Security policy class gets a D.C. tour

Behind Brad Hanson, the nation’s capital bustled with life as vehicle headlights illuminated the interstate. Inside the Residence Inn at Pentagon City, Hanson sat back in his chair and reflected on his time spent touring Washington D.C.

From the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, to the National Counter terrorism Center, Hanson and a select group of students visited various federal institutions that were located in and around Washington D.C.

The trip, facilitated by Norwich alumni as well as Yangmo Ku, a professor at Norwich University, took place during spring break and allowed his security policy class to gain a better understanding of how the government works, challenged students to overcome a made-up security policy scenario devised by the alumni, and connected current students with alums from Norwich.

“We saw stuff people don’t (normally) see,” Hanson said.

Hanson, who is also a retired Coast Guardsman and online/commuter student, said that the experiences he had while in Washington D.C. were some of the most amazing he had in his entire career.

One primary focus of the trip was to connect the class with the alumni in D.C. who were ready and willing to guide the future classes coming out of Norwich. According to Collin Walsh, 20, a junior political science major from Wilton, N.H., the networking experience was the highlight of his trip.

One evening Walsh and the rest of the class took time to rendezvous with various Norwich alumni in the Washington D.C. area, including those facilitating the trip in order to grow the relationship between graduates and current students.

“I didn’t really think I was going to get much out of it because I am Army contracted,” Walsh said, “but I met with a very interesting person who works on the staff of (Vermont Senator) Patrick Leahy, and I always thought that was something I would want to do once I was out of the military,”

Ian Stephens, 20, a junior political science major from Dallas, Texas, also appreciated the networking experience, though he sees a different career path.

“If all goes well I won’t need a job for 10-20 years,” Stephens said, noted he is interested in pursuing a career in the Air Force. But Stephens said he saw  the importance of these various alumni, who had offered to assist him in a research fellowship application and  had helpful government expertise.

For Edward Jacome, 21, a junior political science major from Groton, Conn., meeting Norwich alumni was beneficial.

“I think networking will affect (my career) very well, only the future can tell. I got a lot of business cards from a lot of people, and it seems that they’re willing to work and help us out in the future,” Jacome said.

He said he also felt there were high expectations from the alumni in regards to the class’ performance, and Jacome said that the alumni were attentive of each student.

The trip was made possible through a collaboration of alumni who have stayed invested in the future of Norwich University, and Hanson said that without them he probably would not have been able to do things like sit inside the office of the Vice President.

“That’s really a testament to the alumni, and understand they stick their neck out too, asking to give (those opportunities), that doesn’t come with the job description,” Hanson said.

As part of the class visit, while in Washington D.C. the group was also expected to deal with a simulated crisis in which each student acted as a member of the National Security Council. At the end of the week, the class acted out their roles as the various members of the NSC in advising both a mock vice president and president.

Thad Allen, former Commandant of the Coast Guard, acted as the president, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Gordon Sullivan, acted as the vice president.

Each student was assigned a mentor, a Norwich alumnus or alumna, who would help guide their selected advisee throughout the simulation.

Having once been assigned by the Department of Homeland Security to search vessels following the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, it was interesting to act out the director’s role during the week’s simulation, Hanson said.

Jake Freeman, 22, a senior studies in war and peace major, from Wake Forest, N. C., was assigned a role as the Secretary of the Treasury. According to Freeman, there was some difficulty in acting out those roles.

“The class was full of type-A personalities,” Freeman said. “These positions in real life are filled by (the same kind of people). They have to work together in an organized fashion as efficiently and quickly as possible to solve problems,”

Freeman said students found it hard to “stay in their lane” during the exercise and it was a learning experience to figure out how to work together.

Walsh, who acted dual roles as both the director of the FBI and attorney general, said that it was very interesting to watch the dynamics of cooperation within the class develop throughout the week.

“As the attorney general I really didn’t have a role in the final briefing until the legal side of things came up,” Walsh said.

Although a lot of the final product came from the contributions of everyone in the group, Walsh said only a few people actually got to speak to the president and vice president, unless called on specifically.

“Everyone had a hand in the end, their thoughts went into the final piece, and that was really interesting to see,” Walsh said.

Even though Hanson did not get to speak at the final briefing between the mock NSC and the president, he knew more than most because of his age and experience. Hanson saw the clear benefits of the exercise.

“From my perspective, being a generation removed from the majority of the students in the class, the class grabbed a hold of (the simulation) and took action,” Hanson said. Hanson said that although taking action and sticking with the course of action was not a bad thing, “a lot of energy” was wasted stressing over the little bit of information the group was provided over the week.

The class received and were expected to react to new developments that the alumni provided to the mock NSC group during the week.

Besides the simulation and the networking experience the students had during the Washington D.C. trip, the overall opportunity of being in the capital and touring the various buildings contributed to an experience well worth giving up spring break, Hanson said.

“The National Counter-terrorism Center (experience), despite being constricted in what we could see there, allowed us inside access more so than the (average person),” Hanson said.

Another highlight of Hanson’s time in D.C. was being able to spend time inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the class met individuals such as Chris Costa, a Norwich alumnus and special assistant to the president in the field of counter-terrorism.

“We went to the State Department and met a lot of state officials,” added Jacome, who said he felt it is very important for students to try and take the class when it is offered during the following spring semesters.

“The alumni do so much for us, and sometimes people just don’t notice that. The alumni are there to help and push you towards your future, and for that I want to say thank you,” Jacome said.

Hanson, who will be graduating in 2018 from Norwich, said that this experience was unique to the university and  a great opportunity for the student body.

“You don’t get this experience at Castleton University,” Hanson said.

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