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Building National Security Experience: From Policy to Practice

By Natalia Brusco

April 15th, 2022

When I became a Fellow at Pallas Advisors, part of the position description included the opportunity to interact with senior officers in the Department of Defense and other government agencies. However, I did not quite expect to be sitting in the office of the Commanding General of Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), General Joseph McGee, during my time as a Fellow. As he spoke with the Pallas team, he was not only informative about the mission of the 101st, but also motivational as he shared his leadership lessons learned, and explained what it means to be part of something bigger than just yourself.

My participation in the office visit was part of a broader Pallas Advisors staff visit to Fort Campbell. As part of Pallas Foundation’s mission to help young professionals gain exposure to the national security ecosystem, Pallas Foundation Fellows were included in the trip. Both Fellows and Pallas staff left Fort Campbell with a deeper understanding of the 101st Airborne Division and the role it plays in achieving United States national security missions.

As a Pallas Fellow, I boarded my plane back to Providence with three main takeaways.

The first takeaway was the emphasis the Army puts on “people first.” The attention dedicated towards talent management and leadership development demonstrated how deeply senior officers care about their soldiers and their ability to progress and gain new skills. When I was there, I was struck by a senior leader's comment that they were looking forward to going to bed early–so they could wake up at 4am to set up logistics for their team before daily physical training. Not only were all the soldiers motivated, but they were also captivating when speaking about why they have continued in the service and how much they have learned about themselves through being part of the Army. Fort Campbell was a perfect illustration of the Army’s emphasis on people being the Army’s greatest strength.

I was also struck by the focus on building and institutionalizing a culture of innovation at Fort Campbell. We had the opportunity to visit Fort Campbell’s EagleWerx Applied Tactical Innovation Center (ATIC), which is home to resources including materials labs, and brainstorming hubs for service members to problem-solve together. The ATIC was a place with the tools for service members to innovate, build, and explore cost-effective solutions to issues they are experiencing in the field. We saw this in practice, as one of the officers demonstrated a signal jammer built from scratch. There were entire walls covered in different post-it notes and ideas, bringing in private sector practices on problem-solving and brainstorming. Beyond the center, Fort Campbell is reinforcing this culture of innovation by embedding an Innovation Officer within each Battalion to make sure new ideas are represented. These initiatives are able to harness innovative talent of service members and direct it to solve the issues that they face in the field.

General McGee’s leadership lessons also deeply resonated with me: as I grow throughout my professional career, I will keep his considerations for leading a team in the back of my mind. General McGee was extremely deliberate in how he modeled behavior for those under his commander. He made sure to maintain composure and precision in his interactions with his team, which encouraged them to do the same. The deep respect that he had for his team was also clear - something that I will endeavor to convey when I work with my own teams.

Overall, I greatly expanded my personal knowledge of the military and the national security ecosystem through the activities at Fort Campbell. I was able to both learn more about how the military operates on the ground, and share my own perspective on navigating policy-making realms in Washington DC, which I have been researching throughout my time at Pallas. With these experiences, I feel equipped with the necessary knowledge and tools to become a more effective professional in the national security space. Traveling to Fort Campbell gave me a different perspective of the Army - which I can incorporate as I aim to make my own positive impact on national security.

Natalia is a Pallas Foundation Fellow. She brings her experience working with nonprofits in the humanitarian sector, including Geneva International Center for Justice and Not In Our Town. She is currently pursuing her Master of Public Affairs degree at Brown University where she focuses on human security, humanitarian response, and contemporary security issues. Previously, Natalia earned her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley in Global Studies, concentrating on development and human rights.


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