Naval War College students earn strategic planning excellence award

Army Maj. Joshua Koncar, a U.S. Naval War College student in the National Security Affairs department participates in the Theater Security Decision Making Final Exercise in the college's Spruance auditorium.
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NEWPORT, R.I. – Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley, president U.S. Naval War College (NWC) presented the James G. Stavridis Award for Excellence in Theater Strategic Planning to the college’s top seminar group in its intermediate-level Theater Security Decision Making (TSDM) course, Nov. 9.

NWC’s National Security Affairs department conducts the course for 340 students who were divided into 23 seminars of 13 to 15 participants. Each seminar group focused on the security challenges of a specific geographic region within a combatant command area of operation. 

“Students are given the opportunity to address contingencies and develop viable solutions for the dynamic, complex environments that are relevant to geographic combatant commands,” said James L. Cook, associate professor of National Security Affairs and the final exercise coordinator. “This capstone educational exercise immerses students in the planning process and exposes them to real world capabilities and limitations so they learn and understand the opportunities and constraints facing operational and strategic commanders.”

As part of the capstone exercise, each seminar group performed a security assessment of its assigned region, identified and prioritized regional threats and opportunities, developed the outline of a theater strategy to support a more detailed campaign plan, and prepared an implementation case for the seminar’s initiatives. 

Of the 23 seminars, five were selected as finalists. Each focused on different geographic combatant commands and presented its initiatives to a judging panel of senior representatives from those five commands.

One seminar was selected for its superior work and received the Stavridis Award, named for James G. Stavridis, a retired U.S. Navy admiral and NWC graduate who served as Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, commander of U.S. European Command and U.S. Southern Command, and who is currently the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. 

“You are all to be congratulated,” Harley said. “This final exercise has challenged you to work together with your seminar mates as a combatant command working group to assess the security environment of your region of study, develop an outline of a theater strategy that advances and defends U.S. interests in that region and think about capabilities you believe necessary for the combatant command in order to advance your strategy.”

The winning seminar team focused on the need for U.S. Africa Command to be proactive and adaptive in an unstable world.

“These students have excelled and crafted solutions that resonated with the panel as viable efforts for the combatant commander,” said Rear Adm. Fred I. Pyne, panelist and deputy director of plans, policy and strategy for U.S. European Command. “Their theme to ‘shrink the continent’ effectively strengthened initiatives by tying in with joint and inter-agency capabilities as well as the resources of our international partners on the continent.”

“One of the things that set us apart was that we worked to maximize the resources available from all the partnered stakeholders in the region,” said Army Capt. Josiah Schlessman, captain of the winning seminar group. “Everyone was engaged and cared deeply about developing solutions for the volatile region.” 

The winning seminar benefitted from having student representatives from Benin and Mozambique on the team. 

“They brought keen insights,” said Schlessman. “They were able to help us view perspectives of U.S. involvement on the continent through a distinct African lens.” 

The winning team, Seminar five, was composed of Schlessman; Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Cline, Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Gadbois, Lt. Cmdr. John Mateikat, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Templar and Lt. Cmdr. Maura Thompson; U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Beth-Ann Canero; U.S. Army Maj. Robert Fertig; U.S. Air Force Maj. Ian Shelley; Benin navy Lt. Bolarin Castrence Orphee Hounkanrin; and Mozambique navy Lt. Penitencio Joao Baptista. 

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Lt. Joel S. Miller

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