Interview with IADC Director, Rear Admiral Jeffrey Lemmons
By Dialogo October 31, 2012
Fifty years ago, in October 1962, the world was at the brink of a nuclear war, communications went global when the Telstar 1 satellite beamed live transatlantic television signals from space, and movie goers fell in love with the first James Bond film.
On that exact month and year, the Inter-American Defense College opened its doors in an old fort in Washington, D.C., and since then, almost 2,500 military and civilian leaders in the Western Hemisphere have graduated from this institution. A good number of these students later became presidents, ministers, ambassadors, admirals, and generals, all of whom share a common sense of cooperation and understanding among nations.
Nestled in the same building, now framed by grown trees, the college celebrated its golden anniversary from October 10-12, with a symposium focused on the role of the military in hemispheric security. During a break in the event, the director of the school, Rear Adm. Lemmons told Diálogo that one of the school’s goals for the next five decades of academic excellence is to continue to attract a student body that represents the very best minds from the Western Hemisphere.
Diálogo: The world has changed considerably since the first students and professors walked up the stairs of the Inter-American Defense College building, 50 years ago. How has the school adapted to these changes to stay relevant?
Rear Admiral Jeffrey Lemmons: Some people think that at the Inter-American Defense College we just decide what to study, but we listen very closely to the Organization of American States (OAS), to the Committee on Hemispheric Security… We listen to the sound of the OAS General Assembly and the decisions they come to when they meet around the hemisphere. And the things that are of concern are the things that we must focus on because we work for the Inter-American Defense Board, which works for the OAS. So some people say “you just decide what you would study”, but no. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War there were decisions about what is now important in the new world order, what are the things affecting the nations of the hemisphere. I was not here, but the curriculum had to be modified to address those changes that were going on in the world. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the OAS met in Bridgetown, Barbados, and in Mexico to make decisions that prompted changes. And things keep evolving; the threat now is asymmetric. It is now transnational criminal organizations, and we have to listen, and we have to change the curriculum so that we continue to be relevant and timely and appropriate to the things that are of concern to the OAS and to the Inter-American Defense Board.
Diálogo: Has the IADC’s mission changed over the years?
Rear Adm. Lemmons: Our mission is the same since 1962: to take officers and civilians from the Armed Forces and from government organizations of the hemisphere and prepare them for their role in defense and security. That basic mission may have new ideas, topics or subjects to discuss but at the end, they [the students] must be prepared when they go back [to their countries].
Diálogo: The Inter-American Defense College has a proven record of graduates that become leaders in their respective fields. Can you elaborate on that?
Rear Adm. Lemmons: We have had over 2,500 graduates, over 20 have become ministers of defense, three became presidents of their nations, almost 800 became admirals and generals, and many other have been high government officials. Those are large numbers for a small group. They are very strong when they come here and it is our hope that they are stronger when they leave. And the two things they take with them are a very good thorough examination of the issue that affects the hemisphere today, and a very strong friendship with their classmates, so they can work together on issues that affect everyone.
Diálogo: The IADC is nestled in a U.S. Army fort, in the heart of the United States, and the school director is a U.S. Navy Admiral. Does this mean this is a U.S.-centric college?
Rear Adm. Lemmons: That is a question I get a lot. One thing I always say to our visitors when they walk through the door is, “Welcome to the Hemisphere. Welcome to the Americas. Behind you, you left the United States outside the door.” It just happens that in 1962 they selected these buildings, on this Army base, where there are other colleges, but they gave them to the Organization of the American States. To me, that is very precious, and that means that I must work extra, extra hard so that people don’t think that this is a U.S.-driven program; it is a U.S.-sponsored program. Somebody has to pay the water and the electricity bill. And because we are the host and because there are some U.S. funds and decisions, it has been decided that a U.S. general or admiral will be in charge of handling those moneys. That’s where it stops. Our agenda is international; it is a hemispheric agenda. My vice-director is a three-star general from Brazil; my chief of studies is a two-star admiral from Peru. We have 15 countries represented in the current class. We are all elected by the IADB council of delegates, which represents dozens of countries from the hemisphere. You can speak any language and we have simultaneous interpretation [available for everyone], not only for the academics. We have social events, family events, sports days, family days, because the students come with their spouses and their children so the entire family is involved in the experience.
Diálogo: In his inaugural speech, Guatemala’s President Otto Pérez Molina noted that the relationships he built as a student here have proved to be key during his career. Is building alliances and knocking down walls between countries part of the curriculum?
Rear Adm. Jeffrey Lemmons: It is important that people understand that these students are prepared in two major ways when they graduate from our course. One, they receive a very thoughtful education, a combination of individual study, group work, lectures, seminars, trips… The idea is that they should hear these things now, not in the middle of a crisis. You practice before you have to use this, so you are better prepared. The second part is they get to know each other. Someday in the future, in who knows what situation, when things are getting tense or when issues are unfolding quickly and decisions need to be made, the question is who do you know? Who do you trust? Who can you call? They leave with a good, well-rounded education, with trust in each other and with a team that they can draw from in the future.
Diálogo: Now that the IADC turned 50, what are your most immediate plans?
Rear Admiral Jeffrey Lemmons: It is not enough to look back and say “what a great 50 years we had.” Now the challenge is to strengthen the college so when it turns 100 it continues to do its job. Originally there were three buildings given by U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk to then OAS Secretary General José Mora. Those three buildings were now returned to the college; we had lost two back to the United States but we recently retrieved them, and we are working to expand the campus. Someday we hope to have a college that can house more students, because we are [currently] limited to 60. We are also strengthening our curriculum to provide our own Master’s Degree in Western Hemisphere Defense and Security Studies.
Congratulations to the Inter-American Defense College for its 50 years of existence! And also congratulations to all those persons that have gone through that high academic center of the hemisphere during this time. I carefully read the material that, on the occasion of the anniversary, was published from 10 to 12 October, and I really liked the participation of the Mayor of the town of Mixco, Otto PÃ©rez Leal, without doubt a graduated from that Center of Studies. The local administration believes in the alliance of the Municipal police, the National police, and the National army as a crime prevention mechanism. I received with interest the information about his new Director's Vision.-