Since 2011 I’ve been teaching my students and teammates about the JIIM-Plus world they need to be prepared to operate in. Military professionals are very aware of the JIIM part: Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational; but they aren’t always thinking about the “Plus” part.  My current list of actors in the “Plus” realm, that government leaders must be ready to interact with, are as follows:

  • Old Media/The Press
  • Social Media
  • Corporations/Businesses
  • Non-Governmental Organizations
  • Super Empowered Individuals (SEI) or Influencers, as the kids like to say

The list of “Plus actors” changes over time and can be quite lengthy, so I try to keep mine to about five of the most common folks that national security members had better be trained to deal with, outside the normal JIIM world. I’m sure most can figure out why the first four entities are on my Plus list, but maybe you haven’t thought about why you need to know who the SEIs are for your area of operations. Think about who raised awareness about the Sudan crisis to a level that caused other nations to finally act. If you recalled George Clooney’s name you are getting my meaning. If someone like George, or in my Afghanistan portfolio, like Angelina Jolie, are personally getting involved in your area of interest, you had better understand their mission too.

You may be thinking, ‘okay, that’s cool.’ But how do you actually train for this JIIM-Plus world?

That’s what I want to share today. How you can look outside the typical national security training for amazing educational opportunities that can prepare you to conduct diplomacy, build strong press relationships, or even detect a genocide before it starts.

Some of the ideas I am going to share are part of the military opportunity kitbag, but they aren’t open to everyone at every rank and aren’t typically known outside certain circles.  So, you need to look for some of these on your own.  Seek out long and short-term opportunities and prepare your mind for the world as it is, not the way we would like it to be.

I’m going to share a list of education opportunities I took during my career. They are focused on the Arab speaking world and South Asia; but you can find an equivalent opportunity for every region of the world, and every career-field expertise.

Fellowship and Language Training

I went on a Malone Fellowship to Oman while on permissive TDY as a captain in 2006. There was a slow spot in my calendar and I spent my own money to learn more about Arabic and Islamic culture with an expert team out of D.C. called the National Council on US-Arab Relations.  If you are assigned to CENTCOM you can often get on these fellowships on the military’s dime. You are matched up with an equal number of academics from across the country and you get to learn first hand about a nations politics, security, culture, and education system. I ended up using my trip as the field research for my master’s thesis. Contact NCUSAR or CENTCOM for more details.

Language training is a great way to absorb a nation or regions culture and even if you aren’t assigned to a career field that will send you to the Defense Language Institute (DLI), you can still find a lot of online tools to help you get started, if not become a fluent speaker. DLI has many tools for specific languages, but Rosetta Stone and Duolingo are some other options among many. What is a common language spoken by your career-field in logistics, medicine, or intelligence? There is likely a school with free courses for you.

So how do you raise your skills to operate in the interagency and the NGO world? One of the hidden gems for young leaders is the Term Membership program at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). You can be assigned to the D.C. or NYC offices if selected, and it’s a 5-year fellowship.

“The Stephen M. Kellen Term Member Program provides young professionals in government, media, nongovernmental organizations, law, business, finance, and academia the opportunity to participate in a sustained conversation on international affairs and U.S. foreign policy.”

It’s best if you are on the Mid-Atlantic Region and can make it to some meetings in person, but even when you are out of reach you can join lectures via phone. There are also CFR clubs across the country you can take part in to meet others interested in international relations. You are also invited to annual meetings so you can interact with your cohort. Check out their application process before you come into the age-restricted window, it’s only for ages 30-36.  I still keep in touch with my cohort of clergy, humanitarians, lawyers, intel officers, diplomats, and economists, it is a great resource.

Peace and NonPartisan politics

Another great way to gain interagency skills is to volunteer to work on a presidential transition team. You can read all about this non-partisan mission in my recent article at ClearanceJobs.

The Holocaust museum offered a genocide prevention program that I was able to take through CGSC. I am not sure if that program still exists but they have amazing online information and a standing committee you can reach out to. It might provide you the chance to see the signs of an impending genocide or other human rights violations and maybe even enable you to help prevent it.

The U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP) has a wide range of courses both at the campus in D.C. and online. If you take a look at what the USIP academy offers I think you be surprised about how it might better prepare you for more senior positions.

“The Academy brings together expert practitioners and academics across disciplines and time zones to meet learners of all experience levels wherever they are: on the ground, online, and in the classroom.”

I found the following certificate courses to be very useful in government service and after: Conflict Analysis, Negotiation and Conflict Management, and Interfaith Conflict Resolution.

Building Better Press Relationships

If you want to learn how to build a positive relationship with the press you don’t have to look that far.  Every base, and maybe even your unit, has a PAO that you can share lunches with. But, even better in my opinion is conducting personal outreach to news editors and reporters/journalists. I started this as a first lieutenant in Kabul as my boss’s aid-de-camp and default public affairs officer. I ended up forming close relationships with journalists from around the world that continue to this day. This doesn’t mean becoming a source for them for anonymous insider tips. It means that you build a relationship of trust so that they will take you at your word when you give them interviews, and they won’t end up printing rumors because they know you will clarify the facts. I even reached out to my local newspaper after I retired and got to know the editor so we can share ideas and learn from each other. Reporters are people too, they don’t always need breaking news from you, sometimes just some conversation over lunch.

NGOs can be a bit prickly towards the military due to their strict neutrality rules. You need to respect those rules; because it can cost them their lives if they seem friendly with you. That doesn’t mean you can’t study them through their websites or host large meet and greets with government and NGO entities. It will allow them to learn to trust you, and also help you ensure you do not accidentally harm any of their people. NGOs do a lot of heavy lifting in the many areas our military is sent. If you can’t find a way to build a neutral and useful relationship with them, you are not doing the local people any favors.

My last suggestion is to attend conferences that are focused on your expertise and also new topics you want to learn about. Almost every think tank in America hosts an annual conference and usually they hold weekly events that are open to the public. Go be the public. I have been attending the NCUSAR fall conference since 2006 and have gotten some pretty big scoops about the direction of critical issues in the Gulf Region based on my attendance. I have also met brilliant people from the diplomatic, security, economic, and humanitarian sectors that attend this conference. Look at the offerings of think tanks and universities near you and don’t forget to look at their online streaming opportunities so you can listen to the conversation from anywhere. Organizations like Atlantic Council, the Middle East Institute, Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) are a few examples of places to attend events.  To get a weekly email about pending events in D.C. subscribe to Eventbrite.

The bottom line is that you need to be creative if you want to be a renaissance leader. If you are in the medical field of the government and you don’t know all the key leaders at your nearest civilian hospital, then what are you waiting for? You can learn from them and learn about how they educate their workforce. Same goes for sustainers…do you know the local Wal-Mart and UPS leadership? Have you asked the managers to walk you through their latest techniques?

I recall as an engineer officer visiting the Caterpillar factory near our base to see the newest equipment and to ask questions. It was very useful to our maintainers. On another occasion I asked my XO to arrange a day-long visit for all the NCOs and officers in my company to a massive highway construction site in Texas. The highwaymen were happy to take us in for the day and share their expertise in road and overpass construction…we even got to operate the asphalt remover. Who doesn’t want to rip up a highway and shred it?

So, go out and become a JIIM-Plus prepared leader. Your team will appreciate the investment and your missions will go a bit smoother because of your knowledge and wide-ranging relationships. The idea is to learn how to get along well with all the actors in your area of the world or career field, so you better understand every part of the JIIM-Plus world. The world is not going to get less complex so prepare your mind for the challenges ahead. Be creative and curious; the alternative can be deadly.

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Jason spent 23 years in USG service conducting defense, diplomacy, intelligence, and education missions globally. Now he teaches, writes, podcasts, and speaks publicly about Islam, foreign affairs, and national security. He serves on the Board of Directors for 2 non-profits and aids conflict resolution in Afghanistan.