By Mary Anne Rooney
A diverse group of 150 guests gathered at the National Security Forum of the Air War College this past week at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. I was nominated by an alumni of the NSF through my membership in the Oxnard Ambassadors and was honored to be selected to attend.
Knowing very little of what to expect, I was eager to learn more about the Air Force and interact with future military leaders from around the world. Military leaders from Algeria through Yemen attended, along with the best and brightest of the U. S. military forces.
The Air War College is a 10-month program for military leaders in residency at Maxwell designed to educate officers to serve as critical and strategic thinkers able to serve as national security senior leaders. One of the culminating activities for the students is to participate in the NSF, where invited guests from around the country come and share their perspectives. We traveled from 43 different states and our group consisted of elected officials, CEOs, educators, business people, doctors and graduate students. These most senior military officials are taught to develop their leadership for long-term strategy of the future and the NSF provides them an opportunity to engage with civilians for a diverse perspective.
The NSF theme was “Conflicts, Competition, and Constraints” and all of our lectures and discussions surrounded those issues.
We were honored to be briefed by the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James, who talked about global competition, threats in different areas of the globe and constraints of economic and human resources. We received lectures over the next three days on Russia and the post-Cold War order, the current state of U.S. and China relations, Europe in crisis, the CIA, cyber security, the Syrian civil war and international relations in an uncertain world.
One unique aspect of the week was an agreement to abide by the Chatham House Rule, a new term for me that means people can speak freely with no attribution of the content to any one individual. This provides the opportunity for candid discussions amongst the guests, students and lecturers.
Specific to my role as a commissioner at the Port of Hueneme were the discussions surrounding the South China Sea and China’s actions in this area. The South China Sea is a major thoroughfare for trade and goods movement. As you may have heard in the news, the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands are in contested control, with China asserting its authority over some of these islands, and even constructing land and building a 10,000-foot runway on one of the reefs.
Each of the countries surrounding the South China Sea holds a 200-mile economic exclusion zone and China is seeking to extend their boundaries that cross the lines of other countries and threatens this zone. One concern is that if China extends its boundaries into the South China Sea, the freedom of navigation and open sky for all countries might be restricted or impinged. Also, due to the large oil and gas deposits in this area, there are economic concerns regarding China’s actions. With claims being made in addition to China by Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei to these islands, the world is watching to see what will happen in the South China Sea.
Our closing keynote speaker was Gen. Mark Welsh, chief of staff of the Air Force, who presented a depiction of the five core missions of the Air Force. He focused on the human side of integrity, service and excellence, highlighting actions of three airmen who went above and beyond the call of duty.
The core missions of the Air Force include air and space superiority; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; rapid global mobility; global strike; and command and control.
The week provided me with a new understanding and appreciation for our nation’s military and increased patriotism for our country. I encourage all interested in learning more about our military to apply for any one of the war colleges held across the nation.
• Mary Anne Rooney is a commissioner for the Port of Hueneme.