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Deterrence through Education: From Harvard to Kirtland, AFGSC has a program for you

(Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Moenster, 509th Bomb Wing chief of safety, poses with his Harvard University pennant at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Three years ago Moenster participated in the Air Force Global Strike graduate-level Nuclear Deterrence Certificate from Harvard. He went on to graduate from Harvard University’s Extension School with a master’s degree in history. (Courtesy Photo)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --

Three years ago one Whiteman Air Force Base Airman opened an email from Air Force Global Strike Command that opened the doors to one of the country’s best private schools.

Thanks to the AFGSC Force Development nuclear education programs, as of 2021, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Moenster, 509th Bomb Wing chief of safety, is now a Harvard University graduate.

“When I saw Harvard offered a graduate-level Nuclear Deterrence Certificate and that AFGSC would pay for it, it seemed like a win-win for the Air Force and me,” said Moenster.

The AFGSC Force Development Nuclear Education Programs began as a response to a 2010 panel’s finding that the nuclear edge had dulled after nearly a decade of conventional focus on antiterrorism operations. Over the past decade, these programs have evolved into more than 20 nuclear education opportunities and eight avenues to either a bachelor’s or graduate degree.

After earning the four-course certificate, Moenster then completed a master’s degree in history from Harvard University’s Extension School, and University also awarded him with the prestigious Thomas Small Prize for his overall academic achievement, which included a capstone research project important to the nuclear enterprise.

“If you have a role in the nuclear mission, and everyone in AFGSC does, you should seek an opportunity to take part in these programs,” added Moenster. “It will open doors for you because the Air Force values the perspective of those that gain advanced nuclear knowledge.”

Another Airman capitalizing on these development opportunities is U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brian Miller, 509th BW command post, who attended the Nuclear 200 program in 2015.

“The program showed me the bigger picture. I got to know how the command post fits into the nuclear enterprise,” said Miller. “We usually only see a small piece, like message traffic, but after attending the course, I better understand how the message traffic enables the triad.”

The nuclear education programs provide experience that Air Force senior leaders value.

“What Lt. Col. Moenster and Sgt. Miller have done to better their understanding of the nuclear enterprise is precisely what I expect from our nuclear warriors,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Jeffrey Schreiner, 509th BW commander. “We need to sharpen the sword continually. These programs maintain our edge in deterrence and assurance operations.”

To deliver the educational programs, AFGSC partnered with the Air Force Institute of Technology and Air University to provide courses at various locations, including Kirtland and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Some courses can also be delivered at the base-level in a roadshow format.

According to Terry West, AFGSC Development Integration branch chief, the programs target two different groups.

First is general population to increase its awareness of nuclear operations through short programs like the Strategic Deterrence Basic Course. Second, targets AFGSC’s enlisted and officers with opportunities such as the Air Force Institute of Technology’s Nuclear Weapons, Effects, Policy and Proliferation certificate.

After completing the entry-level programs, Airmen are encouraged to continue their development with advanced degree programs or leadership seminars.

“Lt. Col. Moenster’s accomplishments are a huge success story for our program and it will continue to pay dividends for the command,” said West. “For example, his education enabled him to take part in a recent National Nuclear Policy and Strategy seminar that provided recommendations to Gen. Timothy Ray, AFGSC commander.”

West also encourages anyone interested in taking part of the nuclear education program to let their supervisor know and keep an eye out for informational emails.

“While the courses require time away from the office, they are of no cost to you or your unit and they do not incur any active duty service commitment,” said West. “But the main benefit is you will gain the relevant nuclear and leadership experience needed to maintain our nation’s deterrence force. These courses line up directly with the Air Force’s core nuclear competencies.”

From the entry-level programs to a full master’s degree or Ph.D. from schools like King’s College, Harvard, and Missouri State, there is a path for everyone who is interested in AFGSC Force Development nuclear education programs.