Since its founding in 1956, the International Programs department at the Naval War College has been hosting foreign officers with the goal of strengthening partnerships among global maritime allies. And while there are always logistical hurdles to overcome when coordinating the arrival of over 100 students from as many countries, this year the department was faced with the unique challenge of bringing the student body to Newport in the midst of a global pandemic. Leave it to the skills of a military-minded staff to figure out how to do it in a timely and safe manner.
Students began arriving in late June, with the last landing just in time for classes to begin. CAPT Mike Marston, USN, Director, Naval Staff College, reflected on the logistics required to coordinate the inbound travel for the student body. “We broke into teams within the department to take a tiger team approach to each facet of the process – from transportation to lodging to mess to technology. Our focus was making sure we did everything we could to allow for a safe arrival.” Students were transported from the airport to lodging facilities on NAVSTA Newport where they quarantined per guidelines set forth by the NWC and the State of Rhode Island. While in quarantine, the NAVSTA Newport Officers’ Club and MWR were critical partners in providing meal service to the students.
“Our focus was making sure we did everything we could to allow for a safe arrival.”
CAPT Mike Marston, Director, Naval Staff College
Orientation looked a bit different this year, as well, with students meeting each other and the staff of the International Programs department via Zoom. Community is the hallmark of the international experience at the NWC, and the department is finding innovative ways to forge those important connections in the virtual environment. “This is probably the toughest aspect that we have to overcome,” said Marston. “The goal is to create those relationships virtually with the hope that we can eventually meet personally, face-to-face.” Zoom breakout rooms offer an opportunity for small groups of students to get to know each other through a series of icebreakers and games, and Marston indicated that they will continue hosting virtual activities that worked well at the end of the last academic year – events like cooking demonstrations where students teach their colleagues to make a dish that is native to their home country. While not an exact replacement for the popular Country Presentations or International Cuisine Night, these events provide an opportunity for students to informally connect and form friendships.
The Field Studies Program is another highlight of the International Program which will be different compared to years past. Traditionally, the program consists of embarking on day or extended out-of-area trips that are intended to teach students more about American society and institutions. While the staff is working on plans for small group regional bus excursions that adhere to DoD, state and local government regulations, they are using Zoom when possible to expose students to American culture and industry. For instance, the Fall River-based Merrow Sewing Machine Company, who recently delivered thousands of surgical gowns to front line medical workers in Rhode Island, participated in a virtual Q&A during orientation.
Sponsors are also playing a socially-distant role in supporting the program. As is tradition, students are matched with Newport-area individuals who help them acclimate to the area and provide support throughout the academic year. With the recent announcement from Rear Adm. Chatfield, Naval War College president, that dependents are now permitted to join their service members in the United States, sponsors will continue to be crucial in ensuring that students and their families have a rewarding experience while at the College, despite the limitations imposed by COVID-19.
“It is quite an accomplishment to participate in such a selective program.”
Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, President, U.S. Naval War College
In her remarks to the international student body, Chatfield expressed her regret that she could not personally meet each student at the traditional welcome ceremony on Colbert Plaza, and she offered her congratulations to each of them on their participation in the program. “Being selected [to attend the Naval War College] is a true mark of the value that your service places on you and your future. It is quite an accomplishment to participate in such a selective program,” said Chatfield. “You are joining a group of more than 5000 international naval officers who have attended since its inception in 1956. Around the world, approximately 40 heads of navy are graduates of this fine program. Our great Navy counts on the relationships and friendships that are established in these programs, so I want to express my deep appreciation for you committing your time here and the value that you will bring to our U.S. students. On behalf of the faculty and staff of the U.S. Naval War College, we warmly welcome you to Newport.”