By Leischen Stelter
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is that I have the privilege of speaking with many of our students and alumni. First of all, it’s an extremely humbling experience. As you may (or may not) know, American Military University (AMU) is the number one provider of higher education to the military, so many of our students are deployed during their degree programs.
When I talk to students in the armed forces who are stationed overseas—some of whom are sitting in war zones doing their homework—it certainly puts things into perspective about the challenges I face trying to complete my courses.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Lincoln Kaffenberger, who is currently the officer in charge of analysis and production section, working for Global Operations Center – SIGINT. His team is tasked with taking raw information, analyzing it, and then using it to answer questions for deployed soldiers as well as provide information to decision makers in the U.S. Army. Lincoln currently works in Washington, D.C., but he was stationed in Afghanistan during part of his degree program at American Military University. Lincoln graduated in 2012 with a master’s degree in Intelligence Studies.
The Real-World Application of Academics
Lincoln quickly discovered that the work he was doing in his classes helped with the products he generated as an analyst.
“I think the intelligence community is similar to the academic community in many ways,” said Lincoln. “Both require their people to use sound analytical processes to reach their conclusions and to display their sources and processes in such a way that others can see how they arrived at that conclusion.” Simple things, like always citing sources and looking at the format of a product to make sure it was produced in a standard format were things that he learned in school and applied directly to his job.
Lincoln was able to apply many of the things he learned in the classroom directly to his job. For example, one of the textbooks was The Thinker’s Tool Kit: 14 Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving, which included a lot of practical analytical techniques such as guiding students through the brainstorming process and helping them learn more about probability.
“When my boss came to me and said, ‘hey this last operation we didn’t find as many targets as we did in our first operation. Why not? What will that mean for our next operation?’ I could come up with answers and analyze why the second operation was so different than the first and help figure out what the enemy was going to do next,” said Lincoln.
Open-Source Information is Highly Valuable
As a result of his coursework, Lincoln also learned that open-source information provides a wealth of information.
“There is bias in the intelligence community that unless it’s classified, it’s not intelligence and it’s not as good or the information is not as credible,” said Lincoln. Through his AMU courses, he discovered that there is a lot of great information to be found in the unclassified realm.
“The reality is that more than 90 percent of information is unclassified or available through open sources. Too many analysts hold the bias that unless it’s classified it’s no good,” he said.
“Courses through AMU forced me to find these sources and allowed me to broaden my horizon about what is available as open source and now I really appreciate and respect that. There’s so much good information out there.”
Tips for Deployed Students
As a student who took courses while stationed abroad, Lincoln offers advice to others considering doing the same thing:
- Don’t sign up for classes before deploying. Figure out your situation first, let yourself get into a rhythm while deployed and then sign up for a class. There will be a lot of pressure to turn in assignments on time and that can be daunting. If you are still getting accustomed to your situation, it’s going to be even more difficult.
- Be upfront and honest with your professor immediately. As soon as you start your course, tell your professor you are a deployed soldier. While it is always up to the discretion of the professor to grant extensions, if they know your situation right off the bat, they are much more likely to be understanding if things come up. Be sure to stay in regular contact with your professor throughout the course and keep them updated to changes as well. Understand that you may be gone for days without access to the Internet.
- Realize that going to school while being deployed is going to be difficult. “It was a struggle,” said Lincoln. “Many days I worked a 12-hour shift or more, I had to stay in physical shape, and I had to stay in touch with my spouse. On top of that, I had to do my homework, too. Plus, at some point, you have to sleep.”