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Empowering Leadership: NAVSCIATTS Strategic Leaders Course supporting Women, Peace, and Security Principles

by Angela Fry
09 April 2024 In an era marked by global challenges, the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School (NAVSCIATTS), Naval Special Warfare Command’s security cooperation training center, recognizes that addressing all aspects of a society is not simply a matter of equity, but rather a matter of strategic importance.

In 2021, through its Strategic Leaders International Course (SLIC), NAVSCIATTS joined with U.S. Special Operations Command’s Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) team to incorporate waypoints throughout its curriculum to equip participants with the knowledge, skills, and perspectives necessary to promote women’s inclusion and participation in peace and security efforts worldwide.

SLIC, a four-week in-resident course designed to build partner capacity by offering partner nation senior military and government officials new perspectives, methodologies, and opportunities for thinking strategically, incorporates three WPS modules throughout each of its semesters addressing topics such as women’s participation in the peace processes, unique security risks faced by women and girls in conflict-affected areas, and empowering leaders to become champions for equality and women’s rights within their own organizations.

“It is a core objective of our course to promote systemic and non-linear thinking and our WPS curriculum is critical to reach that objective,” explained SLIC Course Director Robert Gusentine. “The modules are also a great cognitive on-ramp to understanding what the 31st Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Gen. Charles Krulak called ‘the three-block war,’ and what Carl von Clausewitz, Prussian general and military theorist, called ‘the whole business of war.’”

These modules, which are influenced by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security, focus on the global framework that recognizes the crucial role of women in conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding; and emphasizes the premise that no nation can afford to ignore half of its population.

“SLIC advances the ideas, objectives, and intent of the current national strategy and continues to foster engagement on diversity between guest speakers through a dialogue that gives voice to the stories, roles, and experiences of women and girls in conflict zones, in positions of ‘leadership and influence,’ on the journey toward agency and opportunity, and creating networks of cooperation,” continued Gusentine, a retired 28-year U.S. Navy veteran who served 26 years as a SEAL.

The current iteration of NAVSCIATTS’ flagship course recently hosted its second WPS waypoint for the semester at the command’s facilities located at the Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi. Senior level officers from Cameroon, Djibouti, Cyprus, Ghana, Croatia, Indonesia, Lebanon, Latvia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Poland, Thailand, Tunisia, and Zambia participated in engaging discussions with Mkawasi Mcharo Hall, a language instructor from Howard University, and a discussion panel consisting of both military and civilian participants within the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

Hall, who also serves as a language and cultural consultant for the DOD and a researcher and analyst for the Africa region for the Department of State, presented “Sound and Fury: Women in Wartime.” During her presentation, she delivered an impassioned recounting of the intense experiences of “the warrior mothers” who fought in the Eritrean War of Independence, a 30-year war that lasted from 1961 to 1991.

The waypoint concluded with a panel that included uniformed representatives Lt. Col. Karin Wareing, Maj. Lakyra Pharms, and Maj. Shannon Goans, all assigned to U.S. Marine Forces South and Reserve in New Orleans; and Megan Natter, strategy, resources, and integration lead with the Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy (Intelligence and Security) Victor Minella’s office.

The panel provided the partner nation officers with the opportunity for a broader discussion on WPS with their personal views and leadership experiences within the day-to-day realities of leading in the USMC and within the executive services of the Navy.

Natter, who has worked as a civilian employee within the DOD for more than 20 years, traveled from Washington, D.C. to participate in the module. During the presentation, Natter addressed her experiences, ultimately serving at some of the highest levels within the Navy and witnessing the strides that women have made over her career.

“As a female working for the Department of the Navy, I was incredibly proud of my Navy when I spoke to the class about how exciting it is for all women that we currently have the first female chief of naval operations in Adm. Lisa Franchetti,” Natter expressed. “The panelists talked with the SLIC participants about how important it is for women to be able to see themselves in other women leaders and recognize that the highest level of military success is achievable for women.”

Natter, who began her career as an oceanographer for the Naval Oceanographic Office, indicated how professionally enriching it was for her to be able to sit on the NAVSCIATTS’ SLIC panel and to discuss the challenges and contributions of uniformed and civilian women in militaries across the globe.

“While it was humbling to hear of the challenges that still persist pertaining to women in our partners’ militaries, it was uplifting to experience how sincerely the SLIC participants desire to better understand and mitigate those challenges,” Natter stressed. “It was a wonderful opportunity to hear how each of the SLIC participant's home countries are in differing stages of integrating women into their militaries and the challenges associated with those stages.”

In speaking of the challenges that still exist both globally and within the U.S. Armed Forces, Natter spoke of her immense admiration and respect for women across the country who wear the uniform.

“The panel was asked such thoughtful questions ranging from how to enable women to speak more in meetings, how to motivate and lead women, integration of women into co-ed quarters, why diversity increases lethality, women mentorship and networks, and the temporary loss in manning due to pregnancy and childbirth,” she explained. “I was continually impressed with the intelligent, insightful, and well-spoken answers of the USMC women sitting alongside me.”

“I think my favorite question came from the one female participant in this SLIC course when she asked, 'Do you ever ask yourself, why do I keep doing it?' Every one of the panelists laughed and said, 'Every single day.’ But we all spoke to how important it is for us to support a country we love and to continue to be present every day to ensure a better path for those women that are walking on the path behind us,” Natter concluded.

As of this SLIC iteration, NAVSCIATTS has supported the advancement of the DOD’s strategic objectives and its requirement to incorporate the principles of WPS into security cooperation activities by providing the WPS modules to 140 senior level officers and government officials from more than 40 partner nations.

“Our WPS curriculum forces us to think holistically about conflict, to think beyond lived experience and beyond our learned biases and it forces us onto news planes of awareness,” Gusentine reflected. “Women leaders in our course seem to engage comfortably on the strategic plane that for our purposes is composed of time, space, and systemic relationships, aware not only of a particular situation or event, but also its interdependent connections and effects.”

“The curriculum reminds us that wars are waged to create new conditions for living; that wars are about outcomes, outcomes that are the resulting exponent of every associated transfer of energy, information, and matter and every associated human experience,” he continued. “So, although we may not absolutely need women just to win a tactical kinetic-battle here or there, we absolutely need them at all levels across the battlespace to win the coming wars of emergence, awareness, and cognition.”

NAVSCIATTS operates in support of foreign security assistance and geographic combatant commanders' theater security cooperation priorities and provides training and education to allied and partner security force professionals across the tactical, operational, and strategic spectrums through in-residence and mobile training team courses of instruction. To date, almost 14,000 students from 126 partner nations have trained with this historic command.