In June 2018, I arrived on Oahu to begin my internship as a Summer Fellow at the headquarters of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, or USINDOPACOM. One of six geographic combatant commands under the Department of Defense, USINDOPACOM had recently assumed a new name (formerly, U.S. Pacific Command) as well as a new Commander, Admiral Phil Davidson, less than two weeks before I arrived. USINDOPACOM’s area of responsibility covers nearly half the earth’s surface and stretches from the west coast of the U.S. to the west coast of India, bringing with it a set of challenges as diverse as the region itself and encompassing several of America’s most steadfast allies. The dynamism of the Indo-Pacific was highlighted when my first week coincided with President Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
As part of the Strategy and Policy branch, which develops strategy and plans for the command’s area of responsibility in accordance with national guidance such as the National Defense Strategy, I grappled with a new language – Department of Defense acronyms – but received support and encouragement, and a crash course in the Napoleonic military staff structure, from those around me. As a joint command, USINDOPACOM’s staff includes personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, as well as Department of Defense civilians, contractors, and liaison officers from other federal agencies, each bringing different perspectives to the work of the command.
One of the highlights of the summer was observing the 2018 Rim of the Pacific or RIMPAC exercise, the world’s largest international naval exercise, which takes place every two years in Honolulu. In addition to improving interoperability between forces of different countries (such as Vietnam, participating this year for the first time), RIMPAC is an opportunity for building international trust and cultural exchange. This was on full display during open ship tours, as vessels from the U.S., Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, India, the Philippines and other countries welcomed visitors aboard (with the Peruvian sailors offering samples of RIMPAC pisco aboard their ship!).
Working at USINDOPACOM throughout an eventful summer gave me an unparalleled opportunity to apply my academic work at Maxwell in national security and Asia-Pacific affairs to thorny strategic questions in a rapidly evolving environment – with just enough time to enjoy the beauty of Hawai’i as well.
Libby Kokemoor is a joint MPA/MAIR student in her final semester. She is also a Robertson Fellow. During her second Fall Semester, she also interned at the U.S. Department of State.