Watson Military Fellows reflect on lessons learned at Brown

This year's outgoing Watson Military Fellows cohort reflects on their experience at Brown.

Every year since 2019, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University has welcomed a select group of U.S. and international military officers to College Hill through its Military Fellows Program. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the program offers military officers the opportunity to spend one year as members of the Watson community of scholars providing a critical learning experience for the fellows while enriching Brown University with the knowledge, expertise and unique perspectives of practicing military officers.

Program director Dave Polatty characterized the fellowship as "a year of personal and professional growth for these impressive leaders." According to Polatty, fellows "conduct research focused on a significant national or international security issue that expands their research, critical thinking and writing skills." Fellows audit classes, assist with teaching relevant sessions that they have expertise in, engage in security-related seminars and participate in focused research working closely with faculty, students and practitioners.

According to Polatty, being named a fellow is a rare privilege, "most military officers will earn a master's degree at some point," he said. "But only a very small percentage get the chance to be a fellow at a university or in the private sector. It's a rare chance to work closely and learn from people that are at the absolute pinnacle of the field that they're in," he said. The 2022–2023 cohort of military fellows has taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to them.

Jake Lunsford

Among this year's outgoing fellows, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Jake Lunsford never expected to find himself at Brown. A graduate of the University of Georgia, Lunsford is a first-generation college graduate. "Nobody in my family had ever gone beyond high school. Actually, I think 10th grade is more accurate. So, to be at an Ivy League university is an incredible experience for me on a personal level," he said. 

Lunsford's fellowship lasted two years. In his first year, he earned a master's of public policy from Watson's MPA program. During his second year, Lunsford has spent his time auditing classes, lecturing and following his research interests, most of which focus on the environment.

Over the past year, Lunsford led a study group about climate change and poetry with Watson senior fellow Alice Plane called "Connecting to and Committing to our Natural Environment." He visited Johnson and Wales University to talk to students about sustainable food systems and also worked with the former executive director of Save the Bay, Curt Spalding, studying local ecosystems. 

The fellowship, Lunsford said, has afforded him an opportunity to shift his perspective. "I spent 18 years facing outward, looking at external threats, going to different war zones, fighting in different engagements," he said. But during his time at Brown, he said he was able to "turn around and look at what's happening inside our nation." He said he is concerned by what he sees, particularly regarding the nation's treatment of our natural resources and attitudes toward climate change.

"Climate change is not a theoretical issue. It's a national security issue," said Lunsford. "There's going to be a lot less available drinking water going forward, and people are going to fight over it," he said. "Climate refugees are going to move into areas historically occupied by other people. There are going to be wars over this." Lunsford said he plans to work in environmental policy after he leaves the military. 

Trevor Tingle

Lt. Col. select Trevor Tingle came to the Military Fellows program with 15 years of experience in the U.S. Marine Corps, most recently as a member of Medium Tilt Rotor Squadron 165 (REIN) deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unity (MEU) based at Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, California. 

While at Watson, Tingle has audited several courses, including Chinese Foreign Policy with Tyler Jost, Security, Governance, and Development in Africa with Rob Blair, and Foundations of Security and The Politics of Nuclear Weapons with Reid Pauly. Tingle said he found auditing rewarding for a variety of reasons, "In addition to my interactions with the Brown community, engaging with undergraduate students was my most fulfilling experience at Brown. Building on the civilian-military relationship and exchange of ideas and experiences has been remarkable."

Tingle has joined discussions with Watson senior fellow, former Rep. James Langevin, retired Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, a delegation from Timor Leste and former national cyber director Chris Inglis. Tingle said he found the experience highly rewarding, "As a Marine Corps Officer serving primarily at the tactical level, the rare opportunity to engage and interact with foreign dignitaries and some of our nation's brightest minds and top officials has been remarkable."

Tingle's research at Watson has focused on the retention of military officers through education incentives. He is working on a paper for publication on the topic. "Maj. Lunsford and I believe the Marine Corps and military writ large are working hard towards talent management and retention of our best and brightest," said Tingle, "we hope to provide additional ideas to pursue those goals."

Of his fellowship experience, Tingle said, "I think everyone has a different approach to their fellowship. I believe the most important aspect of this opportunity is to positively impact the students, who may lack an understanding of military culture and operations."  

He noted that Watson offered a plethora of opportunities to engage the intellectual life of the University and praised both the program and Watson's leadership: "There are endless opportunities to participate through lectures, audits, leadership engagements and panels. The flexibility of this program is what makes this fellowship unique and special. There is not a better faculty team than those at the Watson Institute led by director Ed Steinfeld and military fellows program director Dave Polatty."

Jonathan Bott

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jonathan Bott came to Watson following an assignment as chief of staff for the U.S. Air Force's 4th Fighter Wing in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Bott said he has found his fellowship "very fulfilling" personally and is grateful to have been exposed to perspectives he is not used to. "Throughout my career, I've been surrounded by a certain mindset in the military," he said, "and being able to share that mindset here has been great. But it's also been great to be exposed to different mindsets and fresh ideas here at Brown."

Bott said he approached the fellowship as an opportunity to "do some introspection about areas of my life where I feel like there are gaps in my knowledge and engage with the Brown community on issues that are important to me." He noted that "historically, the Air Force has benefited greatly from connections to industry and academia."  

According to Bott, some of his most rewarding interactions have come from having one-on-one coffees with "no fewer than a dozen students." Some students wanted first-hand information about what it was like to serve in the military, while others engaged Bott in in-depth conversations on topics such as sexual assault in the military. Bott noted that he was grateful to be able to add more context to a student paper about sexual assault in the military and also to be able to learn from the student's perspective. 

One area where Bott has been able to bring a wealth of knowledge to Watson during his fellowship is from his experience working on Operation Allies Welcome supporting Afghan evacuation efforts. In March, Bott delivered a lecture, "Wings of Hope: Creating an Afghan Evacuee Safehaven," in which he shared his experience as the chief of staff at a rescue site in New Mexico in which he detailed how the military was able to refocus its combat-oriented capabilities to support the largest non-combatant evacuation and resettlement in U.S. History.

Bott also co-authored a major report for the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies and the Refugee Dream Center, "'Then, We Lost Everything:'  Afghan Evacuee Experiences of Operation Allies Refuge and Operation Allies Welcome," with Watson scholars Adam Levine, Alexandria Nylen, Giovanna Deluca and Executive Director of the Refugee Dream Center, Inc. (RDC) Omar Bah and RDC case worker Subhan Mohebi. In addition, Bott shared his Operation Allies Welcome experience with postdoctoral fellow Blair Sackett's seminar, Displaced: How Global Systems Shape Refugee Families. 

Of his time as a fellow, Bott said he was "amazed not only at the level of education that I was able to receive" but also "watching the education in action, and learning to be a better instructor and teacher." Bott will put that aspect of his fellowship to good use in his next assignment as a military professor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. 

Incoming Fellows

A new group of military fellows will join Watson in July. Program director Dave Polatty said he looks forward to working with and learning from this new group. "The 2023–2024 academic year will be a historic moment for the program as we welcome our inaugural Army and Navy fellows to join our Air Force and Marine fellows, whose services will be entering their third year on campus. Polatty added, "I'm incredibly excited to see our new fellows continue to deepen the program's engagement with faculty, students and staff, and I can't wait to witness the impact their collaborations have within the Brown community."