NORFOLK, Va. – NATO's Allied Command Transformation and the Norfolk NATO Festival co-hosted the 2019 Model NATO Challenge at Virginia Wesleyan University on March 20.
This year, 29 students from Hampton Roads high schools and Virginia Wesleyan University were selected to participate in a mock global crisis simulation, confronting issues facing today’s 29-member NATO Alliance. This was the fifth year that Virginia Wesleyan University hosted the event.
Following the selection process, student diplomats were assigned a NATO Nation and mentor - a military officer currently serving with NATO’s Allied Command Transformation. The international mentor prepared their student diplomat for the challenge through organized study sessions focused on their country’s culture, military resources and political backgrounds.
Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation Admiral Manfred Nielson provided opening remarks for the event, emphasizing NATO’s strong partnership with the Norfolk NATO Festival Committee, Virginia Wesleyan University and the Norfolk community as a whole.
“NATO’s Allied Command Transformation continues to be committed to working with the local community here in Hampton Roads,” said Nielson. “Through school visits, various high-level conferences, volunteer projects and upcoming outreach opportunities during the Norfolk NATO Festival, we are happy to live and work alongside our American friends.”
Admiral Nielson also expressed his gratitude for the students’ and mentors’ dedication leading up to this year’s challenge.
“I hope that you all learn about the challenges that we can face as an Alliance, but I hope you also learn about true accomplishment,” said Nielson. “Your participation today as student diplomats only makes our Alliance stronger and our future brighter.”
During the challenge, student diplomats worked together to address a mock crisis scenario such as piracy, immigration or another global issues that could potentially impact the Alliance. Student diplomats were judged on their leadership and diplomacy skills, and the top three finalists will be awarded college scholarships.
The four judges this year were professors from Virginia Wesleyan University and NATO’s Allied Command Transformation.
Romanian Air Force Colonel Mihai Stir, assigned with Allied Command Transformation, was grateful to serve as a judge after mentoring for the past several years.
“The most important takeaways for me are the great friendships, cooperation and good relations developed between NATO and the local community, especially the young generation,” said Stir.
Sasha Frederick, a Princess Anne High School student, represented France during the Model NATO Challenge. This was Frederick’s second year participating in the challenge and she wanted to contribute more to the challenge proceedings. She expressed that she had a lot of fun the previous year, but she did not feel as prepared, so she made more of an effort to work closely with her mentor.
“I was really happy to get France,” said Frederick. “I felt more comfortable asking questions this year and coordinated well with my mentor. I took advantage of their knowledge and experience.”
When asked about the challenges with collaboration within NATO, Frederick emphasized that the Model NATO Challenge provides students with a unique perspective on consensus.
“I think that it is really hard [to decide] because everyone has a differing opinion and everyone needs to come to consensus. It can be difficult to get things done,” said Frederick. “I think we did a really good job during the event including everyone and giving everyone a chance to speak.”
Italian Navy Lieutenant Commander Mario Sabatini served as the mentor for Italy. This was his first time as a mentor for the challenge, so he did not know what to expect, but was grateful for the experience.
"I think this event is as important for the students, as it is for us," said Sabatini. "I didn’t have the opportunity to live the same experience when I was a student and, at this point, I wish I could have."
Sabatini also described how the Model NATO Challenge encourages students and mentors to get out of their comfort zones and try something new.
“When you do anything that is new you grow. You challenge yourself. If you stay with what you know, you never grow,” stressed Sabatini.
Another mentor, Norwegian Army Lieutenant Colonel Tor Are Harvey explained how the Model NATO Challenge gives young adults an opportunity to learn life skills and understand new perspectives.
“Learning how to rely on others, speak with others, understand others and be able to listen are skills that, especially young ones, often forget,” said Harvey. “The whole core of NATO is consensus. It’s all about listening to what other nations say … to understand the situation from their perspectives, so that we can have a common way to solve issues and to discuss them among all nations.”
The Model NATO Challenge serves as a bridge between the local community, academia, military organizations and the NATO Alliance.
As one of NATO’s two strategic commands, Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation has been located in the United States since its inception in 2003. The City of Norfolk, and the region as a whole, serve as exceptional hosts to military and civilian personnel from 34 allied and partner nations. As the warfare development command for NATO, Allied Command Transformation’s mission is to contribute to preserving the peace, security and territorial integrity of Alliance member states by leading the transformation efforts of military structures, forces, capabilities and doctrines.