Academy hosts global crisis exercise for military, civilian students

(NASA photo)

(NASA photo)


International studies cadets and students from universities across the U.S. swapped their military and civilian roles during a global crisis exercise hosted by the Air Force Academy March 3-5.


The goal of the event, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, an organization supporting humanities and arts studies, is to build academic and social cooperation between the military and civilian student communities, said Douglas Stuart, a professor of Political Science and International Studies at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania.


In all, students from six civilian colleges and universities and five military schools played roles in the scenario, which placed students in the year 2021 and revolved around the Iran nuclear deal framework reached in 2015 between the Islamic Republic of Iran and a group of world powers, including the U.S. and the European Union. 


“We’re five years into our nuclear agreement with Iran, but they may be cheating, [according to the exercise scenario],” said Stuart, also an adjunct professor at the U.S. Army War College.


Retired Col. Schuyler Foerster, the Brent Scowcroft Professor of National Security Studies at the Academy, created the scenario, which involves Iran placing tight restrictions on inspectors and possibly hiding centrifuges used to enrich Uranium, needed to produce nuclear arms. The exercise, Foerster said, takes international affairs students through tough geopolitical situations and gives them a glimpse of high-level decision-making.   


“We’re getting cadets used to working with their civilian counterparts on different political issues,” Foerster said. “One of our most important lessons at the Academy is that neither side can exist without the other. We sometimes forget the two communities can become insulated from each other.”  

Students from the Air Force, Naval, Coast Guard and U.S. Military academies, and the Virginia Military Institute, and Bard, Brown, Colorado, Connecticut, Dickinson; Vassar; and Washington and Lee colleges represented the National Security Council. Cadet 1st Class Spencer Crowe, the event’s deputy national security advisor, guided the team’s crises response.


“It was a bit like herding cats at some points,” he said. “The event took a current issue and brought together students who acted as various high-level U.S. government officials to come up with a proposal to the president on the best course of action.”


Civilian students were placed in military roles and cadets in civilian roles. During the exercise, they responded to news updates given by a local and visiting professors.


 “It was interesting to see the dynamic,” Crowe said. “Many civilian students immediately advocated for military force, while the military students were only willing to consider it as an absolute last resort.”


Crowe said the event gives him a new respect for the U.S.’s top civilian leaders.


“At times, it was incredibly frustrating trying to come up with a plan of action that considered everyone’s well-thought-out, yet different, proposals, which is, I would imagine, how it is in the real world.”  


Isabel Snodgrass, a global and international studies major at Bard, said the event was her first experience working with cadets.


“It’s been awesome,” she said. ”It’s very interesting, interacting with [cadets]. In some ways, it’s so different from what I expected but there are similarities in our studies.”


The Academy’s dean of the faculty, Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost, said he considers the Academy’s relationship with the Mellon Foundation to be a beneficial partnership.


“It is vital to help support our collaborative initiatives with liberal arts colleges and other military organizations,” he said. “Throughout the years, we’ve teamed up to work on a variety of projects that foster understanding between the civilian and military sectors. It’s a terrific partnership and it’s been a great advantage to growing our nation’s future decision-makers.”