Pentagon officials fielded questions from students at Defense Department schools from across the U.S. and Europe today as part of a webinar focused on the NATO alliance.

During a discussion that built upon themes from this year’s NATO Youth Summit, the officials emphasized the enduring strength of the 32-member coalition and thanked the students, many of whose parents serve in NATO-aligned billets, for their role in the overall mission.  

Alton Buland, principal director for European and NATO policy in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, said service members and their families play crucial parts in helping NATO thrive. 

“It’s a living alliance,” he said. “It’s not just rooted in treaty and law — which it is — but it’s rooted in the people that are part of it.” 

Buland was joined by Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh and Melanie Fonder Kaye, deputy secretary of defense for strategic engagement.

Moderating the conversation was Kerri Gill, a creative writing and strategic literacy teacher and the 2024 Department of Defense Education Activity’s Teacher of the Year.  

Students joined from DOD schools in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and England. Students also joined from North Carolina and Puerto Rico.  

Buland thanked the students for the role they play in giving NATO its strength.  

He said that as children of service members, they enable their parents to deploy throughout the globe to reassure U.S. allies and deter adversaries.

“Thank you, as well, for what you each do in terms of being ambassadors for the United States and for the Department of Defense in the countries that you’re living in,” Buland said.

Students had the opportunity to ask questions on a variety of topics related to NATO’s role in ensuring transatlantic security, as well as career-related questions.  

The officials provided insight into their career paths and why they value public service. They also offered advice on how to develop as leaders and achieve work-life balance even when navigating high-pressure situations.  

The conversation was held as NATO members prepare to mark the 75th anniversary of the alliance in July at the NATO Summit in Washington.  

Buland said the alliance will continue to be a stalwart of peace and security for years to come.  

“It’s an alliance that has value for every generation, evolving to meet the threats that every generation faces and to take on the threats of the future,” he said.

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