Article by Kate Lamar, Photos by Lt. Theresa Donnelly and MC2 Aaron Burden.
Posted Aug. 9,2010
Members of the Naval Postgraduate School’s (NPS) Regional Security Education Program (RSEP) traveled to the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego, Calif., to teach a team of Navy SEALs about the societies, politics and regional security concerns they will encounter while deployed to the Middle East and South Asia.
“These SEALs are going to the front lines,” said retired Rear Adm. Stephen Loeffler, Director of RSEP. “No matter where in the world they are going, from South America to the Middle East and everywhere in between, they need to be educated about regional issues and cultures.”
RSEP faculty led two seminars, one June 21-22 and one July 27-28, which focused on the regional and cultural sensitivities the SEALs should know about to interact effectively with the people they encounter overseas.
“This program is about training SEALs to better understand the culture and geopolitical situation on the ground, so they are wiser warriors and better understand the reasons they are in these areas,” said Brad Voigt, the Deputy Director of the Naval Special Warfare Professional Military Education, who coordinated the RSEP seminars for the SEALs.
SEALS have unique missions within the Navy that range from reconnaissance and personnel recovery to international security assistance and counter-narcotics operations. These operations frequently bring SEAL teams in direct contact with local populations. SEALS benefit from being culturally and politically literate in the regions where they operate, because it helps them to communicate more effectively and achieve their objectives.
“As we deploy across the globe and interact with different people, it's important to understand local concerns and what locals hold dear. Their regional geopolitical views may be drastically different than ours, but there is almost always common ground and basic beliefs that coincide with ours,” said Voigt. “Knowing what those differences and commonalities are helps build relationships and foster trust. That's the whole purpose of engagement - relationships and trust.”
The seminars capitalized on the NPS professors’ knowledge of regional politics, economics and history to provide the SEALS a better understanding of the people and societies they will be working alongside.
“The SEALS had a lot of questions about the relative perspectives of different countries toward the United States,” said Tristan Mabry, a NPS professor who participated in the July RSEP seminar. “These are important questions with no easy answers since contemporary conventional wisdom has a habit of shifting quickly. For example, in the 1990’s Indonesia was an illiberal autocracy: today the world’s largest Muslim country is a lively democracy. The significance of that shift takes time to absorb, and it takes more than a PowerPoint briefing to understand how and why it matters for our country, for the Navy and for the SEALS on the job.”
RSEP has historically focused on lectures and briefings for fleet commands and strike groups, but the NPS program has also conducted seminars for special operations forces and Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) units. Loeffler and Voigt hope the recent seminar in San Diego will be the start of an ongoing relationship between RSEP and the Naval Special Warfare Command.
“We have a close relationship with the Defense Analysis and National Security Affairs department at NPS. The RSEP program is natural extension of that relationship. We can ask for specific education to give our forces a better understanding of the region they are deploying to. RSEP then provides the experts, many of whom have spent large portions of their lives immersed in the areas we deploy to,” said Voigt.
The faculty members who conducted this RSEP program with RADM Loeffler work for the NPS National Security Affairs department and are specialists in the Middle East and South Asia. RSEP is a key NPS outreach program for Navy and Marine Corps forces and was established in 2001.