Students & Alumni

Lieutenant Colonel Howard (Gavin) Rice (’14): U.S. Army Strategist

Above: Gavin Rice at IWP Commencement in 2013. He is pictured with General Raymond Odierno, who is now retired from the U.S. Army and serves on the IWP Board of Trustees, and Dr. John Lenczowski, founder and President of IWP. 

“IWP helped me understand that execution without a strategy, direction without a clear vision, and leadership without virtue, strains the maintenance of peace.”
– LTC Howard (Gavin) Rice, USA (’14)

When LTC Howard (Gavin) Rice (’14) came to IWP, he was preparing to be a U.S. Army Strategist, an advisor to senior leadership, focusing on understanding all the different factors that should inform policy, strategy, operations, and tactics for every type of warfare.

He had always been interested in the military – “Maybe I watched too many G.I. Joe cartoons as a kid,” he quipped. Inspired by his father and grandfather, who served in the Navy, he joined high school Army JROTC in San Diego, where he found that he liked the discipline, camaraderie, challenges, and opportunities for mentorship.

After enlisting and serving for a few years and encouraged by a mentor, Gavin attended the United States Military Academy Preparatory School and then the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he studied environmental engineering and the German language. After two tours in Iraq as an infantry officer, Gavin had the opportunity to functionally designate as an FA-59, an officer who handles strategy, plans, and policy.

Studying strategy at IWP’s BSAP program

To prepare for this role, he needed to take the Basic Strategic Arts Program at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, PA. At the time, the course he was supposed to take there was full.

“Instead of doing 14 weeks at Carlisle, we did two semesters at IWP, where I earned a Certificate in Strategic Studies,” said Gavin.

Gavin emerged from his IWP experience with not only this certificate but also a Professional Master of Arts in Strategic and International Studies. “The Professional M.A. was an accident,” said Gavin. “The certificate was enough to be a strategist, but I liked the school so much, I decided to ask the brass if I could stay on for another year to get my Professional M.A. The instructors were not just academics; they were practitioners – it was a privilege to gain their perspectives firsthand.”

He spent his time at IWP well: “Like all education, you get what you put in,” he observed.

In one of his classes, he had a rude awakening. When he received a short paper back from Prof. John Tsagronis, it turned out that “I missed the mark by leaps and bounds,” remembered Gavin. “I was pretty upset because I thought I was a good writer. I was mistaken.”

He was so upset that he went to see Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz about it. “I wanted to leverage his expertise and get his magic formula on writing. He worked with me to develop as a writer and as a strategist. Until that point, I was focused on lower-level tactical issues. Prof. Chodakiewicz helped me widen the aperture and gave me a greater appreciation for national security implications.”

Although it was not required for the course, Gavin rewrote his paper and brought it back to Prof. Tsagronis, who gave him even more perspective.

Gavin remembers, “These guys don’t have an abundance of time, but they sat down with me because I was serious, and they helped me hone and refine. Iteration is one thing I have continued to work on with senior leaders in the Army: you will not get it right at the first crack. You need to find the right word in the right sentence to convey the right meaning. Iteration with a leader achieves clarity and brevity.”

Serving as a strategist in the U.S. Army

After IWP, Gavin served with the 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea, where he was the lead planner on the creation of the Combined ROK/US Division. He developed the first division, in conjunction with ROK partners, to strengthen Alliance and defense on the Korean Peninsula. This organization still exists today.

He then went to Germany for three years, where he worked with U.S. Special Operations Command Europe. “I looked at irregular warfare, specifically unconventional warfare, to strengthen national defense plans in the Baltics, including Poland.” In this capacity, he also focused on counterterrorism efforts in the Balkans and the implications of the foreign fighters who were coming in from Syria.

Gavin then attended the Marine Corps University School of Advanced Warfighting at Quantico, VA, where he was surrounded by many of the top Marine Corps officers and learned to become an operational planner.

He was deployed to Afghanistan, where he worked on planning with NATO Special Operations Component Command. “It was truly a rewarding experience,” remembers Gavin. Here, he planned for the Taliban reduction in violence against the Coalition and Afghan Security Forces that happened a year ago and worked with coalition partners to reduce Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan. The plan that Gavin and his colleagues developed continues through May of this year.

Now, Gavin is working on plans and strategic communication policy with U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He works to ensure that U.S. Army Special Operations equities are reflected in Army strategic documents so that they can inform programming and funding. For instance, some of Gavin’s team’s work was used in the Army’s strategy in the Arctic (Regaining Arctic Dominance) and the publication “The Army in Competition.”

Because there are not many strategists working in the special operations community, and the expertise focus tends to be on the tactical and operational level, Gavin’s work in strategy is especially significant. He has been able to support the special operations community to see itself in a larger strategic context.

Using lessons learned at IWP

In his work as a strategist, Gavin used lessons learned at IWP. “There are a few schools that have a watered-down public policy degree coupled with a brand name,” said Gavin. “I did 18 months at IWP, and it was not a vanilla degree. The quality of the education was head and shoulders over what I expected to get at such a new and small institution.”

He also remembers, “Many graduate schools can tend to be very idealistic, and IWP brings a realistic perspective. IWP teaches you to see the world as it is and not how you wish it to be.”

He has also found helpful the lessons that he learned at IWP about looking at the world from the perspective of Allies, partners, and adversaries. For instance, when working with Vietnam, Gavin learned that it is best to partner on a non-China-related topic instead of addressing China issues head-on. “If you step into a relationship the wrong way, it peters out quickly,” he said.

From Dr. John Lenczowski’s course on international relations, Gavin learned the importance of being able to work with Allies and partners. He said, “In Europe or Afghanistan, that has a big impact. Because the Army is such a big machine, we tend to marginalize the capabilities of our partners because they are not us, and we believe we can do it more efficiently. If we leverage our partners a little more, we create a stronger bond and build a better team instead of isolating ourselves with our U.S.-centric perspective.”

From Dr. Wood’s class on American founding principles, Gavin gained a strong foundation in the American worldview: “Because of his class, I have been able to better explain to our Allies and partners why we see the world the way that we do. I have also won more arguments after taking Dr. Wood’s class because his stuff is so foundational!”

Gavin noted that his time at IWP has impacted how he approaches his profession on a day-to-day basis in providing clarity about how to tackle problem-solving. “Instead of trying to answer a question, you have to understand what the problem is that you are trying to solve. It seems like a basic thing, but articulating the problem is the first step, followed by building a team and working on solving it by leveraging the different instruments of statecraft. IWP captures this really well.”

To anyone considering attending IWP, Gavin would point out that IWP is helpful in developing an appreciation for the elements of statecraft that you don’t understand in depth. He commented, “I would like to think that the Army is the center of the universe, but it’s not – it’s one piece. We can do things a lot faster and efficiently than many other organizations, but it doesn’t mean that it is the right tool for every job.”

Although the workings of government are changing all the time, Gavin found that IWP provided a solid starting point for understanding various government agencies and how they work with one another (or don’t work with one another). “Those pieces of statecraft can work in concert, or, when they play, they don’t play the right tune,” said Gavin. Having this background has prepared him to reach out to relevant agencies when expertise or assistance is needed, and to understand how to work with other organizations or foreign governments that have their own priorities.

Looking to the future

Gavin plans to serve in the Army for at least another 7-8 years. Within that framework, he has all sorts of things he would like to do – from attending Senior Service College to obtain a 3rd M.A. degree, doing a fellowship in Singapore to focus on China, studying counterterrorism in Israel, or completing a fellowship in Australia. Eventually, he would like to work on the national security staff or with the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Gavin likes working with foreign powers and allies, and overall, one of his next goals is to see the world in a different way and learn more about the lenses through which others see the world.

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