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Fri, April 3, 2009
Exercise drives student decision-making at strategic level
The Strategic Decision Making Exercise is experiential learning for USAWC students who apply critical thinking skills to assess Diplomatic-Economic-Military-Informational [DIME] courses of action to complex strategic problems. Senior leader mentors add personal insights, US students execute bilateral negotiations with International Fellows, and Members of Congress challenge students as they develop recommendations or decisions.

Exercise presses Army War College students to think, act under pressure

Col.Michael Armstead, representing the USAFRICOM student workgroup, faces the international press during the Strategic Making Exercise. SDME is the capstone exercise for the USAWC resident students. Photo by Megan Clugh. more photos


March 2, 2009 – The last few days have been quite taxing for Army War College students. There was a tense showdown in the Middle East, multiple freedom of navigation issues, a homeland terror attack and a natural disaster all in the span of six days.

    Of course, it was 2021, and each of those scenarios and more were all part of the Strategic Decision Making Exercise, held from March 4 to 11 in the Center for Strategic Leadership at Carlisle Barracks. This year marked the 14th year the exercise has been held.

    The exercise, or SDME as it is commonly referred to, serves as the capstone exercise for U.S. Army War College students. SDME is a six-day, interactive, strategic-level, political-military exercise based in the year 2021, which gives students the opportunity to integrate and apply the knowledge they've acquired during the academic year to a "real-life" situation.

    "Learning by doing is the most effective way to learn, and the exercise allows students to apply the principles they learned in the midst of a fast-paced, complex exercise that allows them to see how frictions affect the processes," said Dr. Bill Johnsen, Dean of Academics.  "The SDME exposes students to new issues and areas that they will become involved in for the remainder of their careers."


Col. Dave Moreland speaks during a media
interview. During the exercise, students 
interact with mock national and international
news media outlets. Photo by Lizzie Poster.

According to Doug Campbell, CSL director, planning for the exercise starts at the beginning of each school year.

   "Initial planning begins with the receipt of student and faculty comments on this year's SDME," explained Campbell. "The second key factor is the receipt of next year's International Fellow student roster so we can determine IF expertise available to support the exercise.  Detailed planning begins in September as we begin to develop scenario material."

The process of developing each scenario for the exercise isn't a simple one either.

    "Scenario development takes considerable time and effort.  We begin with an assessment of learning objectives to be achieved, identify potential areas of the world which meet the criteria of possible, plausible and important enough to the U.S. and its allies that a scenario would pass the 'so what test','" said Campbell. "Following that assessment we develop a story outline, which lays out basic goals, objectives and flow of the scenario.  After scenarios have been developed then all the scenarios must be integrated so that we understand their interaction and load factors and the impact on learning objectives."

    The exercise is designed to give the students a wide range of experiences.

    "The most beneficial parts of the exercise are when we place students in difficult role playing situations," said Campbell. "Frequently that is when they interface with outside participants, such as Congressional Hearings -- during which they testify before members of Congress or Congressional staffers playing Congressman, where they have to engage the media, in either a briefing or in a stand-up question period, where they have to brief and answer questions from Distinguished Visitor's who role play a special assistant to the President." 

    During the exercise War College students also perform many of the duties and tasks that they will face once they graduate.

    "They are also required to conduct VTC's with Combatant Commander Staffs and perform bilateral negotiations with International Fellows role playing foreign government officials," said Campbell. "The most taxing element is the requirement to absorb information and make recommendations or decisions under time pressure."

Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, Deputy Combatant  Commander 
of NORTHCOM, shares his experiences with  students 
during a briefing.     Photo by Lizzie Poster.
 

 

SDME has been very beneficial and a great learning experience according to one of the students.

    The exercise also brings together more than 600 personnel from the War College and subject matter experts from outside the school to serve as controllers, observer controllers, or exercise facilitators. Personnel participating in the exercise come from numerous government organizations, including the Department of State, Joint Staff, FEMA, CENTCOM, FBI, and the CIA. Each year more than 50 distinguished visitors participate as role-players in the exercise; most as leaders from the military, diplomatic, interagency, business, and education communities.

    "The students participate in video teleconferences with members of Congress, who role-play as members of the House Armed Services Committee while the students testify. Each year there are ten to twelve serving members of Congress who participate by VTC from Washington," said Campbell.

    Another important part of the exercise involves the students interacting with various national and international news media outlets.  During press conferences and interviews, controllers act as reporters from different national and international news organizations. The sound bites from these media events are then incorporated into television news broadcasts televised in Collins Hall each day.

    The filming of the interviews and the actual television broadcasts are produced by Army Reserve Soldiers from the 206th Broadcast Detachment out of Dallas, Texas and the 209th Broadcast Detachment out of Georgia.

       The exercise teaches lessons that will be valuable for years according to Johnsen.

    "The SDME requires students to continue to hone the critical thinking and creative thinking skills that they have developed during the course of this year, and upon which they will rely for the rest of their careers. 

 

March 2, 2009 – The last few days have been quite taxing for Army War College students. There was a tense showdown in the Middle East, multiple freedom of navigation issues, a homeland terror attack and a natural disaster all in the span of six days.

    Of course, it was 2021, and each of those scenarios and more were all part of the Strategic Decision Making Exercise, held from March 4 to 11 in the Center for Strategic Leadership at Carlisle Barracks. This year marked the 14th year the exercise has been held.

    The exercise, or SDME as it is commonly referred to, serves as the capstone exercise for U.S. Army War College students. SDME is a six-day, interactive, strategic-level, political-military exercise based in the year 2021, which gives students the opportunity to integrate and apply the knowledge they've acquired during the academic year to a "real-life" situation.

    "Learning by doing is the most effective way to learn, and the exercise allows students to apply the principles they learned in the midst of a fast-paced, complex exercise that allows them to see how frictions affect the processes," said Dr. Bill Johnsen, Dean of Academics.  "The SDME exposes students to new issues and areas that they will become involved in for the remainder of their careers."