DAHLGREN, Va. –
When an employee starts at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) or any of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA)’s other surface or undersea warfare center divisions, the doors of opportunity swing wide open. For NSWCDD’s Digital Proving Ground (DPG) Lead Systems Engineer Emily Hester, she found herself learning alongside active duty military members from all services at the Naval War College’s inaugural Bundy residency program.
“At the time, I was looking into distance learning options to obtain my master’s degree,” recalled Hester. “Not even a month later, the request for applicants came out.”
Hester was one of five Bundy Scholars, a program named for Dr. William Bundy, the recently-passed professor who was known as a champion of the union between the warfare centers and naval operators. Hester says that she had limited exposure to the fleet before attending the Naval War College.
“I had some experience going out to the ships, but it was a small view of what being in the fleet is really like,” recalled the King George native. “My critical thinking only expanded through engineering, based on my experiences and what I already knew. At the War College, I interfaced, interacted and worked with other members of the service at my same level. That was a real eye-opener for me.”
The environment at the Naval War College is designed to encourage intellectual curiosity and conversations that cut across disciplines. Hester, who has a background on the technical side, got to exchange her knowledge with classmates who had more experience on the operational side. “Everyone goes by their first name. It’s not your rank that matters, but your ideas,” said Hester. “Everyone wears civilian clothes, which also helps break the barrier between military and civilian. In the end, we were all there to learn.”
The War College’s curriculum allows students to take both core and elective classes. Hester was one of two Bundy scholars also selected to participate in an advanced research program for wargaming.
“I spent ten months wargaming at the War College, and that’s something that has really benefitted me,” said Hester. “It’s not just reading it in a book or seeing it in a slide presentation, but it’s thinking through those operational scenarios and learning from my military peers on how they would fight tonight.”
The intermingling of technical experts with operational gurus in the fleet made a lasting impact on Hester.
“Part of DPG is providing an environment to understand concepts of employment, do experimentation and ensure that we are creating a capability for the fleet,” she said. “Understanding what the fleet needs [as far as utility] can help us as engineers make better decisions about what capability we are providing and what gaps we are filling.”
During her core classes at the college, Hester and her classmates reviewed case studies from previous wars focusing on the operational level, along with understanding theater security and foreign policy, leadership in the profession of arms and joint military operations.
“This experience has made me a better engineer and gave me a greater understanding of the competition and threats we’re facing,” Hester reflected. “I didn’t come from an active duty background. It was a great experience to learn alongside my military classmates what the Navy is doing, as well as what the Department of Defense is doing as a whole. This experience will be something I will always be able to apply to my Dahlgren career.”