By Cmdr. Daniel Dolan
NWC College of Distance Education
The Naval War College provides current, rigorous and relevant professional military education programs supporting the Navy’s Professional Military Education Continuum. These professional military education programs are accessible to the maximum number of qualified U.S. officers and Navy enlisted personnel. NWC fosters an active and growing community that furthers global maritime security.
On any given day the Naval War College has some 3,000 non-resident students enrolled in professional military education courses. One hundred years ago, the NWC College of Distance Education recognized the need to reach non-resident students and began sending courses through the mail. Today’s courses are delivered to students through a variety of methods and are designed to meet the needs of working students at home, or at sea. In the past 12 years, the NWC’s distance educators have mentored hundreds of students deployed to the points of focus in the post-9/11 contingencies.
Thousands have taken the NWC with them in their sea bags as they headed off to the combat zone.
One such group of warrior scholars is a team of medical professionals assigned to the NATO Multinational Medical Unit, a trauma hospital, located in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The unit’s commanding officer, Capt. Barth Merrill, USN, says that he “encouraged new arrivals to devote some of their deployment to professional development.” He noted that several officers voiced interest in the NWC’s distance education courses, “and soon there were about a dozen officers enrolled in the course.”
When asked about the value of the professional military education program for his team, Capt. Merrill stated, “I have spent my career bouncing from traditional hospitals and operational tours. During my operational tours I have found that getting to understand the operational environment not only makes my tour more interesting it grows me as a naval officer.” He added, “Medical decision making calls for critical thinking, challenging of assumptions, and finally implementing decisions in the unique context of your environment… I believe these skills are transferable to studying at the NWC.” It is a consensus opinion among the NWC faculty that have worked as mentors for the Kandahar Multinational Medical Unit team that this is a group of exceptionally motivated and dedicated students.
Educators often remark that learning is inherently a two-way process.
This has certainly been the experience for the NWC faculty members that have mentored combat zone deployed students. In addition to the many College of Distance Education students that are completing assignments while deployed at sea, or while working in relative comfort somewhere in the world, there are those students that are completing course work from the discomfort of a dimly lit hut in places like Afghanistan.
The assigned billeting area often becomes the classroom.
Many of these students are finishing their courses while hoping their laptop can cling to an over-tapped wireless signal. All-the-while being interrupted with alerts on the public address system announcing another indirect fire incident at the base. This is a reality that many students have contended with to complete their professional military education.
For the education professionals on the other end of the line, the experience has been profoundly rewarding. Professor Heath Twichell, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and Vietnam veteran, has been assigned to work with dozens of remotely deployed students as a professor-mentor. In addition to answering academic questions and grading essays, Professor Twichell has tapped his own experience in combat to mentor a number of students dealing with the challenges and personal difficulties they are confronting while forward deployed. His teaching methods have made more than a difference in increasing course completion rates, they have changed lives. Professor Twichell has advised students that were dealing with ethical questions that are brought to the surface when the impact of war becomes a daily reality. His teaching with the heart approach shows that the personal connection can be made despite a distance of 5,000+ miles between the student and the professor.
One such student is Lt. Cmdr. Paul Qualey, who says that for him enrolling in the CD-ROM course of study was an easy decision. He added, “As a Reservist, I am always juggling competing demands for my time… I knew (or hoped) that I would have some down time while deployed. Enrollment in the NWC course provided structure for that down time.” Lt. Cmdr. Qualey has been working his way through his course work while assigned to Forward Operating Base Ghazni, Afghanistan.
Another currently enrolled College of Distance Education student is Lt. Julia Hardy-Carr, a division officer aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), who says “the idea of taking this course became more intriguing to me as a result of the training we get aboard Roosevelt. In fact, for me, sea duty was the perfect time to take the course.” Julia went on to say that, “Being operational actually gave me more time to dedicate to the course. When home, I have very little time to read because all of my spare time is spent with my family.” She added, “The challenges of working through the course while at sea include finding time to study after long work days.” Despite these challenges, Julia has persevered and is well on her way to completing her professional military education goals. She, like Lt. Cmdr. Qualey, hopes that completing the courses while forward deployed will “free up more time to spend with family” when she returns home.
With the last of the 9/11 wars now winding down, it is an appropriate occasion to reflect on the achievements of the men and women that have served during this time of war. Foremost, is the recognition that they have served during the longest period of sustained combat operations for the U.S. military in our nation’s history. Thousands of Navy personnel have served ashore in Afghanistan, Iraq, or other remote locations. Thousands more have made longer and more frequent deployments at sea. Also, during these 12 years of “heavy lifting” on the nation’s behalf more than 10,000 officers have completed their professional military education via NWC distance education programs. Those officers, the real warrior scholars, have succeeded the old fashioned way – they earned it!
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