NEWPORT, R.I. -- A group of U.S. Naval War College faculty members has answered a call from U.S. Northern Command for help with contingency planning related to the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
A nine-person Newport team spent the month of April conducting conceptual planning for how the Defense Department might respond in various scenarios – natural disasters and other crises – if the nation’s maritime supply chain is disrupted and nation’s federal agencies are potentially overburdened by the COVID-19 response.
“Let’s say, there was a major hurricane on the East Coast of the United States. Typically, the Department of Defense might help with that in some way,” said Sean Henseler, deputy dean of the College of Maritime Operational Warfare. “But the question is, is there anything different in what our response would be in the midst of COVID?”
U.S. Northern Command reached out to the military services for assistance, as the command’s planning experts were operating at maximum capacity. In turn, the Navy staff contacted the Naval War College. Other military services took part in parallel contingency efforts, resulting in four planning teams operating in think tanks and strategic studies groups representing the Navy and Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force.
“On behalf of the Naval War College, the College of Maritime Operational Warfare said we’ve got some planning expertise that we can use to lean into this and augment the NORTHCOM planning efforts,” Henseler said.
The Naval War College team – drawn from the College of Maritime Operational Warfare and the College of Leadership and Ethics – coordinated on a daily basis with the Coast Guard and focused on issues that might affect transportation on the seas.
Being separate from the day-to-day hustle of NORTHCOM allowed the Newport team members to examine the broad picture, said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Schneider, a U.S. Army National Guard officer who teaches in the College of Leadership and Ethics.
“The value that we bring to the table is that we have the time to look at it. And also, we’re away from the daily problem enough that we’re insulated, so we can actually spend energy looking at the future fight,” Schneider said.
Team members were Henseler and Schneider and professors David Fuquea, Jim Donnellan, Jason Willenberg, Sean Carroll, Cmdr. Tom Gerstner, Cmdr. Ben Smith and staff member Jonathan Mosier.
The joint Naval War College-Coast Guard planning team started working in early April and delivered results to Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, NORTHCOM commander, on April 24. NORTHCOM assigned a short follow-on project that the Coast Guard Commandant’s Advisory Group will take the lead on. Henseler said that work will be completed shortly.
The Naval War College faculty members said it was gratifying to answer the call to help with COVID.
“It is incredibly satisfying to be part of a team at the Naval War College that can contribute in a meaningful way to the Department of Defense and the NORTHCOM response at such a difficult time,” said Fuquea, who teaches in the College of Maritime Operational Warfare and is a retired Marine Corps infantry officer.
Fuquea and others said they had some trepidation that meeting as a “virtual” planning team wouldn’t work, given the social-distancing guidelines that the Naval War College is following. However, the nine members met online almost daily and found they were able to function as a genuine team.
“Through video conferencing capabilities, it was as if we were in the same room. We were seeing each other face-to-face,” Fuquea said. “We could hear the tenor in the voices, the excitement or concern, and we were able to share and correct products in real time. We were all very pleasantly surprised.”
Team members noted that they were planning for negative scenarios, when unusual measures would need to be considered. Hopefully, those plans will never need to be enacted, Fuquea said.
“If none of those contingencies occur, some of the recommendations we provided probably will never be employed,” he said. “But if, for instance, we see multiple hurricanes strike during the upcoming hurricane season, and if agencies who normally handle those situations are degraded by COVID, then some of the recommendations that we came up with here in Newport will be of substantial assistance to the planners at NORTHCOM.”
For more information on the College of Maritime Operational Warfare, visit: https://usnwc.edu/college-of-maritime-operational-warfare.