Risking it all in Sanremo © March 30, 2007 Norwich University Office of Communications

Remember the board game Risk? A few lucky Norwich students get to participate in a real life version of the game, except they won’t be strategizing on how to conquer the world. Instead they will be solving problems of international humanitarian law.

Seniors Jessica Bryant, Travis Allard and Jalon Fonseca have been chosen to represent Norwich in Sanremo, Italy, this week, at the International Institute of Humanitarian Law where they will participate in the Competition on the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC).

“It seems ludicrous to have laws regarding war, but they are there to lessen its horrendous impacts,” said Dart Thalman, a political science professor at NU. “These laws protect combatants once they have been captured and they protect civilians.”

Thalman, who is the director of the school’s International Studies program, teaches a course to help students prepare for dealing with international humanitarian legal situations. He said the Sanremo competition enhances his curriculum by granting students the opportunity “to gain a better appreciation for international humanitarian law and how it is important to a military career.”

The students, all Corps members, are planning on commissioning into the military upon graduation. Bryant, who will be serving in Germany with the Air Force come May, certainly understands the value of participating in the simulation.

“What I learn in Sanremo will be applicable to my job and the environment that I will be in,” Bryant said prior to her departure. “It will be good to have experience in that area.”

Mathew Halferty ’07 competed in the event last year. It was Norwich’s first year in the competition, and as the only private military school there, he had some explaining to do. “One of the British participants to said to me, ‘so you pay for your commission? I think we stopped that two hundred years ago,’” Halferty recalled. “It was a task to explain to everyone what Norwich is.”

One of the benefits of Norwich’s attendance is the exposure that the University gains with military academies around the world. Fifteen other schools from all around the world are attending this year’s event. Moreover, events such as this also reinforce the University’s commitment to making all Norwich students more aware of international cultures. Prior to leaving, Thalman noted that although only three NU students make the annual trip, what they bring back to the campus goes a long way towards reaching that goal.

Although Norwich gains from the experience, the students are the clear beneficiaries of the trip. In this era of rapid globalization, being able to work with and understand other cultures is imperative. The team’s chaperone, Air Force Capt. Steven Gorman, said the Sanremo competition really is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

“Norwich is realizing that being able to work with other countries is an important skill for officers to have in the future,” he said. “When these students get into situations like this in the future, they will know how to look at the big picture. For them, and Norwich, it is valuable experience.”

Listing India, Israel, Bosnia, and Russia as some of the countries he worked with, Halferty echoed Gorman’s assertion stating that “working with my [international] counterparts that I may see again as a future military officer” was one of the greatest benefits of his experience in Sanremo.

Not surprisingly, getting to know other cultures also tops the wish lists of the students who are participating in this year’s event. “I want to learn other countries’ perspectives and outlook on LOAC and other topics and see how they compare to our line of thinking in the United States,” Allard said.

Although the students will learn about other countries’ cultures and opinions, the purpose of the competition is to increase their knowledge of international humanitarian law. To do this, they began the week by participating in two days of informational sessions. The rest of the week is spent in a simulation of the Joint Operations Center of a UN multilateral operation.

In the Joint Operations Center, participants are divided into teams of three, with students from different countries on each team. During the simulation, the groups are given realistic scenarios in which they must apply international humanitarian law while considering the Geneva Convention and their alliance’s diverse goals. Teams are judged on their teamwork skills, knowledge of the laws, and ultimately, their ability to make the best decision in a given situation.

Preparation for the competition was not something that the University took lightly. The Norwich contingent has taken a semester-long course taught by Thalman in which the specifics of the Geneva Convention were studied scrupulously. Additionally, the students have been going over specific scenarios, some created by Halferty, demonstrating the correct use of LOAC. Ultimately, Thalman said the students are prepared for the competition, which, though only a simulation, does reflect the realities of today’s global confrontations.

“Military officers make these decisions on a daily basis,” Thalman said, “although not always in groups like this.”