Since it opened just four years ago under the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Defense Security Cooperation University has made strides in achieving the initial goals it set for itself and has also expanded and improved on its ability to train the nation’s security cooperation workforce. It is now in the process of evolving further, in order to respond to a rapidly changing strategic environment. 

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 the Foreign Military Sales program.  

In creating the university, officials with DSCA aimed to help train and certify security cooperation personnel across the defense enterprise and codify security cooperation work as a profession.  

Initially, DSCU was tasked with getting some 20,000 security cooperation personnel across DOD certified, at least at the most basic level, in one of five areas of concentration.  

The current security environment necessitated a re-look at the initial approach to certification, particularly as the enterprise learns valuable lessons from the conflict in Ukraine and other global hotspots. Security cooperation education, training and certification underwent a year-long reevaluation, which allowed for refinement of the DSCU curriculum and DOD certification requirements. This assessment resulted in a completely revamped program named certification 2.0.  

The new certification requirements are tailored to the security cooperation workforce’s competency needs, the current strategic reality, and tasks set forth by Congress and the National Defense Strategy. Under the security cooperation certification 2.0, the five areas of concentration have been replaced with nine functional areas, said Celeste Gventer, President of DSCU.  

“Certification 2.0 allows us to get much more specific in the training and education that we provide,” Gventer said. “There were parts of the enterprise for which we really needed to build focused curriculum. We wanted to make sure that we were identifying those people properly so we could develop the curriculum to really target what they need. The nine functional areas allow us to get much more specific.”  

Those nine functional areas include policy and resourcing; FMS; security cooperation organization; support enablers; acquisition; building partner capacity/DOD training and equipping; advise, train and educate; the state partnership program; and assessment, monitoring and evaluation.  

Under a phased update starting Sept. 30, 2023, security cooperation professionals across DOD will become certified in one of those areas and attain one of three proficiency levels — foundational, practitioner and expert — primarily determined by rank/grade. Gventer said there’s also an “executive level” for senior executive service, general officer and nominative E-9 personnel who serve as organizational leaders but don’t need in-depth expertise.  

University Growth  

At the start of the program in 2019, DSCU had only one component, the School of Security Cooperation Studies in Dayton, Ohio, which is the former Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management. Since then, Gventer said, DSCU has grown in size and in the number of campuses.  

In 2021, for instance, DSCU added institutional capacity building implementers and international schoolhouses: the Institute for Security Governance, located in Monterey, Calif., and the Defense Institute for International Legal Studies in Newport, R.I. There’s also the newly established College of Strategic Security Cooperation, in Arlington, Va.  

Most recently, DSCU grew again by absorbing the Defense Resources Management Institute, also in Monterey, and by beginning program offices for both the Security Cooperation Workforce Development Program and the Research, Analysis and Lessons Learned Institute.  

“We have now multiple institutes, multiple schoolhouses and a program office,” Gventer said. “DSCU has grown by a lot. We’re at more than 470 personnel now, government and contractors.”  

Gventer also said DSCU is building a new course catalog, expanding the number of offerings available to help security cooperation personnel develop in their profession.  

“We have vastly expanded our course catalog, though not all of the courses are yet built,” she said. “We’ve recruited faculty with more of an academic background, so they are in the process of building a whole new suite of engaging, competency-focused courses.”  

In fiscal year 2022, she said, about 20,000 individuals took courses at DSCU to advance their own knowledge of security cooperation.  

Security Cooperation as a Profession  

“Title 10 U.S. Code Section 384 and the NDS direct DOD to ensure that those who represent the department to our allies and partners are a professionalized force with the training and support necessary to advance our national security objectives. To accomplish what lawmakers asked of DOD, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III approved a suite of initiatives aimed at improving the security cooperation workforce as part of NDS implementation,” Gventer said.   

“Title 10, paragraph instructs DOD to ensure there are security cooperation career paths, make sure there are career fields, make sure you have the right people in the right numbers with the right backgrounds in the right organizations,” she said. “This legislation was critical in initiating a suite of needed reforms, though we still have a ways to go.”  

The first initiative, she said, involved establishment of the Security Cooperation Workforce Development Program Office, which is now working to ensure DOD personnel assigned to statutorily defined security cooperation workforce positions have the competency-based training and experience necessary to carry out assigned security cooperation responsibilities. 

The second recommendation was to establish a Defense Security Cooperation Service. “The DSCS will consolidate the support infrastructure of DOD’s critical SCO personnel at U.S. embassies into a single organization to ensure appropriate allocation of limited personnel resources across a global demand. The DSCS will provide DOD with comprehensive oversight, management and analysis of global SCO staffing levels, personnel requirements and assignments while combatant commanders retain operation control and benefit from highly trained Security Cooperation specialists throughout their AOR,” Gventer said.  

The Defense Security Cooperation Service, she noted, will have initial operating capability by fiscal year 2025, at which time DSCS will transition to a separate directorate reporting to the director of DSCA.  

The third NDS initiative was the creation of DSCU’s Security Cooperation Research and Lessons Learned Institute at the DSCU headquarters.  

“The only way we can make sure we are a continuous learning enterprise is to make sure we have dedicated research, lessons learned, and analysis professionals. Their work provides the fodder for DSCU’s curriculum,” Gventer said. “You don’t refresh curriculum if you don’t have anybody actually looking out into the system …. You have to have somebody who’s responsible for creating that intellectual capital that you can then use as part of curriculum and in improving the security cooperation enterprise more generally.”  

Learning Lessons Now  

In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. On Oct. 7, Hamas attacked Israel. Both events have an impact on the U.S. security cooperation community, and DSCU officials are working to capture lessons from each for later — or even immediate — incorporation into the curriculum, Gventer said.  

Right now, she said, a team is documenting security cooperation lessons related to Ukraine, and those lessons learned will be reviewed by members of the security cooperation community and incorporated into a final report.  

“The DSCU lessons learned team has been working on this for approximately a year,” Gventer said. ” As an academic institution, it is essential we research, analyze, and adapt our curriculum to the current strategic realities.”  

In the future, Gventer said she wants to expand the academic faculty at DSCU generally, and to expand expertise and curriculum at DSCU’s Dayton, Ohio, schoolhouse, which will focus on training and education of FMS. “We want to expand our offerings on FMS across the board and establish a kind of center of excellence for FMS that will ensure continuous learning and improvement of the process,” she said.  

“We need to continue to attract the kind of faculty that can really help us innovate,” she said. “It can be challenging to find the unicorns out there that have the academic credentials and understand … the work of an academic faculty, but also understand security cooperation.”  

Looking forward, she said she wants DSCU to be the center of academic and intellectual life for the security cooperation community. That means security cooperation professionals might want to come to DSCU to take coursework that isn’t required for their certifications but will enhance their careers. That also includes DSCU becoming a source of important reading material that the security cooperation community could rely on as a way to stay informed and help them make better decisions, she said.

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