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UM Staff Help Train Next Generation of National Guard Leaders

Brig. Gen. Amos Parker (right center) recognizes Maj. Seth Davidson and members of the Ole Miss ROTC Cadet Corps for their coordination assistance. Photo courtesy of Mississippi National Guard

The University of Mississippi is nearly 5,000 miles from Estonia, but a group of Mississippi National Guard senior leaders gathered recently on the Oxford campus to focus for an afternoon on the tiny Baltic country that looms under the shadow of Russia.

The group, part of a new Guard leadership development program held July 12-13 at Ole Miss, were engaged in a national security simulation titled “Russian Attempt to Fracture NATO in Estonia.” The exercise, with about 50 Guard members participating, was conducted by the university’s Center for Intelligence and Security Studies, or CISS, which is part of the national Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence program.

Besides the simulation, the attendees spent their two days on campus involved in a leadership development program that is designed by the Guard to develop military leaders for positions of greater responsibility in Mississippi.

“The Mississippi National Guard Lecture Series is a professional development program used to prepare leaders to serve at all levels of command and key staff positions,” said Brig. Gen. Amos Parker, Mississippi Army National Guard assistant adjutant general.

“The program introduces the challenges that leaders face at the national and state level, as well as in the joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational environments. The program (provides) opportunities to gain insights and a greater understanding of the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment we face every day.

“Our primary focus for this event (was) to provide our leaders with an understanding of interagency processes in the development of national security policy and how these agencies assist the president in the formulation of national security policy.”

The Guard was hosted by the university’s ROTC program for the two-day event, which started with classes July 12 in the ROTC building. Later in the day, instructors and Guard members toured athletics facilities, including a tour of the football program’s facilities conducted by former Ole Miss football players Jordan Ta’amu and Dawson Knox.

The simulation was conducted the next day.

“This came about as a result of Days of Intrigue,” said Timothy Russell, CISS director, referencing the two-day intelligence simulation held each spring for UM students enrolled in the CISS program. “We invited colleagues from the Guard to observe, and they ended up inviting us to do something similar with them.”

On the morning of the exercise, the attendees were educated on the various U.S. intelligence community agencies by CISS staff before the simulation started. After a brief history lesson on Estonia and its relations with Russia, the senior leaders were given a mock conflict, including rising tensions between Estonia and Russia, a collision between a Russian fighter jet and an Estonian airliner, and fears of further Russian aggression against Estonia, a NATO member since 2004.

The participants were expected to develop a draft approach to the situation that would provide policy options to the U.S. National Security Council.

Some of the questions the Guard members considered included how to de-escalate the situation while also planning to successfully deter or defeat Russian aggression, whom to engage internationally and for what, and what were the biggest concerns arising from the simulated conflict.

“The purpose of the simulation and event overall was to prepare Mississippi National Guard leaders for senior-level education opportunities … and to lead at the enterprise level,” said Ken Pope, an instructor at the CISS, which was founded in 2008.

“We accomplished this by providing an understanding of the various interagency departments and agencies; how those agencies operate and work with one another; and exercising critical thinking skills in a national security simulation that required the participants to assume the role of an interagency working group.”

The Estonia and Russia scenario was chosen due to its complexity and the difficulty surrounding such a national security challenge, Pope said.

“We designed the event and simulation specifically to place the participants in the role of an interagency working group tasked to develop an approach to address a complex national security crisis,” he said. “The participants at this stage of their careers have focused primarily on tactical and operational problems. Very few have had exposure to strategic level or interagency level organizations.”

The participants were Mississippi Army and Air National Guard field-grade officers, warrant officers and senior noncommissioned officers preparing for professional military education opportunities and senior leader command and staff positions.

“The Mississippi National Guard senior leadership knows the importance of mentoring and training our next generation of leaders,” said retired Col. Chris Scott, future operations program manager with the Mississippi National Guard. “The (Guard) partnered with the University of Mississippi and the Center of Intelligence and Security Studies to enhance our professional military education of national security and interagency processes.

“This partnership is important to the development of our officers, warrant officers and noncommissioned officers. We look forward to future training opportunities.”

By Shea Stewart

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