NEWPORT, R.I. -- About 75 business leaders from around Rhode Island visited the U.S. Naval War College on Aug. 21 as part of the Leadership Rhode Island program.
The participants received an overview of U.S. Defense Department activities onboard Naval Station Newport, including the college’s Strategic and Operational Research Department, the Naval War College Museum and the Surface Warfare Officers School. They also heard from guest panelists about the state’s defense industry.
“It’s good for us to recognize that the premier leadership and strategy school in the world is right here in Rhode Island, and what people here do, and how that relates to Rhode Island and the world,” said Mike Ritz, Leadership Rhode Island executive director.
“The professors who are teaching leadership and strategy here are part of our community. They sit on our nonprofit boards, and they are part of our Rhode Island society. They are part of us.”
Leadership Rhode Island, a nonprofit group founded in 1981, offers leadership training programs with a focus on community involvement. Classes include site visits around the state.
In Newport, the group heard from college faculty on defense topics and took part in a national security war game.
“Leadership in defense is about making decisions, decisions on all things related to war, the statesmanship connected to war and, equally important, the prevention of war,” said Walter Berbrick, a Naval War College associate professor and Leadership Rhode Island class member.
“These are hard decisions, hard decisions that we grapple with, study on and report on each and every day here at the Naval War College.”
Will Bundy, associate provost for warfighting research and development, told visitors that the U.S. military faces a landscape where the pace of technological change is a major factor.
“I’m not going to show you pictures of destroyers, cruisers and airplanes. I’m going to talk to you about the future – a future that you are part of. We are in a new age, an age of technological evolution,” Bundy told the group.
Bundy talked about a recent college forum on quantum science and its use for national security.
“We really believe that quantum is going to change a number of things for us, in terms of sensing and computing. Here at the War College, we are involved in that level of research,” he said.
One of the day’s highlights was a two-hour war game in which the Leadership Rhode Island class members were asked to make decisions in a national security setting – the kind of exercise that takes place regularly at the college with active-duty players.
In the game’s scenario, the Leadership Rhode Island participants were members of a government cabinet forced to respond to a crisis involving a border dispute.
Visitors said the exercise gave them a window onto what national security professionals do.
“In our group we were commenting, just imagine thinking about this every day and the weight of what these guys are thinking about,” said Mark Hellendrung, president of Narragansett Brewing Company of Pawtucket and a Leadership Rhode Island class member.
“To live with the weight of the consequences of those decisions must be really heavy,” he said.
Barbara Brown said she thought she knew how national-security decisions were made from the TV show “The West Wing.”
But practicing the real thing was educational, said Brown, who owns the executive coaching firm Sperling Brown Associates in Charlestown.
“The complexity of the issues, how sometimes decisions need to be made rapidly because the repercussions of not deciding in a timely manner are real,” Brown observed. “Sometimes you don’t have as much information as you want.”
The Leadership Rhode Island contingent also experienced lunch at Naval Station Newport’s main galley, where sailors eat meals every day.
To see U.S. Naval War College photos from the event: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmGpHVXG