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Graduate Program Offers Advanced Tools for Terror War Fight

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

MONTEREY, Calif., Aug. 11, 2005 – A one-of-a-kind curriculum offered here at the Naval Postgraduate School is helping shape future leaders for the challenges they will confront in the war on terror.

Unlike some academic programs with seemingly little real-life application, the Defense Analysis program focuses on issues commanders in all four services deal with daily as they work to counter the terrorist threat.

"It's allowed us, in very measurable ways, to contribute to national security," said Gordon McCormick, chair of the Defense Analysis Department, who helped create the master's-degree-level program.

Program graduates are actively applying the lessons learned supporting the war on terror, he noted. "Our graduates are all over the front line. You can't go to Afghanistan or Iraq without running into them," McCormick said.

And in testimonial after testimonial McCormick receives from former students, all special operations force officers, the program is proving invaluable in the field. "It gives them the conceptual tools they need to properly frame the operational problems they are facing," he said.

Program participants from the Army, Navy and Air Force study a core program of instruction designed to teach them to think in new ways about leadership, conflict and warfare, explained McCormick. They also select a specialty track focusing on an area of special operations, ranging from terrorist operations and financing to combat systems to national security affairs.

Before completing the program, each student researches, writes and presents a thesis that explores a specific military issue or problem.

Some, like the thesis Air Force Capt. Tom Meer collaborated with two other students on, have attracted a lot of attention from U.S. Special Operations Command and military leaders. It explores how to track down "high-value targets who don't want to be found," based on extensive research and interviews with government agencies, private investigators and even bounty hunters, he explained.

"We do certain things well," Meer said his research showed, but rely too heavily on technology versus old-fashioned police work by humans on the ground. His thesis also recommends lower-cost, more effective ways to capture terrorists who remain at large.

Now that he's completed the Naval Postgraduate School program, Meer is headed to the Joint Special Operations University at Hurlburt Field, Fla., where he will continue to build on these concepts.

Other theses topics being researched at the Naval Postgraduate School show equal promise in supporting current operational needs.

Air Force Maj. Marlee Rust, an intelligence officer slated to graduate from the Defense Analysis program in March, is researching interagency collaboration in the intelligence community.

Army Capt. Lawrence Basha, a Special Forces officer who came to the postgraduate school from 10th Special Forces Group in Germany, studied how to conduct operations against high-value Islamic extremists in countries the United States is not at war against.

Army Maj. David Downing, a civil affairs officer who also has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, evaluated the role of Special Forces in nuclear and radiological counterproliferation. His thesis explored the legal, political and moral restrictions and ramifications.

Students and graduates, including Rear Adm. Bill McRaven whose 1993 thesis, "The Theory of Special Operations," has become required reading for Navy SEALS, praise the Defense Analysis program for helping them delve into big-picture issues in a joint environment.

"One of the interesting things about this program is the mix of individual ideas that run the gamut, from pre-combat operations to combat to stabilization missions," Basha said.

With a mix of all services and international students as well, students say they develop perspectives they never could have gained in a single-service school.

"You learn as much from the students as the professors," said Rust, noting that students bring a full range of recent operational experience to the program, making the curriculum "come alive."

And unlike classes at some military schools that Downing described as "garbage in, garbage out," the Defense Analysis program opens students' minds to issues and problems with no textbook solutions.

In fact, McCormick said, "the books on these subjects are still being written."

What the program offers students is a new, broader context for looking at military operations and creative, nontraditional ways of addressing challenges.

"There are no boundaries here and no limitations. You're not in a box," Meer said. "Nobody is saying, 'You're a student. Stay in your lane.' They encourage you to broaden yourself and the way you think."

Downing said he's confident he'll apply the lessons he's learning when he returns to an operational unit. "They give you the tools so when you encounter a problem, you can analyze it and know where to find solutions or how to craft solutions based on models," he said.

"It's taught me how to do critical thinking, and how to look at things from a different point of view," agreed Klingmeyer. "And that makes you a better officer and a better leader."

Retired Army Col. Peter Gustaitis, an instructor for the program, said students "won't even realize the tools they have developed" until they finish the program and return to the field.

"That's when they'll see what they've gained here," he said. "They'll be heads and shoulders above their contemporaries."

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