Retired Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry stood before a team of soldiers preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Their mission would be quite different from the ones he led in the South Asian country during the height of the war.
The officers of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Bridge Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, in Fort Campbell, Ky., would soon be leading a team of about 2,000 soldiers to provide operational support and advise Afghan national forces as the U.S.-led Coalition forces withdraw and the country takes over the battle against the Taliban.
“I spoke to them about the history of the U.S. diplomatic, development and military activities in Afghanistan since 9/11,” said Eikenberry, now the William J. Perry Fellow in International Security at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.
Eikenberry was a military commander in Afghanistan from 2002-2003 and then again from 2005-2009. He would later serve as U.S. ambassador to Kabul from 2009 to 2011.
Col. J.B. Vowell, a former CISAC Senior Military Fellow (2012-2013), was leading the brigade, which deployed in late January for a nine-month tour. He had invited Eikenberry to speak to his troops, having met him while he was at Stanford.
The mission of his tour is to advise and protect advisors and, if necessary, support Afghan forces in extreme combat situations. Though a brigade typically has 5,000 soldiers, Vowell’s smaller, tailored team is a sharp departure from previous missions.
“So they’ve had to think hard about not only their advisory role, but also who they will protect their own forces with, and what to do if they are called upon to support Afghan forces in an exceptionally dire situation,” said Eikenberry.
These types of operations are part of the central challenges facing the U.S. military today, Eikenberry said, adding that Vowell’s time as a senior military fellow at CISAC helped prepare him for his mission.
“The resources available at FSI help prepare officers for these challenges,” said Eikenberry, who is also an affiliate of FSI's Center on Democracy Development and the Rule of Law. “CISAC does very sophisticated studies in contemporary security problems; CDDRL does very interesting work in the development of political institutions in difficult environments. These are resources military fellows can draw upon.”
Military Fellow Program launched in 2009
When former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry returned to Stanford after his service in Washington, he and current Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter started the Preventative Defense Project at Harvard and Stanford. The project focuses on forging nongovernmental, Track II security partnerships with Russia and its neighbors, engaging China and addressing the lethal legacy of Cold War weapons of mass destruction.
Deborah Gordon, executive director of the project and manager of the military fellows program, said Perry believed that bringing in acting military officers to learn more about strategic defense policy would aid the mission to prevent future threats to global security.
“Perry started asking the various heads of the military services to allow a fellow to come to CISAC and be more broadly engaged in the university,” she said.
The Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), the umbrella organization for CISAC and other research centers, hosted its first senior military fellow in 2009. FSI now hosts five, three from the Air Force and two from the Army. Fellows go through a rigorous selection process and attend Stanford for one year to conduct research.
CISAC Senior Research Scholar and retired U.S. Army Col. Joseph Felter helped secure the Army officers for the first fellowships. He had attended Stanford as an active duty officer from 2002-2005 and has a Ph.D. in political science from the university.
“When I came back to do a War College fellowship from 08-09, the only sponsored spots were at Hoover,” he said, referring to the Hoover Institution at Stanford. “It’s a great institution but it struck me as a bit insulated from the rest of the campus. With the support of the Army War College I volunteered to take the lead on putting together a proposal.”
He persuaded the War College that there was demand for fellows and they approved the establishment of two new fellowships at CISAC. Felter, Gordon and others at CISAC knew that civilian scholars and students at the university would in turn benefit from interacting with active-duty officers for their perspective on the U.S. military around the world.
Among the first fellows were Viet Luong, who is now a one-star general and deputy commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, and Charlie Miller, who is working directly for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey as his senior advisor.
In addition to meeting current and former government and military leaders and conducting research, fellows participate in Stanford classrooms and seminars.
Army Lt. Col. Dennis Heaney is a senior military fellow at CISAC this academic year. His research focuses on the strategic policy of the Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF), soldiers from all units of the U.S. Armed Forces that support combatant commands.
Heaney is working to delineate out the costs of altering the role of conventional forces - traditionally trained to fight against other national militaries - to fight unconventional wars that are not restricted to any particular geographic zone.
“The real dilemma is conventional Army forces are made for land warfare against other forces. They are not really cut out for irregular warfare,” Heaney said of the RAF. “When you try to do regional engagement it takes you away from your main mission. I may help you, but there is an opportunity cost. Trying to prepare for both regular and irregular warfare takes away from each one. It’s kind of a zero-sum game. So I’m trying to critique that and make recommendations.”
Heaney has been in the Army for 24 years. He started out in the infantry as an officer and then entered the Special Forces in 1997. He is likely to deploy to Afghanistan with the Special Operations Joint Task Force after he completes his fellowship.
“The biggest benefit of being a fellow at Stanford is exposure to high-level folks like Karl Eikenberry, Gen. James Mattis at Hoover, Adm. James Ellis, and former Defense Secretaries William Perry and George Schultz, as well as current Secretary of Defense Ash Carter when he was here for a short time,” Heaney said.
Carter was a visiting scholar at FSI last year, until he became the nation’s 25th secretary of defense in February.
Heaney participated in CISAC’s signature class, “International Security in a Changing World,” playing the role of military commander during simulations that are the hallmark of the class.
“One simulation was about deciding between ground or air options for a high-value target in Afghanistan,” Heaney said. “Last week we did a simulation about the Islamic State and what options exist.”
Even after they leave, military fellows maintain close ties to Stanford.
Eikenberry is slated to teach a course next term about America’s post-9/11 intervention in Afghanistan.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to Skype-in to Col. Vowell’s headquarters,” he said. “I think it would be powerful for the students, after reading essay after essay about the Afghanistan intervention, to actually talk to one of our military leaders currently operating there on the ground.”
There is an effort underway to expand the military fellows program beyond FSI.
“We envision a future where military fellows can embed in the professional schools, like law and business, or in departments like engineering and political science – and even private tech companies like Google and Palantir,” Gordon said. “We want to engage Stanford and Silicon Valley in helping solve our national security problems.”
Joshua Alvarez was a CISAC Honors Student in the 2011-2012 academic year.