Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Gilday opened the 24th International Seapower Symposium (ISS) by welcoming his colleagues from around the world who had gathered together at the U.S. Naval War College (USNWC). “This event is truly special,” he said. “135 delegates from 104 different nations, including many Heads of Navy and Coast Guards, are gathered here and virtually to discuss, to debate, to learn and of course, to work together.”
In those remarks, Admiral Gilday also made a point to welcome the USNWC International Programs’ alumni in attendance. Each year, the College brings over 100 international officers to Newport; nearly 5,000 officers from 137 nations have completed the program and of those graduates, almost 1,600 reached flag rank and nearly 500 have served as Chief of Service—their country’s CNO equivalent.
Among the alumni present at this year’s ISS were Rear Admiral Mihai Panait, Chief of the Romanian Naval Forces, Commodore Jüri Saska, Commander of the Estonian Navy, and Rear Admiral Oumar Wade, Chief of the Senegalese Navy. For these distinguished leaders, returning to the College for ISS provided them with an opportunity to reflect on their time in Newport and how their Naval War College experience has influenced their careers since graduation.
“I went home with more than I expected,” commented Commodore Saska, who attended both the Naval Staff College and the Naval Command College. “Coming from a small nation, it was an eye opening experience for me to learn more about how decisions are made by our much larger neighbors.” Saska noted that the learning did not just come from the strategic and operational studies completed as part of his coursework, but also the cultural understanding gained from being immersed in the local Newport community and during the students’ travels as part of the Field Studies Program. “Some decisions are influenced by cultural factors, and the program gives you a better understanding of that.”
All three officers agreed that their experience at the College changed the way they approach the challenges they face in their operational duties. “The program is designed to help you think. Depending on where you are coming from, the challenges may be the same or perhaps they are different. The College gives us tools to handle them,” stated Admiral Wade.
The relationships developed inside and outside of the classroom are in some ways as important as the coursework itself. “By the time you finish the course, you really feel that you have built relationships with people here because you have shared so much together—whether it is sport, food, you name it. The diversity of experiences together creates a closeness with people,” shared Admiral Wade.
Admiral Panait has also relied on the relationships he developed with his classmates, citing a collaboration with his Turkish classmate as part of Operation Active Endeavour during which NATO ships patrolled the Mediterranean to deter and defend against terrorist activities after 9/11. “It is an important pillar to have connectivity with friends from the other navies,” stated Panait.
Commodore Saska concurred, noting that having common friends often opens doors when trying to make professional connections.
That spirit of friendship and connectivity is why the return of ISS after being delayed in 2020 due to COVID was welcomed by all of the delegates. “It is wonderful to have the opportunity to get together again. There is no substitute for face to face interaction,” said Admiral Wade. “The pandemic showed that unity is critical. Collaboration and cooperation is the way forward.”
Admiral Panait echoed his colleagues’ sentiments, commenting that ISS reflects the “spirit of the Navy.” “It is important to be here in order to keep cooperation [among our nations] going,” he shared.
Their sentiments were also reflected in the CNO’s remarks. “We are united by the ironclad trust among us, and our partnerships transcend beyond just our strategic interests. It is built on shared values, shared history, and a vision of a shared destiny.”
For more perspectives on ISS24: https://www.youtube.com/user/usnavalwarcollege/videos