APCSS can broaden alumni horizons

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Reese Evers and Lt. Col. James Popphan
  • Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies

When someone mentions Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Schofield Barracks or Kaneohe Bay in conversation every seasoned veteran  knows they're talking about Hawaii.  But when Fort DeRussy is mentioned, quizzical countenances tend to appear. Located in Waikiki, the Armed Forces Recreation Center of the Pacific, historically known as Fort DeRussy, is home to the iconic Hale Koa hotel and the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS). A small group of dedicated Airmen serve the Air Force by contributing to the APCSS mission there.

Operated by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, APCSS is one of five DoD regional centers for security studies, and is charged with supporting U.S. Pacific Command  efforts by developing and sustaining relationships among security practitioners and national security establishments throughout the region.

The APCSS mission is "Building capacities and communities of interest by educating, connecting, and empowering security practitioners to advance Asia-Pacific security" and its vision is "Setting the standard for innovative international executive education and leader/organizational development advancing multi-national security cooperation and capacity-building." 

Much of APCSS' outreach surrounds six recurring courses offered in Waikiki and workshops held both on-island and in partner nations throughout the Asia-Pacific region. 

Courses include Transnational Security Cooperation, Comprehensive Crisis Management, Advanced Security Cooperation, Comprehensive Security Responses to Terrorism and two variants of an Asia-Pacific Orientation Course. 

Workshops are catered to address topics of concern in the region.  Recent workshops have included 'Northeast and Central Asia Transnational Security Challenges: Ungoverned Spaces - Physical and Virtual' and 'Building an Effective Security Sector through Inclusion'. All of these executive education courses offer multilateral cooperation through a whole-of-government approach with a desired end state of effective governance practices.

Since its inception in 1995, APCSS has held 126 courses and 214 workshops. APCSS has hosted over 7600 senior and emerging leaders from more than 100 countries and intergovernmental organizations.

All of this is accomplished with an authorized joint staff of 89 DoD Civilians, 12 contractor personnel, and 33 military members; among them are Airmen who touch every aspect of the APCSS mission.

The Air Force influence at APCSS starts at the top with the Director, retired Lt. Gen. Dan Leaf who spent 33 years in the Air Force before retiring in 2008.  Prior to being selected to lead APCSS in 2012, Leaf held positions as the PACOM Deputy Commander and Vice Commander of Air Force Space Command.

 "We provide executive education and an opportunity for a wide range of security professionals to come together and focus on common issues affecting various populations across the Asia-Pacific region," Leaf said. "Our view of 'the security sector' is not limited to military concerns; it includes economic, policy, humanitarian, climate, natural resources, energy and rule of law considerations.  Working with military and civilian officials in our courses and also in workshops we sponsor throughout the region, we achieve world-changing results.  The outcomes have included constitutional reform, new strategies, unprecedented conflict resolution, and substantive results in disaster response." Once Fellows complete a course, they become APCSS alumni, and are provided the opportunity to stay in contact with APCSS staff and a growing network of fellow alumni. 

APCSS has alumni association chapters in 56 nations so far, and works with alumni regularly to conduct workshops and advance security cooperation in the region.

APCSS proudly claims 704 Distinguished Alumni over its 18 years of continuous service.  These former Fellows include country presidents and prime ministers, cabinet members, ambassadors, and General/Flag Officers.

This tremendous network offers high-level policy makers the opportunity for continued interagency interaction with peer alumni, contributing to increases in national and regional capacity through effective security governance via communities of interest.

Over the years, the alumni network has directly credited APCSS for contributing to successful operations in disaster response, combating trafficking, the security management of major international sporting events, and enhancing counterinsurgency efforts, to name a few.

But APCSS is not solely focused on outreach into the region.  APCSS is an important tool in the U.S. rebalance effort to the Asia-Pacific region. The Airmen who work here have frequently briefed the PACOM Commander, Component Commanders, U.S. Ambassadors, members of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy) and Defense Security Cooperation Agency representatives on unique aspects of security sector relationships in the region.

These leaders meet regularly with Asia-Pacific nation leaders - often APCSS alumni - and further strengthen the bonds of cooperation and trust.

"We seek to increase regional knowledge among U.S. personnel through courses such as our Asia-Pacific Orientation Course and its variant for senior officers," Leaf said.  These short courses provide an immersion into Asia-Pacific issues for personnel newly assigned to the PACOM AOR, and offer them access to our regional and topical specialists.  Our Airmen are a vital part of this cadre of specialists.  They bring unique perspective, knowledge, qualifications and experience to bear which help us better relate to, and meet the needs of, our Fellows."

 Among those Airmen, Col. Steve Huss is the ranking active duty Air Force officer. "APCSS has a brilliant team of eight active duty Airmen, one reservist, three retirees and numerous Air Force family members," said Huss. Our team includes an NCO that manages our facilities, commissioned officers who teach and coordinate courses, an Air Force scientist who performs research and analysis, and retired Airmen who perform administrative functions from recruitment to alumni relations." 

Huss emphasized the role Airmen play in building partner capacity.

"Beyond our courses and workshops, we also host a number of official visits throughout the year from various military, government and academic leaders," said Huss.  Throughout the region we see partner nations seeking to enhance their capabilities in air mobility, contingency response and counterterrorism.  We have Airmen who have built their careers in these fields and our Fellows benefit from this sharing of knowledge.  It isn't just about teaching or training airpower in a classical sense; it's about interacting and building capacities."  

The Air Force influence at APCSS is not limited to assigned staff.  APCSS counts more than 600 U.S. Air Force members and 437 members of foreign air forces from 34 countries among its alumni. 

 "Our Airmen benefit greatly from participation in APCSS programs through a unique opportunity to look at security from a comprehensive perspective," said, Lt. Col. Greg Pleinis, Deputy Chief of APCSS's Alumni Division. "They understand how the distinct capabilities of our Air Force support and reinforce the efforts of traditional and non-traditional security organizations throughout the Asia-Pacific.  Unlike many other educational experiences, though, APCSS allows Airmen to develop a connection with military and civilian peers from nations around the region."

"These connections are not simply through a shared academic experience, but are designed to be a lasting, tangible relationship that will benefit the Airman for his or her entire career," said Pleinis. Our Airmen are active around the world, from traditional partnerships through exchange programs to unique engagement opportunities such as medical and technical outreach and capacity building in every aspect of a partner nation's government."

If working in Waikiki sounds like your dream assignment, here are a few things you should know. Airmen are selected for duty at APCSS through a nominative process, and are placed according to their skill set, background and needs of the Center. 

Four of the Air Force personnel billets are for International Affairs Strategists.

Two Regional Affairs Strategist (RAS) officers regularly use their language ability and cultural understanding to facilitate Fellow's learning. The Political-Military Affairs Strategist (PAS) officer continuously links geopolitical issues in the region to the specific and shared interests of various actors, all of which is incorporated into the in-resident courses for maximum effect. 

To learn more about becoming an International Affairs Strategist (RAS or PAS), go to http://www.safia.hq.af.mil/internationalaffairsspecialist/.  If you are interested in APCSS courses and workshops, or learning more about the APCSS mission, more information can be found at www.apcss.org.    

  Lt Col Reese Evers is a mobility pilot assigned to APCSS as a Regional Affairs Strategist.  Lt Col James Popphan is a Security Forces officer assigned to APCSS as a Political-Military Affairs Strategist.