At the end of August, I was one of a couple dozen students and professionals from the public and private sector selected to join members of the National General/Admiral Staff Officer Course in a 2-week intensive UN Peacekeeping Course at the Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr (The Military Academy of the German Armed Forces) in Hamburg.
Housed at the nice-yet-austere (by civilian standards, anyway) Clausewitz Barracks, we spent the first week of the course mixed together with the military officers in daily lectures and seminars. Held by former and current members and directors of various UN missions around the world, the lectures focused on a wide variety of topics, both civilian and military, ranging from procurement logistics to the role that culture plays in coordinating the medley of international staff that make up UN missions. The seminars were organized into smaller groups (still of mixed civilian/military makeup) and focused on topics relevant to the departments relevant in peacekeeping mission (for example, my seminar was on Challenges to Peace Processes). During this week I was also lucky enough to be selected to attend a reception at the Hamburg Senate's guest house, attended by staff of the various foreign embassies and consulates in the city.
After some final concluding lectures at the start of the second week, we were divided up into three Headquarters, each of which would be simulating a peacekeeping planning mission to the fictional country of Kolpoto. Each HQ was led by a former head of an actual Peacekeeping mission, assisted by a Chief of Staff selected from volunteers among the course's participants. Directly under him, the HQ was organized into eight departments, each made up of a small team led by a department director. To my surprise, I was selected to serve as Director of the Political Affairs Department in HQ1.
Working with a small team of students and military officers, my task was to lay out a political road map for the future of Kolpoto's peace process, as well as coordinate with other department heads to ensure that a future peacekeeping mission to Kolpoto would be able to fulfill its mandate. If I am entirely honest, I felt completely out of my depth. While I have obviously worked within teams in various contexts before, I had never experienced being in a formal leadership role in a professional environment before, and immediately ran into problems with my own team about on our strategic goal and a clash of organizational cultures with some of the military staff. To add to that, a fuzzy division of labor and mandates between the departments and the need for me to attend constant meetings and coordination with seven other teams made meeting with my own team difficult at times. My ideas for what the role of the Political Affairs department should be (mainly, in the planning process were challenged both by members of my own team and the Chief of Staff.
Yet hard work and communication paid off -- sitting down with my own team, we were able to resolve our own problems via honest dialogue both about our department's role and objectives and my team members preferred methods of organization. Though sometimes strenuous and time consuming, the meetings with other department heads also proved fruitful, allowing us to produce joint solutions to difficult challenges facing the missions. My apparently controversial ideas regarding what Political Affairs' role should be in the peacekeeping mission were also validated, both by the Head of Mission, who called it "brilliant" and "something [he'd] never seen before," and by the organizers of the course, who showed our presentation as an example of an "extremely well organized" plan.
Overall the experience was exhausting yet extremely interesting. Speaking and working with military officers offered unique insights into both their mindset and planning process that civilians like me rarely get a chance to see. The lectures and seminars offered insights and information that are rare even in academia. And the simulation, though it very much felt like a trial by fire at times, has allowed me to improve my own skill set in the fields of management, organization, and communication in a way only hands-on contexts allow. The academy holds this same training course every year, and for those interested in the subject of peacekeeping, particularly civilians and students, I cannot recommend the experience highly enough.