WASHINGTON -- The newly stood-up Defense Security Cooperation University, aimed squarely at creating, training and certifying a professional community from the Defense Department's security cooperation workforce, will spend the next 24 months ensuring that some 20,000 personnel get the most basic level certification in their career field.
Defense officials -- including John C. Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy, and Army Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency -- attended a ribbon cutting ceremony near the Pentagon last week to officially open the new DSCU's doors.
The first president of the school, Cara Abercrombie, said the biggest task ahead is ensuring the 20,000 or so DOD personnel who are involved in security cooperation-related work get certified in that work.
''That's an extremely ambitious goal,'' Abercrombie said. ''A lot of it will hinge on making sure all the curriculum is fully developed. But our goal is making sure we get them certified at the basic level by 2022.''
Security cooperation is the effort to advance U.S. national security and foreign policy interests by building the capacity of foreign security forces to respond to shared challenges. That effort involves, among other things, building and maintaining military-to-military relationships, combined training efforts, and foreign military sales.
The idea behind DSCU, she said, is to change the way the department is approaching security cooperation by making sure everyone involved has a basic understanding at least of the big-picture objective how security cooperation links to national security strategy. ''Even people in the workforce for 20 years are not necessarily aware of new policy initiatives,'' Abercrombie noted.
''DSCU will teach the security cooperation workforce, with a focus on meeting the requirements of the certification program,'' Abercrombie said. ''When Congress mandated that program in the 2017 [National Defense Authorization Act], it also directed DSCA to establish and maintain a school to train, educate and certify the security cooperation workforce. DSCU is that school.''
Abercrombie said eventually, all personnel who spend more than half of their time doing security cooperation work will be initially certified at a basic level. Work done before DSCU stood up identified nine competencies security cooperation personnel must have, one of which is understanding defense strategy, she said. ''We have a basic course online that covers the waterfront on those competencies, including how security cooperation aligns under the National Defense Strategy and the National Security Strategy,'' she added.
Basic-level certification will happen with online coursework, Abercrombie said, allowing the new university to get over its initial hurdle of certifying so many people. Additional levels of certification that include intermediate, advanced and expert will also involve both online and in-class work.
Hooper said security cooperation is ''uniquely American'' in nature, adding that ''[it's] this premise that by strengthening the militaries of our allies and partners, you actually strengthen your own security.''
The general said that the school will serve in part as a ''center of excellence'' for the security cooperation community, and will also serve to make the security cooperation career field a profession, which he said involves:
• Having accountability to society for maintaining standards of ethics and integrity;
• Possessing a common body of knowledge based on research and experience;
• Participating in and encouraging continuous intellectual and practical development; and
• Being held accountable for acquiring and maintaining knowledge and skills through rigorous means.
''The security cooperation profession has not been truly complete until today,'' he said. ''Any profession requires an institute of higher education dedicated to supporting the tenants I told you about.''
Rood said professionalization of the security cooperation workforce is right on time, as the need for that work has become even more important, considering today's global security environment.
''When we look at our National Defense Strategy -- what we are trying to accomplish and what we are up against -- one of America's core competencies has been our ability to build and maintain, sustain growing alliance relationships, to have our partners operate with us seamlessly in coalitions, to see them grow in their capabilities year after year.
''It's one of the areas where we are able to exercise tremendous influence,'' he continued, ''and it gives us a comparative advantage ... that is just tremendous. Security cooperation plays a very central role in building those alliance relationships, in building those coalitions and those capabilities.''
The DSCU currently has two campuses: one in Arlington, Virginia, near the Pentagon, and a ''DSCU-West,'' created from the former Defense Institute for Security Cooperation Studies at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. It's expected that more than 13,000 students will attend the school in fiscal year 2020, with nearly 10,000 of those attending online.