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Alumni run crisis simulation for IWP students

Baltic Storm 2017IWP alumni Nathan Kerr and Jeremy Boss and their colleague David Arocho returned this semester to host the second iteration of their war game simulation entitled “Baltic Storm 2025: NATO and Russia on the Brink” via Waymark Intelligence Solutions, LLC. In conjunction with IWP’s Office of Student Affairs, the simulation was open to IWP students and alumni interested in pursuing a job in the national security or intelligence fields. 

The simulation allowed students to play the role of intelligence analysts and policymakers in a realistic crisis simulation. 

Intelligence how-to’s

Nathan and Jeremy began the event by hosting a two-day training seminar on essential intelligence “how-to’s.” 

Over the course of the two days, they taught participants how to structure the data they would be receiving into useful analytical schema, how to write for the Intelligence Community (IC), and how to construct and present briefs to policymakers.

“When Jeremy, Dave, and I started in the IC, we were trained how to process and exploit intelligence, but not how to think like analysts in a practical manner,” said Nate. “We run our training simulations to teach students the on-the-job lessons we learned on the fly during multiple crises when you have to make quick decisions based on ambiguous information in limited time.” 

Two-week intelligence simulation 

The first phase of the simulation placed participants in the role of intelligence analysts. Students were placed into unique roles such as analysts for HUMINT, SIGINT, IMINT, and OSINT. Split into West NATO, East NATO, and Russia, participants received daily intelligence reports and were responsible for organizing, analyzing, and briefing their assessments to simulated policymakers. 

Everyone received intelligence specific to their given role, and teamwork was essential to gleaning a bigger picture from the often incomplete reports individuals received. Over 1500 reports were sent out over the course of the two weeks, and participants were purposely overwhelmed with information. Quick decisions concerning the importance of intelligence and what was true or false were necessary to be successful. 

IWP student Kelly Zug had this to say: “I could not have imagined a better hands-on experience to understand the responsibilities and roles of an intelligence analyst and policymaker. I was blown away by the amount that I learned in such a short period of time. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the unique backgrounds and talents of my fellow classmates and working closely with a team to bring our goals to fruition in the simulation. I highly recommend this simulation to every student at IWP!” 

“One of our goals is also to give students an understanding of what life as an analyst is really like,” said Nate. “Everyone has a perception from books and movies, but the day-to-day can be a grind for people without the detail-driven curiosity and temperament to really enjoy it. We want students to come out of our simulation with a refined career path based on their experience.”

Policy briefs 

Participants were required to give two situation updates to a panel of simulated policymakers comprised of IWP faculty members. Policymakers then questioned the teams on their analysis, asking for clarification and calling out haphazard assessments. It was a challenging (and often humbling) experience, but a valuable one to have while at IWP instead of in front of a senior with your career on the line.

“We want IWP students to be prepared for Day 1 of their careers, so that they can immediately jump in and have a positive impact on national policy,” said Dave. “You will be thrown into the deep end and expected to swim. While that can also be a positive learning experience, we want to teach you how to swim in a simulated world rather than during a real-world crisis.”

War game: NATO vs. Russia

With the conclusion of the intelligence phase, the simulation moved into the war game simulation. Participants took the roles of policymakers, and each team was given a strategic objective to pursue. “For most of the students, the war game is the fun part of Baltic Storm, the reward for making it through a difficult two weeks,” said Jeremy. “It’s like real-life Risk. After trying to make sense of often conflicting intelligence for two weeks, students have to rely on their assessments to make coherent policy, highlighting the relationship between intelligence and policy.”

The war game consisted of four rounds with NATO merging into one team to face Russia. Students were given access to all the tools of national power and were free to make any decision they deemed necessary. 

The Russian team came out strong and exploited the political barriers constraining NATO’s actions, but NATO rallied for an explosive finish that narrowly brought them the victory.   

“The war game really shows IWP’s strengths,” said Jeremy. “Students have a great foundational understanding of the need for a comprehensive, integrated strategy. They get to put that into practice during the war game and, hopefully, throughout the simulation they’ve built on that foundation with some practical skills that will help them succeed.”