By Daniel L. Kuester, U.S. Naval War College Public Affairs
NEWPORT, R.I. (NNS) -- Eighty-two representatives, many graduates of U.S. Naval War College (NWC), from 25 nations and the African Union attended the 12th Regional Alumni Symposium - Africa at NWC, Aug. 25-27, as part of the school's continuing education program.
Over three days, the group discussed defense, maritime domain, migration, humanitarian assistance and other topics important to the African continent.
The event, titled "Enhancing Regional Maritime Security," was co-hosted by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and the U.S. 6th Fleet, and sponsored by U.S. Africa Command.
Thomas Mangold, dean of international programs at the school and organizer of the event, says the symposium was both a continuing education effort for graduates and a way to build relationships for the nations involved.
"This is an effort to continue the professional military education long after they leave here," said Mangold. "This was a way to reach out to make sure our international alumni are getting current information. The second thing the symposium does is help network and build relationships. And not just with the U.S., although that is very important, but also with each other so they can work together and start building relationships, friendships and eventually trust between their countries."
Keynote speaker for the symposium, Amanda Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, gave an address titled "Africa's Strategic Importance; a U.S. Department of Defense Perspective."
"In terms of African security," Dory said after her presentation, "the maritime domain is fundamental to economic prosperity for Africa. Whether it is getting products or innovation out and in [Africa], it is important to have all these leaders here in Newport renewing their acquaintance with one another and with the U.S."
The subjects addressed at the symposium are relevant to this vital area, according to Mangold.
"Topics are chosen because they are important in the region and also to the world," he said. "Migration, for instance, is one of the most important topics in the world. We have top experts here to help understand the issue. We also had a session focusing on humanitarian assistance and disaster response with the doctor who arranged the American relief effort during the Ebola crisis.
Vice Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet, Rear Adm. Thomas Reck noted that in the long term, the NWC affiliation also benefits international relations.
"You can see the importance that these individual nations place on the education they receive here," said Reck. "And then to actually gain those friendships and incubate those partnerships over the years until it gets to the point that these graduates are now heads of navy for their countries."
Reck, a NWC graduate himself, pointed out that these relationships are vital to what he called "the global network of navies."
"It is always important to anchor back on those relationships, and keep that trust built so it will be strong when the next generation of leadership comes along," he added.
Mangold said the global network of high-ranking navy officers is something NWC takes seriously.
"It's important for the Naval War College because we have over 40 heads of navies from around the world who have graduated from here," said Mangold. "We are a leading educator. We have this event here because we are one of the few institutions who could do it."
One of the attendees, Cmdr. Abdellah Benhamou, director of the Royal Moroccan Naval Academy, said that NWC is the best place and the right environment for this symposium.
"It is the kind of environment [at NWC] that you know beforehand that it is going to be productive," said Benhamou. "[The conversation] is going be free from political constraints that keep you from discussing matters frankly and asking the right questions."
"What this symposium does is offer attendees a chance to meet, talk about issues that are important, offer shared experience and perspective. That all makes them more trustful of each other," Mangold added. "All navies need to work together. One of the best outcomes from this event is that our graduates call their other alumni when they have issues."
As host of the event, Rear Adm. P. Gardner Howe III, president, NWC, stressed that building and maintaining relationships is vitally important in an increasingly unstable world.
"The operational environment is more volatile, more uncertain, more ambiguous and more dynamic than ever before," said Howe. "How are we, as military professionals, to deal with such an environment? I would offer that the answer lies in a commitment to continuing professional education and by nurturing meaningful relationships with friends and allies."
NWC is a one-year resident program that graduates about 600 students and about 1,000 distance learning students a year carrying out four missions: educate and develop leaders, help define the future of the Navy, support combat readiness, and strengthen maritime partnerships. Students earn Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) credit and either a diploma or a master's degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. Established in 1884, U.S. Naval War College is the oldest institution of its kind in the world. More than 50,000 students have graduated since its first class of nine students in 1885 and about 300 of today's active duty admirals, generals and senior executive service leaders are alumni.