National security strategists, international relations experts, and high-tech innovators take for granted the ability to think about and discuss defense and diplomacy at a broad, conceptual level. Yet some of the most valuable participants in those conversations, the United States’ rising military and diplomatic leaders, find few gaps in the demands of their careers to participate.
Hoover’s National Security Affairs Fellowship Program offers that valuable yet rare pause to some of the best and brightest from each branch of the armed forces and the Department of State, allowing them to devote a full academic year to big-picture research questions and professional development. One of a limited number of top-tier institutions qualified to host military fellows, Hoover offers National Security Affairs Fellows (NSAFs) a uniquely rich experience that includes mentorship and academic guidance from the institution’s leading national security strategists and former military leaders. Hoover also immerses NSAFs in the technology centers of Stanford and Silicon Valley, provides a forum for cross-service collaboration, and helps them develop the broad skill set needed for exceptional leadership and strategic insight.
Each NSAF is one of a handful of the most promising members of her or his branch of service selected to participate in an academic fellowship that year; their choosing Hoover is both an honor to the institution and a testament to the value of the NSAF program. The Hoover Institution recently sat down with the 2016–2017 NSAFs to learn more about their experience in the program; we invite you to read further about the current class.
Colonel Michael J. Turley, US Army National Guard
Turley began his service as a US Marine before returning home to pursue a private- sector career that included time as president and general manager of a Utah-based software company and then at a San Francisco–based Fortune 10 health technology firm. During that time, Turley continued his military service as a reservist in the US Army National Guard, deploying to Iraq in 2003 and in emergency response operations following Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. He returned to active duty in 2007 and is now completing the National Guard’s educational requirements for the US Army War College. He saw an academic fellowship as a way to broaden his perspective. “I already know how the army does things,” said Turley, comparing his Hoover fellowship to studying in a military service college. “I want to be exposed to some different things and to be outside of my comfort zone.” Turley is using his time at Hoover to research the legal, historical, and operational factors affecting natural disaster response and he highlights the ability to work with Hoover fellows as a key benefit of the NSAF experience. “To be affiliated with the kinds of people that are here, Secretary Shultz, General Mattis, Secretary Rice, Secretary Perry, to be able to interact with them and sit at their knee and try to listen to them, that was what drew me here.”
Colonel Dave Zinn, US Army
An armor officer by training, Zinn’s twenty-one years of command, combat, and staff experience include deployments to Iraq, time as military assistant to the secretary of the army, and as a physics instructor—he holds a master’s in that subject from the University of Chicago—at the United States Military Academy at West Point. “Most folks will tell you, including the current secretary of defense, that we have a gap in strategic thinking and in strategy,” said Zinn, whose research at Hoover explores strategic lessons from the 1975 Mayaguez incident. He credits Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who was still an in-residence fellow during Zinn’s first months as an NSAF, for encouraging him to study strategy and underscoring the importance of the year at Hoover. Zinn recalled Mattis’s words from one discussion. “He said this is your last opportunity to pause, reflect, and think before you go back out into the service, move into strategic level positions, and start to run hard—so make the most of this time.”
Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Helphinstine, US Air Force
Helphinstine comes to Hoover with 900 hours of F-15E combat flight experience in the Middle East and additional time as an advanced F15-E tactics instructor at the USAF Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. A native of Oregon, Helphinstine is happy to be spending time on the West Coast, but what really attracted him to Hoover was the ability to connect with innovators in computer science and autonomous vehicle systems at Stanford and in Silicon Valley. He’s applying those resources in his research on US air superiority and advanced drone development. “Hoover, being here at Stanford, is the high-tech center of the world,” said Helphinstine. He hopes he’ll be able to put his full range of knowledge and experience to work in a future leadership positions, but he’s keeping his immediate focus on his responsibilities in command. “My leadership philosophy is to encourage, assign, and motivate individuals within my organization to maximum perform all of their duties, while improving their leadership and followership attributes.”
Lieutenant Colonel Eric Reid, US Marines
Lieutenant Colonel Eric Reid, a career marine infantry officer, comes to Hoover from his most recent assignment commanding the First Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Reid is researching and writing about civil-military relations, including a paper on the aborted court-martial of Marine Corps general Smedley Butler during the presidential administration of Herbert Hoover, which he is basing on primary-source documents from the Hoover Institution’s Library & Archives. He’s also engaging with other resources around campus. “The ability to go over to the Graduate School of Business and interface with some of the leading minds who advise leaders of innovation and organizational adaptation, to audit classes, and to pull a world renowned professor aside, has been very helpful.” “I intend to be a marine until the Marine Corps no longer has use for me,” said Reid regarding his future plans, “and I think the education, the time to reflect, the time to broaden my perspective here at Hoover and at Stanford more broadly have absolutely been beneficial at improving me for whatever comes next.”
Lieutenant Colonel E. Lincoln Bonner III, US Air Force
A graduate of MIT’s aerospace engineering program, Bonner’s military assignments have centered on space operations, including satellite and missile warning systems, as well as high-risk developmental flight-testing. He comes to Hoover as a PhD candidate in military strategy at the US Air Force’s Air University and he’s using his time for research to develop his dissertation in cyber security strategy. “From a standpoint of a good place to be able to do research in that field, I couldn’t think of a better place than being here at Stanford in the Palo Alto area,” he said. Bonner is also taking advantage of his access to top thinkers in technology and strategy to strengthen his own capabilities as a leader. “As you get promoted and put into more senior positions, you find yourself in situations where you’re asked to make decisions in subjects in which you’re no longer an expert. So it’s been good to be able to talk to various folks who are experts in different fields, to see how they think, and then to understand how they approach that situation.”
Lieutenant Commander Leonard Leos, US Navy
Born into what he calls the “family business,” Leos was raised in a Navy family in Stanford’s backyard hamlet of Mountain View. Leos began his service on the USS Jefferson City submarine as a nuclear power technician. After earning a degree in history from San Diego State University, he became a surface warfare officer and has since served on several destroyers and cruisers, commanded a minesweeper in the Persian Gulf, and served as the flag aide to the commander of the US Pacific Fleet. While at Hoover, Leos is exploring policies for the Navy to maintain and cultivate its supply of risk-tolerant leaders, who are often overlooked in peacetime but in high-demand during conflict. He’s also surveying the contrasting policy perspectives of senior Naval officers serving in the Pacific and their Foreign Service counterparts regarding China and the South China Sea. “To have a year ‘off’ without a whole lot of distractions from our parent services, to be able to think deeply about things that we typically don’t have time to think about is really the beauty of this program,” said Leos. “You just can’t put a price on that.”
Paul Narain, US Department of State
Narain’s fifteen-years as a diplomat include service on the Executive Secretariat Staffs of Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, as well in the US Embassy in Athens, Greece, where he managed the Eurozone crisis portfolio. At Hoover, Narain is researching financial institutions and stability in the EU, but his primary focus is learning from new colleagues at Hoover, Stanford, and in Silicon Valley. Narain offers his experience as an advisor and mentor in Stanford’s new Hacking for Diplomacy Course as an example. “I saw up close what I don’t see from Washington, which is how Silicon Valley and Stanford students would approach the problems that we work on in foreign policy every day.” He’s just as eager to engage with his peers in the armed services, “I basically sit down every day for coffee with future US military leaders,” he explained. “The opportunity to have enriching and meaningful conversations about what should your strategy be, how should we be thinking about these problems, what are the different perspectives we can bring to this, and what’s the pragmatic fix? I love that and I think they do too.”
Captain Kurt Clarke, US Coast Guard
Captain Kurt Clarke is a Coast Guard officer specializing in response ashore and afloat operation. He began his career earning a commission from the US Coast Guard Academy in 1994 and holds a masters degree in Information Technology Management from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Captain Clarke served at a variety of operational units, conducting search and rescue, law enforcement and maritime environmental response operations on the Gulf of Mexico, the coast of California and Southeast Alaska. Additionally, he served as the Chief of Officer Assignments, responsible for the assignment and career management of all Coast Guard Officers. Most recently, Captain Clarke was a program manager for the Department of Homeland Security’s Chief Information Officer.