Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

War College

An air show pilot’s experience at the National Security Seminar

The 20-minute ride from the hotel to Carlisle Barracks took us past the prettiest green fields of the Susquehanna Valley. The manicured campus is just a few miles north of Gettysburg, the defining Civil War battle site that was once occupied by Confederate forces. After the war, it became part of the Indian School program and finally, in 1951, the War College.

By 0900, we were in Bliss Hall Auditorium for our welcoming address from the commandant, who made it very clear we were there to talk openly about anything pertaining to national security. To punctuate his point, there was a microphone in front of every seat in the auditorium, encouraging us to ask questions at the end of every talk. There were a number of visible panning cameras in sight, and I wondered about the ones that we couldn't see.

We split up into smaller groups, seminars of about 15 people consisting of faculty, students and invited guests. Our leader was faculty member Dr. Tami Biddle, a Yale-educated world-renowned scholar of the history of strategic bombing of World War II. My group consisted of yours truly, the air show pilot, other businessmen and women, students including my escort Col. Williams, a Marine, a state department official, other high-ranking officers and three overseas students from Senegal, Bangladesh and Finland. The diversity of the group was a mission accompli!

Each morning, they dazzled us with world-class speakers—Gen. Hayden; Susan Herman, president of the ACLU, who presented "Challenges to American Tradition of Liberty, Due Process and Equality in a Changing World;" Norm Ornstein from American Enterprise Institute and more. Those encouraging microphones had the desired effect, and there were a lot of Q&As after each talk. In our seminars, it was hard to keep track of the many tangents we took during the week, like cyber warfare, domestic terrorism, China-U.S. policy, North Korea and Syria. Dr. Biddle masterfully led us into controversial topics while showing great leadership in bringing us back to the center when the discussions got heated. The group was outspoken and passionate, and with so many views in one room, we were forced to turn to the "other channel." I have to believe it was an enlightening experience for everyone.
Only 150 people are invited to participate each year. Who knew an air show pilot would be one of the group?
I was particularly interested in leadership issues, as the military has provided many important leadership opportunities for women as they've fought their way to the top. One hot topic in our group was the issue of whether women should serve in infantry combat positions, and I found it amusing to hear many of the same old arguments that were used to keep women out of flying combat positions. Personally, I'd like to see elite all-women special forces, but that's just me (people who say women aren't as aggressive as men obviously haven't been to high school).

I hated high school, and the only degree I have is from the school of life, often the poorest teacher, but after being at War College, I asked "Where do I enroll?" We even had electives in topics like "Critical Thinking and Judgment for Strategic Leaders," "Civil War in Syria, What Should the United States Do?" And because of my personal interest, I chose a very informative and fascinating lecture, "Mali and the United States: Interests, Insurgencies and Terrorist Groups in West Africa."


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