As the Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Division and the Leadership Ethics and Law (LEL) curriculum course director, I served as the coach and team leader for the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) Law of Armed Conflict team that competed in The San Remo Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) Competition for Service Academies.
This was the 16th year the competition has been hosted by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in San Remo, Italy. The team members for this year were Midshipman 2nd Class Brandon Malaspino, Midshipman 2nd Class Kate Swafford, and Midshipman 3rd Class Jamel Brown. The midshipmen competed against cadets from US service academies (United States Coast Guard Academy, United States Air Force Academy, United States Military Academy, and Virginia Military Institute) and foreign academies (United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Switzerland, Uganda, Indonesia, and Thailand).
The competitors did not compete on school teams, but rather were split into teams of two or three cadets with one native English speaker per team. Swafford was the 3rd ranked individual competitor and her team, which included cadets from Switzerland and Indonesia, won Best Mixed Team. The team began meeting to prepare for the competition in January, spending one class period per week together for presentations and reading the actual source treaties in addition to all of their other academic and military responsibilities.
The competition aimed to teach cadets and midshipmen LOAC and its application within the context of contemporary armed conflict. It was intended to compliment the national training of LOAC and to ensure that military cadets develop an early appreciation of the critical importance of LOAC in multinational military operations. The competition offers a unique international forum where cadets from numerous countries with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds learn to work together in a stimulating environment.
The competition had two phases. These are preliminary phase, and a practical phase. Monday comprises the preliminary phase of the Competition which includes a day of interactive lectures on various aspects of LOAC to ensure all cadets have a base level of knowledge. Following the lectures on Monday, the teams assembled in the exhibition hall for Culture Night. Each team decorated a table and provided food and beverages from their nation, as well as small trinkets to give to the other teams. USNA chose to serve an "after school snack" of Girl Scout cookies and chocolate milk. The team sampled Thai dried fruits and juices, Ugandan roasted plantains, Swiss fondue, French wine and cheese, Italian focaccia and Nutella, Norwegian brown cheese and cured meats, Dutch desserts, and British high tea with cakes and biscuits. No one was able to complete the Swiss challenge of eating 6 dry MRE biscuits in a minute with no water, and thus the baseball bat-sized Toblerones offered as prizes stayed with the Swiss team.
The practical phase of the Competition began on Tuesday when the problem was handed out to all teams. This competition phase was conducted by way of a number simulated Joint Operations Centers (JOC). The JOC was composed of “mixed teams” of two or three cadets from different military academies. The mixed teams were assembled for the following reasons. 1) The presence of mixed teams reduces the competitive stress between military academies; 2) Within mixed teams, cadets are forced to work in a multilingual and multicultural environment and must display the skills to work effectively in such an environment; 3) The competition is in English and in principle we attempt to include one Anglophone per mixed team. The mixed team approach thus reduces linguistic difficulties; and 4) A mixed team environment promotes friendship and maximises the cultural exposure during the short duration of the competition. 5) Different nations working together in multinational operations is now extremely common and likely to become ever more so in the future. In the JOC sessions, each mixed team represented a fictitious country which was given specific instructions from its government and had different political and military priorities. The judges were aware of these various instructions, and cadets were evaluated on how they balanced these different national instructions and LOAC. Each JOC had a JOC Leader who was an experienced military lawyer and who questioned and challenged each team on the various problems that arose during the exercise. The JOC leaders hailed from the UK, USA, and Republic of South Africa.
During the JOC sessions, the mixed teams must have demonstrated that they could deal effectively with the reality of a complex geopolitical situation, national priorities, and the rule of law, while at the same time conducting an efficient military operation in accordance with their mandate and mission. The aim was to realistically replicate the different pressures which impact on real military operations. The evaluation of the mixed teams was conducted by an evaluation committee composed of experienced LOAC experts from around the world who acted as the judges and sat in each JOC and assessed and scored all cadets and teams on their performance. The evaluation committee members were instructed to evaluate the cadets/teams as follows: 1) Knowledge of LOAC. 2) Presentation of their arguments in a structured, logical manner. 3) Effective teamwork. 4) Did the mixed team contribute effectively in an international setting? 5) Did the mixed team effectively deal with its linguistic and cultural differences? The highest honor for the competition was for the best mixed team, as that team best demonstrated the purposes of the competition, as described above. Because the composition of the participants was rich in military diversity, accordingly, the fictitious JOC scenario also reflected such diversity, with fictitious nations covering the full spectrum of large to medium and lesser powers. As cadets and midshipmen in the competition represented the future military leaders from their respective countries, the focus of the competition exercise was to enable cadets and midshipmen to become familiar with the “bigger picture” in addition to what happens at the lower level of command. In addition to the competition itself, the midshipmen enjoyed an afternoon and evening exploring Nice, France before the competition began. They traveled to San Remo, Italy the following day in order to get settled and prepared to compete. The competition ran from 0830-1700 each day, with a 90 minute lunch break.
All of the coaches and competitors ate together at the Institute and had an opportunity to discuss our nations' academies, our missions, and international law. Those conversations continued during PT, dinner, and sightseeing each evening. After the competition concluded, the team hopped on the train to Monaco for sightseeing on Friday afternoon. They explored the palace, the cathedral, the old town, and parts of the F1 race course. On Saturday morning, the team boarded the train to Milan and arrived in time to spend most of Saturday exploring the city, touring the Duomo (cathedral), climbing 300+ steps to the roof of the Duomo, and shopping in the oldest covered shopping area in Western Europe. They ate pizza, pasta, and gelato like it was going out of style, and PT'd in gorgeous surroundings. We all made friends from US and foreign academies that we look forward to seeing at exercises and conferences with our coalition partners for the rest of our careers.