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Public Affairs : The making of a successful Model UN conference

The making of a successful Model UN conference 

Story and photos by Mike Strasser
Assistant Editor
WEST POINT, N.Y. (March 13, 2014) — Sometimes what happens on the fringe and beyond are as interesting as the event itself. Take, for example, the West Point Model United Nations' tactical operations center during their recent invitational. Nested in a small room on the fifth floor of Jefferson Hall, this is where the command team and staff stayed on top of everything.


It’s where the little things, like thank-you notes were written for invited speakers; and the more-pressing duties, like battle update briefs, were conducted, transportation to and from hotels were arranged and personnel accounted for, where staff made sure every room inside Jefferson Hall occupied by delegates in fervent debate was stocked with water to alleviate dry mouth, working with the Directorate of Cadet Activities to organize social functions, coordinating with the West Point Band and WKDT for music, and so much more.

The challenge of operating a conference is on the West Point Model UN, but those 18 cadets are not nearly enough to get the job done right. So they recruited another 50 or so cadets—some of whom are returning volunteers—for various staff functions.

“As we economists like to say, we live in a world of finite and scare resources,” Class of 2014 Cadet Warren Geary, conference commander, said. “So it was great practice for cadets to take what we had and accomplish the mission. It brings out the true capabilities of cadets, and seeing cadets rise to the challenge, I think, will have tremendous impact, in their careers when faced with fiscal or personnel limitations.”

As the S-1 officer, Class of 2016 Cadet Dustin Santos was in charge of personnel during the conference.

“The real hard work—the stress—comes in the planning of the conference,” he said. “Of course, you put enough love and effort into it, so when the conference starts everything goes right.”

For example, that meant coordinating with the arms room to procure a weapons display and request assistance from the Combat Weapons Team to provide demonstrations for delegates.

“When it comes to an event like this, you want to show off all that West Point has to offer,” Santos said. “You just have to find a way to get it all coordinated and shepherd all those moving pieces to make it happen.”

Santos said he volunteers for the conference, like many on its staff, not to represent Model UN, but the U.S. Military Academy and the Army.

“We care what these schools think about us,” Santos said. “If you ask other staff members who volunteer again and again, it’s not for the free food or to get out of class. We get to show these students, who have political aspirations and will be the leaders of tomorrow, what the Army is all about.”

Class of 2016 Cadet Dustin Santos works out the details on the weapons draw and how he wants to set up a demonstration outside the Haig Room for delegates to receive hands-on familiarization with the help of the Combat Weapons team. 

Class of 2016 Cadet Brandon Vukelich, the conference S-4 officer, greets the European Delegation to Cullum Hall for the gala March 1.
(Above) Class of 2016 Cadet Jesse Brown, operations officer, briefs the conference commander in the tactical operations center. After the West Point Model United Nations Invitational concluded Brown was named as commander of the 2015 conference. (Above, left) The conference command team gathers for an update brief to discuss the issues of the morning and all that needs to be accomplished throughout the day. 

One of the goals of the conference is to provide participants with a better understanding of the dynamic civil-military relationships found in U.S. bureaucracy.

In itself, the conference provides a wellspring of opportunities for participants to conduct their own informal “civil-military operations.” Geary invited it during his opening address.

“Please feel free to approach any cadet, officer or faculty member and strike up a conversation,” he said. “I assure you that we can speak just as intelligently about civil-military relations as we can about the season finale of ‘House of Cards.’”

These interactions were abundant throughout and the WPMUN created various forums for that to happen. Outside the committee sessions, there were West Point tours, an ice-breaker social, cocktail reception and a formal gala with all the camaraderie and social networking—of the human, not digital sort—that such events inspire.

Read more about the West Point Model United Nations Invitational here

“That’s really the quintessential aspect of what we’re getting after here, that civil-military relationship,” Class of 2014 Cadet Brandon Moore said. “The gala is our formal reception and it allows the delegates to take a step back from all the intense negotiations in committee sessions and just relax and casually interact with one another.”

Situated in the basement of Jefferson Hall, it would seem like Class of 2014 Cadet Patrick Brown, the crisis director, was far removed from the action but had almost a precognitive sense working for him.

“This is my fourth year doing this, and after you participate in enough Model UN competitions, you pick up on patterns and know what they’re talking about and how it will go. That’s just the nature of the beast,” Brown said.

He had a little practice last year as the TOC assistant, among other duties. This year he led a team of mostly novices to Model UN.

“They’re actually very adaptive and innovative,” Brown said. “They’ve personally impressed me. They come up with ideas to send up to the delegates and then I’ll aye or nay it, tweak it and the system works really well.”

Brown and his staff are allowed to mingle with delegates during the conference but can’t talk about it, as tempting as it may be. But at the gala, Brown gets to fully emerge from the shadow of secrecy to reveal everything the delegates didn’t know was happening outside their chambers.

After four days of “putting out fires and checking blind spots,” Class of 2015 Cadet Patrick Beauregard remarked at the closing ceremony that he officially relinquished the stern look on his face and the walkie-talkie that seemed permanently affixed to his hand.

“Running a six-way joint crisis committee, given the constraints, is akin to a week spent in plebe boxing class,” Beauregard said. “And my job as chief of staff is to make sure I take those hits on the chin and it’s a testament to the staff’s competence, ardor and work ethic that I am able to stand before you today in one piece.”

It’s by no coincidence that the conference ends with a beginning. After all the delegates depart, the cadets convene for an after action review and later choose its new leadership for the next semester.

This is necessary, Geary knows from experience, because soon planning for the 2015 invitational will begin. It was announced soon after the conference ended that Class of 2016 Cadet Jesse Nelson, this year’s operations officer, will assume command of the next invitational.

“It takes about 11 months of planning, so that gives us about a month to rest, recuperate and then get back in the grind,” Geary said.