On 29 June, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) completed its fourth annual Washington Program on National Security. It has been suggested that, in keeping with Washington’s acronym obsession, WAPONS should hereafter be known affectionately as the NSB – which, confidentially, strictly on a “need to know” basis, stands for National Security Bootcamp. A bootcamp it was indeed, once again, under the guidance of AHI Senior Fellow Dr. Juliana Pilon. As in the previous three years, with the usual exhilaration followed by the mind-hurt, students from colleges across the country were exposed to a rush of new ideas and inevitably inadequate trigger-warnings before visits to the Holocaust Museum and CHRNK (Committee for Human Rights in North Korea), not to mention non-stop interesting conversations with both a slew of experts eager to share their personal and professional experiences and fellow-participants. “I loved every minute of it,” said one student. “These two weeks have been a dream come true.”

In truth, most participants admitted not quite knowing what to dream, despite the stellar list of people they were about to meet.  They included an Army General with a sense of humor matched by both humility and candor; several world-class cybersecurity wonks, ranging from academic-practitioners, technology transfer specialists, and currency-fraud enforcers; first-rate constitutional scholars steeped in American history; humanitarians whose compassion includes verifying the actual success of their efforts; several of the country’s top experts on Soviet (now Russian) disinformation. No other program on national security undertakes so much in so little time, visiting so many places, and meeting so many accomplished people who are also warm, funny, as well as willing to engage with participants not only during the visits but after the program’s end.

This year’s participants ranged the country, from New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Texas, Connecticut, Ohio, Maryland, Kansas, Michigan, and Arizona.  Their majors varied from economics and international affairs to law, intelligence, and teaching. But all profited, each in his or her special way. Their photos speak for themselves – as do their comments, a few of which follow:

“The amount of knowledge and inspiration I gained from this program was truly remarkable. I can’t even properly describe how amazing it was to be part of it and become friends with such fantastic people.” (University of Northern Texas)

“Not only was it [the program] insightful but it offered me the opportunity to obtain a greater understanding of the issues, policies, and inner workings of national security…. I also enjoyed working and exchanging ideas with the diverse students that attended the program as it allowed me to widen my views on policy issues. (Stony Brook University)

“I thought the program was highly informative, as I learned about the workings of the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] and Think Tanks, which are areas that are of interest to me and ones I have not considered looking in to in so much detail. I got to hear from several extremely informed and credentialed people as to these roles and it was quite an interesting experience. I will certainly be taking back what I have learned for our student organization and department heads, as they are topics that are often passed over.” (University of Northern Georgia)

“Words cannot express how thankful I am for the experience I had these last two weeks. I feel so privileged that I not only got to know and learn from you, but also get to know and learn from my fellow participants. It is also true that some of the individuals we met, I may never have gotten the wonderful privilege to meet otherwise. I am so excited to reach out to some of those individuals and learn more about their work. This program made me realize the multitude of options available to me, and I cannot wait to pursue some of them. I meant it when I said you helped me realize that there could be more options out there than a professorship.” (Colgate University)

“I was floored by the knowledge base that we encountered over our time in DC. It was overwhelming, but in a very good way. I especially enjoyed the public diplomacy discussions with both diplomats and VOA [Voice of America] operators and think tank specialists. It was well worth the trip. The discussions in the metro with you and other students were very rewarding also.”  (Oklahoma Wesleyan University)

Whoever said that discussions in the Metro aren’t just as important? (Especially when the next train happens to be half an hour late because it had hit a deer….  Just one of those totally unexpected things that must be expected to happen.)

But perhaps the most astounding assessment comes from a young man who had never before left his Southern hometown: “It was truly like living an intellectual bildungsroman.”  He was of course referring to himself, but none of us can deny that our own particular bildungsroman has just concluded another fine chapter – thanks to everyone involved. That includes specifically all the 2019 WAPONS participants, experts, and everyone at the AHI – particularly our fearless leader, president and co-founder Bob Paquette, along with the AHI’s great staff, trustees, and peerless fellows. Most of all, however, thanks are due to the wonderful Bradley Foundation that has made this unique program possible from its inception in 2016.