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Public Affairs : 2014 SWCMO

Civil-Military Operations explored at workshop 

Story and photos by
Mike Strasser
USMA Public Affairs Assistant Editor
WEST POINT, N.Y. (May 15, 2014) — For the second year at the U.S. Military Academy, a Student Workshop on Civil-Military Operations brought decades-worth of field experience to the classroom.

According to the Center for the Study of Civil-Military Operations, which hosted the event at Washington Hall April 27-28, the workshop is designed to expose cadets to the unique vision, missions and culture of many of the principal actors in the civil-military spectrum of humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Class of 2015 Cadet Jake Swatley described it as the ideal forum for students to apply what they’ve learned in class while hearing from experts in defense, diplomacy and development who perform CMO missions in challenging environments. As the cadet-in-charge of the Cadet Community on Civil Military Operations, he understands how Soldiers can be a practitioner of civil-military relations.

“Every Soldier interacts with their local community,” he said. “While deployed, Soldiers do a lot more than just shoot—they interact with the local populace and make an impact on host nation governance. Soldiers essentially show other nations the American way of life and the ideals we hold dear.”

This year’s workshop focused on the Philippines and Africa, with two panels of subject matter experts addressing their experience in those regions.

Col. Wiley Thompson, professor and head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, said that every two weeks the Department of Defense is asked to respond to a humanitarian crisis. Therefore, it is crucial in their education for cadets to understand this operating space they will most likely enter within their first five years of service.   

Patricia McIlreavy (center) is the senior director for humanitarian action at InterAction, an alliance of U.S.-based relief and development organizations. She joined a panel on lessons learned in the African region during the Student Workshop on Civil-Military Operations April 27-28, hosted by the U.S. Military Academy’s Center for the Study of Civil-Military Operations.
Luke Beckman manages situational awareness for the American Red Cross and shared his experience while deployed to the Philippines in support of Typhoon Haiyan last November. The honors graduate from the University of Stanford explained how he was able to integrate with multi-national military personnel and the challenges of being flexible when situations become complicated.

“Cadets, in your careers, each of you will be called upon to navigate the complex culture of the many actors responding to humanitarian crisis or disaster scenarios and often do so in an area of distinct regional complexities,” he said.

Thompson said regional engagements and regionally-aligned forces have taken center stage in recent years but it’s not a new theme at all.

“We’ve been offering geographical treatments of regions here at West Point for over 65 years,” he said. “As such we welcome the rich, regional-specific dialogue that will evolve today from this workshop.”

Just days before the workshop commenced, the West Point community was practicing its own response exercise in the form of an active-shooter scenario. Swatley noted the CMO implications of such an event.

“Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief is only a small part of CMO,” he said. “The active-shooter drill touches on the framework for HADR (Humanitarian and disaster relief) in that it takes unity of effort to save lives.”