in discussion of their ideas.
“In our seminar we tried to pick the key challenges SOUTHCOM will face, actors and trends they will deal with, opportunities to leverage, and risks to mitigate,” said Major Daniel Hendrix, a student participant in the exercise. “We really liked the current SOUTHCOM vision statement and made only minor changes to it and ensured our objectives fit with current national-level guidance. The fun part was trying to dream up ways to meet those objectives that were at least possible, if not likely, in a 2010 frame of mind.”
“The exercise was very useful not only in terms of learning more about the region and the challenges faced by a combatant command, but also in terms of effective teamwork and group dynamics,” said Lt. Cmdr. Loren Romeus, who also participated in the same SOUTHCOM seminar. “In my opinion, one of our best innovative concepts was to enable and expand the use of affordable unmanned systems by partner countries in the region, particularly for use in the Counter Illicit Trafficking (CIT) mission.”
NSDM Chair Dr. David Cooper underscored the department's satisfaction with this year's annual capstone event and the importance of its emphasis on the evolving theater security environment.NEWPORT, R.I. (October 28, 2010) (Photo by David Reese) Five student seminar teams delivered their final presentations to two panels of Combatant Command representatives and regional experts. The NSDM capstone event has been conducted at NWC for more than 30 years. (Photo by David Reese)
"This culminating exercise gives students the opportunity to apply the knowledge and critical thinking skills they've gained through three distinct NSDM seminars," Cooper said, referring to the exercise's focus on a specific regional combatant command's theater campaign strategy. "This FX is designed as both an assessment tool and as a further educational opportunity for our intermediate students that epitomizes active learning."
The exercise also serves as a great outreach tool for the War College because senior representatives from the geographic combatant commands can witness firsthand how this part of the core curriculum has been applied directly to their global strategy concerns. In addition, the students experience the realism of actually taking the concepts that they’ve pulled together from their coursework and presenting their ideas to experts who implement similar recommendations in real-world situations.
Although the seminars were regionally focused and conducted detailed analysis of their own theater, nearly all of the seminars anticipated budgetary reductions for the Department of Defense which resulted in resource allocation challenges among the five geographic combatant commands. The influence of non-state actors was a consideration for all seminars and theaters. These non-state actors included drug and human traffickers, crime cartels, terror organizations, and insurgent groups.       
FX has been conducted for more than 30 years at NSDM. That heritage is important and essential to the Naval War College.
“There have been so many changes in the world’s security environment that make yesterday’s Cold War completely different from today’s maritime and terrorism issues,” Sullivan added. “It’s a tribute to this college that we still make room in our curriculum to have students spend significant time to conduct this exercise and think hard about the future of global security.”
By David Reese, Naval War College Public Affairs