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1st Sgt. Brandon Smart, USMC

MBA '22

1st Sgt. Brandon E. Smart, a highly accomplished Marine with over 18 years of dedicated service, has excelled in a variety of roles and assignments. He served as a Marine Corps instructor, a Change Advocate for NavalX and Deputy Director for the Centers of Adaptive Warfighting, and a student at Naval Postgraduate School. He also served as the enlisted Development and Investment Analyst for the Talent Management Strategy Group, where he helped to develop and implement innovative solutions to impact recruitment, investment, and retention in the Marine Corps.

Currently, he serves as a Company First Sergeant, mentor, and leader to young student officers at The Basic School, where he continues to make a positive impact on the Marine Corps and its future leaders.

What was the most impactful part of your studies at the Naval Postgraduate School?

The most impactful part of my studies at NPS was being part of a community of students and faculty who were passionate about their work and driven to make meaningful contributions to Naval education and innovation. The wealth of knowledge and experience I encountered challenged me to think beyond traditional approaches and pushed me to pursue projects that have long-term impacts.

What was the most impactful moment while working in the Naval Warfare Studies Institute at NPS?

The most impactful moment while working at NWSI was seeing firsthand how the institute facilitated communication between operational commands and the research conducted at NPS. This rapid transfer of information and knowledge-sharing is crucial to solving operational challenges and strengthening the Navy's readiness.

How has your NPS education impacted your follow-on assignment thus far?

While my follow-on assignment was cut short, my education at NPS has had a significant impact. My research was the driving force behind expanded enlisted education opportunities and the MARADMIN allowing NPS to accept the first large, enlisted cohort of Marines in traditionally officer-only programs. I am honored that my research has contributed to such important policy changes and grateful for the opportunities NPS has given me to make a difference.

You and your research were the driving force behind the SMART Act. Can you tell us about the experience of seeing that legislation move through Congress?

I was afforded the opportunity to conduct research at the Naval Postgraduate School that provided the foundation for the act, which is focused on providing enlisted service members with greater access to advanced education opportunities at NPS. I had the opportunity to brief my research to a group of congressional staffers. From there, they were inspired enough to take on a project which ended up being the SMART Act. I am honored that my research was the driving function for this and happy that I was able to be a sounding board with the hard-working team that put the Act into reality.

Why is it important for the services to offer enlisted personnel more access to advanced education opportunities?

Enlisted personnel are the backbone of the military, and they make up the vast majority of the force. Providing them with greater access to advanced education opportunities is important for several reasons. First, it helps to enhance their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential in today's complex and rapidly changing military environment. Second, it can help to increase retention rates by providing enlisted personnel with a sense of purpose and a pathway to career advancement. Finally, it can help to build a more diverse and educated military, which is essential for maintaining a competitive edge in today's global security environment.

Why is it important for operational commands to be tied into the Naval Postgraduate School through the Naval Warfare Studies Institute?

NWSI is the bridge between the operational needs of the fleet and the research and academic communities at NPS. This connection is crucial in rapidly transferring information, addressing areas that need attention, and identifying research that directly addresses operational needs. NPS is where research happens, and NWSI is the conduit that connects it to the commands that need answers.  

What are some of the ways that U.S. Pacific Fleet is working with NPS and providing influence and guidance on research and operational problem sets?

The U.S. Pacific Fleet works closely with the Naval Postgraduate School through the Naval Warfare Studies Institute to provide influence and guidance on research and operational problem sets. One example is the research conducted in grey zone operations and contested logistics that is specifically designed to address the challenges that Pacific Fleet faces in the region. Pacific Fleet also engages with graduate students from the Nimitz Research Group whose research directly supports the fleet's needs. The fleet regularly collaborates with NPS to stay up-to-date with the latest academic work and to ensure that the academic work of students and faculty can benefit the fleet's operations. The close working relationship between the U.S. Pacific Fleet and NPS/NWSI is essential for maintaining readiness and keeping up with the constantly evolving challenges of modern Naval warfare.

Can you provide some examples of how NWSI or the Nimitz Research Group has enhanced operational capability or capacity for the Fleet and Fleet Marine Force in the Indo-Pacific?

The Nimitz Research Group's research has directly supported the U.S. Pacific Fleet's needs. Rear Admiral Jeff Jablon, Commander of the Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet, spoke to students in the Undersea Warfare Program and the Nimitz Research Group, conveying how the knowledge created through academic work can directly benefit the fleet. NWSI's research in grey zone operations and contested logistics also provides critical support to Pacific Fleet in addressing the challenges of modern warfare.

The Secretary of the Navy recently announced the development of the Naval Innovation Center at the Naval Postgraduate School. Why is NPS the right place for the Naval Innovation Center?

NPS is the perfect location for the Naval Innovation Center due to its unique ability to carry research and innovation "the last tactical mile" within the operational context, which is often classified. NPS has a track record of working closely with the operational community, and its whole-of-university approach is designed to curate challenges, ideate solutions, and facilitate the transition to warfighting capabilities. The center's work is not just academic but is also applied and operational in nature. While other institutions do relevant research, NPS has a deep understanding of the Navy's operational needs and can apply that knowledge to solve complex problems, making it the ideal location for the Naval Innovation Center.

What would the Naval Innovation Center at NPS do for the research and innovation ecosystem that currently exists at NPS?

The Naval Innovation Center at NPS would provide a systematic approach to addressing naval priorities by ideating possible solutions and experimenting with minimum viable solutions. It would enhance the university's research and innovation ecosystem by facilitating collaboration between the operational community and the academic community. It would provide a platform for the Naval Postgraduate School to leverage its strengths in interdisciplinary research, emerging technologies, and partnerships with the defense industry to deliver innovative solutions that address the Navy's most pressing challenges. Additionally, the Naval Innovation Center at NPS would help bridge the gap between research and operational needs, and facilitate the transition of research findings into practical applications for the fleet.

What might be the impact on programs like the Naval Warfare Studies Institute and research working groups, such as the Nimitz Research Group?

The center would provide a platform for NWSI and the NRG to execute research and innovative solutions with speed and agility, in response to command and fleet problems. This would allow for the rapid transition of research findings into operational capabilities, increasing the effectiveness of the Navy and the Marine Corps. The center would also provide a space for collaboration and information sharing between NPS, the operational community, industry partners, and other academic institutions, leading to more effective and impactful research.

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