19 August 2016 | Columbia State University Turner College of Business

Earlier this summer the Benning Agora co-hosted DEFxColumbus at Columbus State University’s (CSU) Turner College of Business. This was the first DEFx in the southeastern United States, but it follows many other DEFx events around the country. DEFx events are typically one-day conferences that focus on topics specific to the region or organization(s) that hosts them. The exact formats often differ, but they all promote DEF’s goal of inspiring, connecting, and empowering young leaders to make an outsized impact in their profession.

DEFxColumbus focused on topics of shared interest between its hosts, the [Fort] Benning Agora and CSU’s Turner College of Business. The topics included entre/intrapreneurship, servant leadership, faculty professional development, and cyber strategy. Given the proximity to Fort Benning, many participants were from the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) and Columbus State University, but others traveled from Maxwell Air Force Base, Georgia Tech University, the Army War College, and elsewhere. This mix of participants and topics was an ideal scenario to share best practices between communities and to find opportunities for collaboration.

The day began with participants conversing and making connections over a catered breakfast. Shared meals and networking opportunities are a mainstay at DEF events as they help build relationships and promote collaboration. The conference itself began with introductory remarks from COL Patrick Donahoe, the MCoE Chief of Staff, and Dr. Tom Hackett, the CSU Provost. Working group facilitators then introduced the four aforementioned topics to the participants. [i] Their introductions included a problem statement that would be explored later in the day in working groups. [ii] Following these introductions, participants enjoyed another opportunity to socialize and network over lunch.

The second half of the day saw the participants separate into working groups to explore the topic they were most interested in discussing. For the first couple hours, the working group facilitators helped their group discuss their problem statement, propose ideas or solutions, and develop ways in which they might advance these ideas. Before the working groups adjourned, each of the groups packaged their ideas into an out brief, which they later briefed to all participants in the plenary session. This final session proved to be one of the most rewarding parts of the day as working groups got to share their ideas and other participants were able to ask questions or make additional suggestions. The #DEFxColumbus Tweet Wall added to the discussion by capturing ideas and enabling engagement from virtual participants from around the country.

            After the formal portion of the conference ended, participants continued to discuss and share ideas at a sponsored happy hour and through a follow-up email survey. The survey generated a particularly attractive idea, to have working groups study contemporary or anticipated threat environments through wargames. This idea fused some of the anecdotes about exercises that shaped the Army’s Tank Corps in the interwar period and the desire to understand the future of cyber warfare.[iii]

DEFxColumbus generated more than just ideas. A number of participants have developed new collaborative projects or partnerships since DEFxColumbus. The faculty development working group proposed re-establishing a faculty exchange program between MCoE and CSU. This exchange hopes to increase the teaching proficiency of MCoE instructors and teach CSU faculty about the Army and its Soldiers, who constitute a sizable portion of their student body. Additionally, members from the faculty development working group proposed and are writing papers to share ideas about how the Army might improve its faculty development and instructor training programs.

            One of the more visible relationships strengthened at DEFxColumbus is that between James Welch, from MCoE and the Benning Agora, and Dr. Robert Norton, Auburn University’s Futures Laboratory Coordinator. Since DEFxColumbus, they have initiated a quarterly discussion series between MCoE and The Futures Laboratory. Their first discussion was led by the FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC) on July 20, 2016 and it focused on forensic technologies.[iv] Students from the MCoE’s Maneuver Captains Career Course, Soldiers and leaders from the 789th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, and civilian law enforcement agencies learned about TEDAC’s capabilities and deepened their understanding of the interagency processes that exist between their organizations. Future discussions are being planned with possible topics including Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) and other educational and collaborative efforts.[v]

            Those are just two of the success stories following DEFxColumbus and there are certainly more to come in the future. In fact, another DEFxColumbus is already being considered for this coming fall.

As one of the co-leaders of DEFxColumbus I want to encourage all of you to get plugged into the nearest DEFx, join or create a DEF Agora, attend the Annual Forum, or even plan your own DEFx!

[i] The DEFxColumbus working group facilitators were Dr. Kirk Heriot and Dr. Phil Bryant, two CSU professors, Dr. Jay Brimstin, an MCoE faculty member, and Col. Rick Bailey, an Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies instructor.

[ii] The working groups’ problem statements were:

  1. Entre/intrapreneurship: This working group will discuss the application of entrepreneurship and innovation within the organizations represented by the participants.  Then, we plan to brainstorm how that approach to innovation can be used by the Department of Defense.
  2. Servant leadership: How should servant leadership affect our day to day decisions and actions as we lead our troops and accomplish our missions?
  3. Faculty professional development: How can organizations apply the Army’s 3 pillars of leader development (training, education, and experience) to prepare faculty to train and educate current and future leaders?
  4. Cyber strategy: How should cyberpower be integrated into our full suite of military power when many military and political leaders have yet to understand it? What should the US government do about the growing appetite for civilian US entities to engage in offensive cyber operations as a part of a larger defensive strategy?

[iii] Feedback from Dr. Jeff Cerny from the Florida Institute of Technology.

[iv] Desiree Dillehay, “FBI talks IEDs with military and local law enforcement,” The Bayonet and Sabre, 27 July 2016, http://www.bayonetandsaber.com/2016/07/27/1031340/fbi-talks-ieds-with-military-and.html, accessed 03 August 2016.

[v] Based on conversations with James Welch, the Benning Agora Facilitator.

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Categories: DEFxInspireEvent

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