Community leaders get peek behind the security curtain during forum

  • Published
  • By Airman Ashley J. Cass
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Four Rapid City community leaders had the opportunity to participate in the 59th annual National Security Forum from May 7 to 11, 2012, at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and received an up-close review of our nation's security processes and operations.

The invitation-only forum is sponsored by the Secretary of the Air Force, and gives civilians and servicemembers an opportunity to interact and exchange ideas on security concerns, not only in the Air Force, but on the national and international levels, as well.

Mark Merchen, the manager of Economic Development, Legislative and Public Affairs at West River Electric in Rapid City, was among about 130 civilian leaders from 47 states who attended the event.

He had heard positive feedback from previous forum attendees, but was initially unsure about the level of interaction that would take place.

Merchen was pleased to see that the military leaders involved were very interested in what the groups had to say. "They wanted us to tell them what we were thinking and the challenges we face every day," he said.

J.P. Duniphan, a member of the Ellsworth Task Force and honorary commander for the 28th Medical Support Squadron, knew little about the NSF prior to her participation.

"I really wanted to hear where we were going globally and how secure our nation would be," Duniphan said. "I was especially interested in the cyberspace issue that we have to start looking at. So much of what we do now is going to be in space and through strategic alliances with our global partners. We're the strongest nation on Earth, but we're going to need partners."

Civilians and servicemembers at the forum listened to a long list of guest speakers during the morning sessions, including Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Donley, Duniphan said. In the afternoons, they met in smaller, assigned groups for spirited discussions.

"When you talk to people that are so well informed, it just adds to the discussion," said Duniphan.

Merchen said that open and honest debating was encouraged.

"You could say whatever you wanted to say," said Duniphan. "But if you put a position out there, you had to defend it."

Duniphan said interacting with past and current AWC students has given her a greater understanding of how important Ellsworth is to the community, and the total picture of the Air Force.

"You just can't imagine how bright and strategic our emerging leaders are," Duniphan said.

Merchen said the AWC should continue to offer the NSF. "It gives the Air Force the opportunity to advance the skill sets and assets of its members and civilian partners," he added.

Merchen said the material was helpful, and that he hopes the experience was as good for the AWC and its guest speakers as it was for the students.

"The information that comes back to the communities, large and small, across the country helps to maintain a positive effect on our military," Duniphan said. "It's a win-win for everyone."

"It's a very unique opportunity on a personal level," said Merchen. "I'm very glad I had the chance to represent my community and the Air Force."

Joining Merchen and Duniphan at the forum this year were Mutch Usera, the director of External Affairs for Black Hills Power, and Ron Jeffries, manager of Central States Fair and Black Hills Stock Show.