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NPS Student, Professor Reunite on Front Lines in Afghanistan

By Kate Lamar

Posted January 21, 2010

Professor Russell and Capt. Davis in AfghanistanProfessor James Russell, with the Naval Postgraduate School National Security Affairs Department, arrived in Afghanistan on January 8th to be greeted by a good friend and former student – Capt. Bobby Davis, Commander of D Company 3rd Battalion 509th Infantry Regiment currently stationed in Afghanistan. Davis first met Russell back in the summer of 2006 when he was a graduate student at NPS.

“Professor Russell was very approachable. I spent a lot of time in his classes and in his office talking about my thesis and about his continuing research on the Army,” said Davis. “He is one of the few academics I have met that is able to take academic theory and articulate real-world applications for it.”

Russell is in Afghanistan embedded with elements of the 4th Brigade 25th Infantry Division. He is there collecting information for his ongoing research into military innovation and adaptation by U.S. troops engaged in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations.

“Captain Davis and I have kept in touch since his graduation, and he extended an invitation to embed with his unit, Company D of the 509th, so I could get firsthand exposure to a unit conducting COIN operations in an extremely challenging environment,” said Russell from Afghanistan.

According to Russell, studying troops on the battlefield is critical to understanding the changes they initiate while conducting counterinsurgency operations.

“Elements of the 4-25 have demonstrated significant adaptive and innovative capacities during their deployment,” said Russell. “Captain Davis and his company liaise daily with the Afghan border police and the sub-district governor to try and improve Afghan government capacities. This model is being repeated throughout the brigade maneuver elements.”

Davis concurred with Russell that many adaptations are made spontaneously by troops on the ground.

“I will say that COIN, although top-down directed through the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, is very much dependent on bottom-up implementation and refinement,” said Davis.

“Academics, like professor Russell, who take the time to come over here at ‘Ground Zero’ and conduct their research, are a great benefit not only to their own research, but also in the training of the future leaders of our military,” Davis said. “Research like this does not just go in a folder and get shelved, but rather is transferred to current and future military leaders in the form of institutions such as NPS.”

Russell also believes his research in Afghanistan will have a positive impact on his classroom instruction when he returns to NPS at the end of January.

“The work from this study will have direct application to classroom instruction on the NSA-SIGS curriculum by helping our junior leaders prepare for their future assignments in combat units,” Russell said.

“I feel the research that professor Russell is doing here in Afghanistan is important,” said Davis. “Looking at the Army as an organization and how it has changed or evolved with Counterinsurgency Doctrine will allow officers and future leaders to gauge the effectiveness of the doctrine and to implement any changes to our tactics, techniques and procedures to make us a more effective Army.”

According to Davis, “As an Infantry Officer in the Army, I cannot afford to obtain knowledge with little to no application value. Every decision I make and everything I learn job-related has an effect, positive or negative, on my men serving in combat.”

Look for some of Russell’s previous research in his forthcoming book, “Innovation in the Crucible of War: Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar and Ninewa, 2005-2007,” set for release later this year.

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