So Long and Farewell: Dr. Wells on His #NewAdventures

Wells Photo

By Jonathan Fredrickson

On Tuesday June 23rd, Dr. Wells and I sat down and spoke on his history with the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, what inspired him to establish TIDES, his accomplishments, his plans, and whatever else comes next. Though his experiences go far beyond a twenty-minute interview, it was a wonderful chance to learn about his history. It is hard to imagine this office without his guidance and I truly wish him the best on his new journey and all of the changes that come with it.

Before he arrived at National Defense University, Dr. Wells served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in Networks and Information Integration at the Pentagon. After nine years in the role, which he enjoyed, he needed a change as “while the work was fascinating, it was getting a little stale and I wanted something new.” Fortunately, Dr. Hans Binnidijk had an opening for him within the office. His former colleague and friend saw that the office could use his expertise and, after a competitive process, he was offered the position of the Transformation Chair. It was in 2007 that he joined CTNSP.

As the Transformation Chair, Dr. Wells worked with representatives from the DoD and international professional military institutions as part of the International Transformation (ITX) Chairs Network in order to facilitate the inclusion of transformation-related topics into the curricula of joint and professional military institutions. The long-term aim of the program is to enhance innovative learning and leadership development in military schools. He has held this chair since his promotion and has continued to promote the necessary modifications to enhance the professional military schools.

In 2010, Dr. Wells applied for, and was selected for his current position as Director of the Center for Technology and National Security Policy. Upon taking this prestigious position, he had a number of goals that he wished to tackle. Originally, the office was organized around civil military affairs integration, emerging challenges, life sciences, and general science and technology. Yet, Dr. Wells felt there were opportunities to increase emphasis on innovative learning and information and communications technology (ICT) within the Center. Fortunately, he is confident that the office, as it stands, is continuing to develop along stable lines and has adequate funding for the rest of fiscal year.

After talking about his goals, we shifted focus to his accomplishments as director. He smiled as he spoke of how far STAR-TIDES has come since its beginning in 2007.  TIDES’ focus on solutions that can be sustained by local populations in their worlds, with their resources and with private sector engagement, has become more much more widely accepted across both DoD and outside communities.  We also have learned a lot about integrated approaches involving the various TIDES infrastructures.  Related programs have developed real capabilities such as the Pre-positioned Expeditionary Assistance Kits (PEAK) and similar systems.  Finally, the STAR-TIDES network has grown, further expanding engagement with talent worldwide.  He also was proud of progress in other CTNSP research areas:  civil-military activities integration (which includes TIDES), innovative learning, emerging challenges (cyber, space, autonomous systems, etc.) and science & technology, especially chem-bio defense and human hardiness. There is a strong basis for future knowledge creation.

As our discussion of accomplishments concluded, we returned to TIDES and explored how it became a DoD research project within CTNSP.  Dr. Wells mentioned that the genesis came from two specific points–the first was an idea raised by Mr. Jim Craft, now Chief Information Office (CIO) at the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), about how to share knowledge about infrastructures for transient populations, based on his experiences in Afghanistan.  Second was the fact that areas of responsibilities in the Pentagon often get very stovepiped–cross-cutting approaches can be hard.  In this environment, NDU offered a chance to pursue integrated solutions in ways that would have been almost impossible anywhere else.  Once the core question was broadened to “how do people die?”–too hot, too cold, hunger, thirst, illness, injury–the basic elements of TIDES could be developed into what it has become today.

TIDES developmental history is one of long hours and a lot of effort. Acceptance within the bureaucracy and the dismantling of the “stovepipe resistance” took a great deal of time. As Dr. Wells stated, “The secret to success in government is ruthless persistence. You will never succeed the first time and perhaps even the second or third time. You just need to keep chipping away at it.” He spoke highly of how the project established itself over the years through “our ability to deliver useful product in a variety of situations…and that we have been able to create increasingly attractive and informative demonstrations.”

On his hopes for TIDES after he transitions, he feels that the next step is for the mission of the project to institutionalize throughout the COCOMS all over the world. At this time, “the spirit of TIDES is far too focused within CTNSP. If, for some reason, CTNSP is defunded in the future, we need to have other organizations keep this goal alive.” He sees progress in a number of areas, which is hopeful. Specifically, USPACOM and USSOUTHCOM have invested the energy and effort to ensure that this project has roots in those regions. Unfortunately, the central problem is that it is difficult to ensure continuity when staff members are consistently shifting between centers. Yet, despite the obstacles, he remains confident that TIDES has a future and will continue to play an important role in HA/DR.

Of course, his eyes looked towards his own future as well. June 30th was his late day as a federal employee and he already knew how he wished to spend his impending free time. As he describes, “If I had complete freedom, I would spend a third of the time doing something compensatory…a third of the time travelling with Linda and spending time with my grandkids…and the final third teaching and writing as a Visiting Fellow at NDU.” Furthermore, he has a number of book outlines planned that he hopes to begin sometime soon.

Though I had only been in the office for five months by this time, I already knew that I, too, would feel his absence. Fifty-one years of service is not an accomplishment that many can claim. As was stated by most of the attendees that sat through his transition ceremony, he is one of the most interesting, passionate, and intelligent individuals that anyone has ever met. In whatever adventures come next, he will most certainly leave a mark wherever he goes. I can only wish him good health and good luck.


About startides

TIDES Research Assistant Intern
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