Please note: The views expressed here are those of Chris Hampton and not necessarily those of the U.S. Marine Corps or Department of Defense.
IWP M.A. candidate Major Chris Hampton developed and created a new career field within the U.S. Marine Corps for influence officers. In his new role as one of the Marine Corps’ first influence officers, Chris has been assigned to the Office of Information Operations Policy within the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to join the strategy writing team for the 2023 Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment for the Department of Defense (DoD).
Chris recently spoke with us about his work and his experience at IWP.
Organizing a career track for USMC influence officers
After enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps out of high school and later commissioning as a Second Lieutenant, Chris served as an intelligence officer for about ten years. Five years ago, he went through the U.S. Army Special Operations Command course on psychological operations at Ft. Bragg, and he has been working in this space ever since.
For the last four years, he led a small team that has been particularly focused on building a new occupational field within the Marine Corps.
In the Marine Corps, there are several primary Military Occupation Specialties. New officers leaving their initial training in Quantico go on to specialize in one of these occupations, in which they will be trained and serve for the next several years. Chris became part of an effort to find efficiency in the information operations area of the Marine Corps. Previously, officers would be asked to cover civil affairs or psychological operations duties that were outside of their regular career trajectory and expertise. Chris and his team created the new career track for influence officers to ensure that the officers in these roles were specifically trained for the crucial work they would be doing.
To make this new career trajectory a reality, Chris organized everything from the education the influence officers would complete, to the equipment they would use, the job skills they must possess, the locations where they would work, and the ideal career trajectory.
Chris noted that influence officers use similar tactics as marketing professionals in understanding a targeted audience to convey information to this audience to achieve a behavioral change. There is a distinct difference: typically, marketing professionals are selling something that the target audience is already interested in buying. As an influence officer, it’s a similar method of understanding and targeting, but it’s much harder to change behavior than marketing. Influence officers can be assigned to conduct civil-military operations or psychological operations to achieve the desired effects that support the mission.
“The Army has been doing this for a long time,” said Chris. “I took some of those core methodologies and applied them to the Marine Corps.”
This new career path was approved this past February. The first class with new lieutenants who would enter this career path will graduate in the next few months. In the meantime, officers with the required skills or related skills were invited to apply to become influence officers.
Chris was one of 28 officers to be selected as the first USMC influence officers. Of these, there were seven who were already fully trained, including Chris.
Writing strategy for the Department of Defense
With this success in hand, Chris has turned his attention to his next assignment – serving as one of the developers and writers of the 2023 Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment for the DoD. The intent is to publish the strategy by the summer of 2023.
Chris and an Air Force Major are the primary authors of the strategy. The DoD specifically asked for each service to provide a field-grade officer with experience in operations in the information environment to work on the strategy. Having officers with close familiarity with the day-to-day execution of the mission provides insight into strategy development. The goal is to develop a strategy that steers the DoD in investments towards training and education, personnel management, capability development, and partnerships that provide the practitioners with the best possible support structure for day-to-day operations.
“Having been an enlisted infantry Marine, I have come a long way in 20 years, writing strategy for the DoD. I very much enjoy it,” said Chris.
Pursuing further education at IWP
“I started with IWP a year ago, because I envision myself being in this world even after I retire,” said Chris. He hopes to continue to develop high-level guidance for the national security community.
In researching graduate schools, Chris was looking for a very specific type of program related to national security and intelligence. When he found IWP, he noticed that the professors and alumni were active in the national security community. Due to the nature of his work and related travel, Chris could not guarantee that he can be in a physical classroom on any given week, so he opted for the online program.
After he applied for IWP’s Professional M.A. program in Statecraft and Strategy (Online), Chris learned that one of his friends was about to graduate from the school. “It was good to hear from someone I trust that the experience of the entire program was good,” he said.
Thus far, Chris has been taking the required courses for his degree, and he is very much looking forward to taking the specialized courses in his area of interest, especially Foreign Propaganda, Perceptions and Policy, and Political Warfare: Past, Present and Future.
A good introduction to the national security policy process
One of the first classes that Chris took, National Security Policy Process with Prof. John Tsagronis, coincided with his new job writing strategy at the Department of Defense.
“Coming from the tactical units to the Office of the Secretary of Defense was a big learning curve,” said Chris. “It was helpful to learn in class about the structure of the DoD and how national security strategy is developed.”
He also appreciates having instructors who have worked at high levels in the U.S. government and can describe how things actually happened on the ground.
Reflections on the online program
Chris has been happy overall with the structure and content of his courses thus far, and he believes that being in class in person would be even better because of the greater ease of networking: “You can never replicate the sidebar conversations.”
That said, he appreciates the efforts that his professors have made to allow for additional conversation in the virtual environment. Dr. Harmon would leave the Zoom call open for about 30 minutes after class to allow students to chat with him and each other, and Prof. Tsagronis offered to meet with Chris in person to share his perspective on working at the National Security Council.
Chris also enjoys the fact that he has a cohort of several students who have had all their classes together thus far, which has allowed them to network, build trust, and discuss the course material together.
Overall, Chris is glad that he is at IWP: “The programs IWP offers aren’t offered elsewhere – I looked!”