BOSTON — When U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) decided it needed a new strategy organization, a deliberate decision was made to establish it on a local college campus in Omaha rather than Offutt Air Force Base, home to Stratcom headquarters. It was a move very much in keeping with the efforts of Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, Stratcom’s commander, to break down walls and get the command to do business differently.
Placing the Global Strategy and Innovation Center (GISC), on the south campus of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, should help bring in outside-the-box thinkers who might normally be reluctant to spend time on a military base, GISC director Kevin Williams said in a Sept. 26 telephone interview.
The GISC, which has been operating since October 2005, formally opened the doors of its new campus headquarters Sept. 15.
While the GISC is often referred to as Strategic Command’s new think tank, Williams does not like that label. The center is charged with coming up with more than ideas — it is presenting direct courses of action that the command can take, Williams said.
The center also does not maintain an in-house staff of experts on Strategic Command’s missions like space and missile defense, Williams said. Instead, it has a core group of officials who can pull together teams of experts that can run the gamut from military officers to outside academics, he said. These officials have a short time frame to complete their work — no more than four months, he said.
“Diversity is our strength,” Cartwright said in a news release issued after the ribbon cutting at the new GISC facility. “Reaching out to all these different communities is what is critical to be able to come up with solutions that will outwit any perceived adversary that we have.”
Keeping a full in-house staff of experts could cause the GISC to grow too large and lose the speed and agility that Cartwright prizes, Williams said. Williams, a retired Air Force pilot whose career included postings at U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command, notes that he is not an expert on how satellites are built. His experience in space can help him keep a strong focus on space issues at the center as needed, he said.
The GISC, which currently has 36 people, including Williams, has filled about 65 percent of its allotted positions. Williams said that number could grow to about 90 percent within the next few months.
While much of the GISC’s work is classified, the center maintains a partnership group that is its primary connection to thinkers from outside the government. One example of this group’s recent work was to address the threat of the avian flu, Williams said.
The partnership group, which in this case included officials from Nebraska’s local and state governments, put together models that could help predict whether the flu virus was approaching Nebraska, and a plan for quick distribution of vaccines, Williams said. The GISC bounced ideas during the process off officials from other state governments, and shared its plans with them once they were finished, he said. The planning developed to counter the avian flu also could likely be applied to dealing with a chemical or biological weapon attack on the United States, Williams said.
Williams also wants to stimulate thinking at the GISC by starting an internship program that will kick off in January. The interns, who will be college seniors, might bring ideas to the table that even seasoned military officials have not thought off, he said.
Co-located on the University of Nebraska at Omaha south campus with the Scott Technology Center, the 13,228-square-meter GISC facility has access to Omaha’s fiber-optic capabilities, robust construction and proximity to the Peter Kiewit Institute — a National Security Agency-designated Center of Excellence, according to a Sept. 18 U.S. Stratcom press release about the dedication of the new building.
Rod Moseman, vice president for economic development at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said that the GISC is a great example of the partnership between the public and private sectors in Omaha.
The private sector raised $47 million to build the GISC headquarters, with $23 million coming from the state government, Moseman said in a Sept. 20 telephone interview. In most other similar cases of construction across the country, that ratio would be reversed, he said.
“There is a very strong corporate commitment here,” Moseman said.
The expansion of Strategic Command’s responsibilities in recent years, including taking over the space mission from U.S. Space Command in 2002, has been a major boon to the Omaha business community, including more than 1,200 new jobs over the past three years, Moseman said.
The chamber has worked with the state government to offer a variety of incentives like tax credits for companies to come to Omaha or expand their work in the area, he said.