GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany -- Sweeping changes have taken place across Eurasia over the last decade. Many former soviet states and eastern block countries are now budding young democracies, collaborating to promote security and stability.
Retired Marine Corps Col. Nick Pratt is helping them.
Pratt is a man of energy. Previous assignments in special operations and duties with the CIA prepared him well. He maintains a rigorous schedule as a leader in an institution that offers participants the tools of democracy they will apply as military and foreign affairs leaders.
Pratt, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and previous director of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, is currently a course director for College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.
Established in 1993, the Marshall Center operated as a German-American partnership on a small U.S. Army post at the base of the Bavarian Alps. It exists to create a more stable security environment by advancing democratic defense institutions and relationships through offering post-graduate courses, conferences, research programs and language courses to civilians and military professionals.
The college enrolls a diverse group of participants from North America, Europe and Central Asia. They share something participants call the "Marshall Center Experience", a common background of knowledge and tools for promoting international security and democratic defense management.
A nine-week "Leaders for the 21st Century" course focuses on a younger audience, primarily the captain and major level. The mid-level course, the Executive Program, is aimed at colonels. There is a topical two-week Senior Executive Seminar taught for general officers and civilian equivalents twice yearly.
Seminars, simultaneously translated into English, German and Russian, are designed to capitalize on the diversity of the participants and international faculty. They provide an understanding of 'how' to think, rather than 'what' to think. Participants grapple with complex national security issues like strategy formulation, national defense planning and crisis management.
The programs are particularly useful for any FAO (foreign area officer-Marine or otherwise) working in Euro-Asia. "This is the best place to walk out with a ready made Rolodex", Pratt said. He gave a recent example of a Marshall Center graduate who was reassigned to Tajikistan. "They immediately knew everyone," he said. "They had the right contacts in the right places. This is the best place, including U.S. institutions, for training Foreign Area Officers."
According to Pratt, newfound relationships formed during courses are one of the most important aspects of the "Marshall Center Experience."
Some participants arrive as suspicious professionals, stoic and reserved in their interaction with others. They are hesitant to share information.
That's where professors like Pratt come in.
"We present the concepts. They get to decide what to do with them." The professors let the participants wrestle, or even argue, with the concepts among themselves withthe seminar leader guiding the discussion.
The interaction develops a greater understanding of the democratic concepts and the cultural paradigm participants bring with them. More often than not, they leave as life-long friends, with both their instructors and each other. Pratt said, smiling, "I had 6 people at my house last week. I often get Christmas cards from graduates, some from people who don?t otherwise celebrate the holiday."
These relationships are critical to promoting peace and democracy in newly developing post-Soviet countries, as graduates from neighboring countries often work together solving national security cooperation issues.
The benefits directly benefit American defense, as well. Relationships between graduates helped the United States fight the war on terrorism.
"One of the reasons the coalition against terrorism has had so much success is due the impact of the Marshall Center and its graduates," said Gen. Carlton W. Fulford, European Command Deputy Commander-in-Chief.
The Marshall Center is quick to recognize the value of these relationships. It created an alumni office to help graduates remain connected. They produce a quarterly magazine and organize reunions.
For professors like Pratt, sharing the concepts of democracy is as much a calling as a job. From his perspective, "Our mission at the Marshall Center is to 'save the soul' of the East."
For more information, see the admissions tab on the Marshall Center website: http://www.marshallcenter.org.