Operation Warp Speed Earns CHDS Alum Top Awards

A Center for Homeland Defense and Security Master’s alumnus has been recognized with top awards for playing a key role in the Operation Warp Speed initiative aimed at rapidly developing a COVID-19 vaccine while serving as a visiting professor at the U.S. Army War College (USAWC). 

Dr. Eric Powell

Last year, Dr. Eric Powell (Master’s Program cohort 1101/1102) was chosen to receive three awards from the Office of the Secretary of Defense in May 2021 for his work as a senior science advisor for the Operation Warp Speed Countermeasures Acceleration Group’s Security and Assurance Team at the Vaccine Operations Center. The awards include the Award for Excellence, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, and the Armed Forces Civilian Support Medal. 

Then, as he was completing his Operation Warp Speed assignment in November 2021, Powell was tabbed for a second Award for Excellence for his work on Operation Warp Speed. 

Powell, who is currently working as a U.S. Health and Human Services senior science advisor, had previously received two Civilian of the Week awards for his work on Operation Warp Speed from the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center and the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center in December 2020. 

He said the awards “humbled” him and he said they and the opportunities he has had to work on major national initiatives would not have been possible without CHDS, which he called the “most beneficial opportunity with respect to my professional development.” 

“These awards mean a great deal to me as I get to share them with the Center for Homeland Defense and Security,” Powell said. “If I had not had the incredible opportunity to study in Monterey, I would never have been able to serve the USAWC and HHS in the manner I did. My studies at [the Naval Postgraduate School were] critical for what we faced during the pandemic.” 

Powell, who graduated from the CHDS Master’s Program in 2016, said his “experiences at the U.S. Army War College and the follow-on assignment at U.S. Health and Human Services were the most fulfilling of my career.” 

Tapped to serve as a visiting professor of National Security Studies in the Center for Strategic Leadership at the USAWC in 2014, Powell said he was expecting to serve a year and ended up there for nearly seven, exhausting the time limit for an Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointee. 

“Working with the Homeland Defense and Security Issues Group Director Prof. Bert Tussing was an amazing journey,” he said, describing Tussing, who is an active CHDS University and Agency Public Partnership Program participant, as the “nation’s go-to expert on Homeland Defense and Security.” 

“It was the best place I have ever worked,” Powell added. “It provided me with more opportunities to serve than I could have ever hoped. Having Bert Tussing as my director was an absolute treat. He is a bundle of energy and knows more about homeland defense than anyone I know.” 

UAPP Director Steve Recca described Tussing as the “preeminent homeland defense thinker” who has “helped integrate Department of Defense and National Guard missions and activities into our homeland security education framework.” 

At the USAWC, Powell said he specialized in Homeland Operations (Army Warfighter Challenge #6) and Multi-Domain Operations (also known as Multi-Domain Battle concepts), which “explore the air, sea, land, cyber, space, electromagnetic spectrum, asymmetrical warfare, and information operations domains.” 

He said he and Tussing taught elective courses for the Master of Strategic Studies program, advised thesis students, performed outreach across the nation, published, and performed subject matter expertise and controller functions for senior service institution wargames, and served as managing editor of the Homeland Defense and Civil Support Journal, among other duties. 

While at USAWC, Powell was also able to attend and graduate from the College of Naval Command and Staff at the U.S. Naval War College in 2022, and also helped publish a hybrid warfare-related integrated research project publication with students entitled, “Contested Deployment,” with Tussing as lead editor. 

In 2016, Powell was chosen to receive the Commander’s Award for Public Service from the Department of the Army for the first of two tours at the USAWC. 

Then, in May 2020, Powell was asked by Tussing and Center for Strategic Leadership Deputy Director Prof. Samuel White if he wanted to volunteer as a USAWC representative for two to three weeks with the newly formed Operation Warp Speed initiative in Washington D.C. The initiative was a joint endeavor between the federal government, Department of Defense, and the private sector to develop policy, supply chain, distribution, and administration of vaccines and therapeutics to combat COVID-19. 

He agreed and ended up working on the mission for 19 months, until just before Thanksgiving 2021. Powell said his USAWC background “helped immeasurably in the dynamic, complex pandemic and medical countermeasures development environment.” 

In the Office of the Secretary of Defense award nomination memorandum, Powell was lauded for his “exemplary performance as the Vaccine Security Planner and Scientific Advisor for Operation Warp Speed.”

“Selected by name by Army War College to serve as the subject matter expert for scientific issues related to security of vaccines in support of COVID-19 pandemic response, Dr. Powell hit the ground running when he joined OWS and never slowed down. He quickly demonstrated his expertise to all organizations within the Department of Health and Human Services, across the industry and interagency partners associated with OWS,” the memo continued. 

“Dr. Powell professionally represented the Army War College to senior leaders across the Department of Defense, the Department of Health and Human Services and personally represented the Security and Assurance team at daily vaccine and therapeutic clinical discussions. He personally developed a method to track clinical development of vaccines and therapeutics and identified key vulnerabilities in the processes to apply additional security measures. His clear and concise method of communication allowed senior leaders enhanced understanding of the complex vaccine manufacturing process. Without him, details would have been missed and opportunities would have been wasted.”

“Dr. Powell’s efforts helped to accelerate the development, manufacture, and distribution of life-saving vaccines to more than 300 million Americans and will also support the world. Americans will experience safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics to protect against the SARS-COV-2 virus. Dr. Powell’s relentless dedication and patriotic efforts to achieve this epic feat in support of the people of the United States of America set him apart. As the country emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, this and future generations will remember his efforts. The distinctive accomplishments of Dr. John Eric Powell reflect great credit upon himself, the United States Army, and the Department of Defense,” the memo concluded.

Hearkening back to his time at CHDS, Powell said he remembers CHDS faculty telling his cohort after graduation that they would “most likely be working in another position within a year or two.” 

“That was certainly the case for many of my classmates and me,” he said, noting that “not only did the NPS/CHDS faculty prepare us to think strategically but they also taught us to think about future complex issues (for example, emerging and disruptive technologies). The (CHDS) faculty were certainly world-class, similar to the incredible colleagues I was able to work with at the USAWC.” 

He said perhaps his most vivid memory from the CHDS classroom was being challenged by CHDS instructor Chris Bellavita, who he remembers asked the ubiquitous question, “So what?” during class dialogue.  

“I do the same with my students and colleagues now,” Powell said. 

“Just as I owe whatever professional successes I may have earned to the (CHDS) faculty, I equally owe them to my terrific friends [and] classmates from cohort 1101/1102,” he added. “They are all amazing. Being in the class with experts in emergency management, the FBI, Los Angeles Fire, Los Angeles Police, Chicago Fire, Chicago Police, Tulsa Police, Austin Fire, the Army National Guard, and so many others, helped me grow as a science and security professional. As much as I laud their intellect and professionalism, I offer that they are even better human beings.”

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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