International Maritime officers visit College, Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Friday, March 1, the College of William and Mary Whole of Government Center of Excellence and the Reves Center for International Studies hosted a lunch and conversation at Commons Dining Hall between students, faculty and staff, as well as participants and instructors of the International Maritime Officers Course at United States Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown, VA.

IMOC is a triannual 12-week program that provides international Navy and Coast Guard officers professional military education and American cultural experiences to foster friendship, partnership and cooperation with the United States. This is the 71st iteration of the program.

In the fourth week of IMOC-71, 20 officers from 13 countries visited the College and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science across two days. 

A diverse group of officers from around the world are assigned to participate in IMOC. This cohort’s represented countries included Argentina, Benin, Djibouti, Fiji, Italy, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Mozambique, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Tonga.

USCG Lt. Mack Marcenelle is one of the people who helps lead the program. 

“The purpose of IMOC is to bring in all of our international partners from all over the world to learn everything Coast Guard,” Marcenelle said. 

IMOC participants study a wide range of topics relevant to partner countries, including maritime safety and law enforcement, as well as crisis and disaster responses, taught by subject matter experts in the United States. In addition to receiving training and lectures in Virginia, the cohort also traveled to USCG bases in North Carolina.

Later in the curriculum, IMOC participants will travel to major East Coast cities, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as well as the United States Naval and Coast Guard Academies.

“It’s an immersion experience,” Marcenelle said. “Outside of coming here to learn everything Coast Guard, they’re learning about the U.S. government, history, financial institutions and our educational institutions, which is where William and Mary comes into play.”

IMOC cohorts have visited the College since 2020 through partnership with the WGC. The center provides mid-career public policy professionals and military officers in federal, state and local agencies practical training on interagency collaboration, complex national security and other public policy problems. Additionally, the WGC has collaborated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to support the William and Mary Global Innovation Challenge for the last four years and the 2023 NATO Youth Summit.

During their visit, IMOC-71 visited academic buildings, research labs and VIMS, where faculty presented on scientific support for spill planning and response, unreported and unregulated illegal fishing, cybersecurity, cost-benefit analysis and resource constrained decision-making as well as tools for national influence and entrepreneurial thinking. 

One of the participants, Armed Forces of Malta Lt. J.G. William Buttgieg, reflected on his visit to the College.

“We had some pretty interesting lectures,” Buttgieg said. “You can see that people are proud to be here and they want to give the best to their students. I’m very impressed.”

He also discussed the natural beauty and rich history in Hampton Roads and expressed excitement over future parts of the curriculum.

“I’m really looking forward to our East Coast trip,” Buttgieg said. “We’ll visit other U.S. Coast Guard bases and also landmarks [like] the White House and the Statue of Liberty. You hear a lot about these things and see it on television, but being able to go there and even get the local history as well. I’m really looking forward to it.”

In addition to the luncheon held at the Caf, IMOC-71 will also have luncheons during visits to the USNA and USCGA. Marcenelle addressed the merit of these interactions between officers and college students.

“There are international students attending both of those schools,” Marcenelle said. “We find it to be extremely fruitful because the students are usually a little bit younger and our officers are typically a little bit older. So there’s some shared camaraderie coming from similar countries. It’s a little bit of a comfort piece where they get to speak the language that they’ve had back home. They get to talk about some good stories from things they’ve gotten to experience since they’ve been in the U.S. and some different cultural things that they’ve had to overcome.”

Brennen Micheal ’24, one of the students who attended the luncheon, spoke to officers from Sri Lanka.  Micheal said he looked forward to meeting them since he worked on the Sri Lanka desk at the United States Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii last summer. He also spoke with officers from Djibouti, Fiji and Italy.

“Overall, I really enjoyed it,” Micheal said. “It was really interesting and such a cool experience. I got to hear about their program, why they’re here, and some of their impressions of the U.S. as well.”

Although their time in the United States is temporary, officers like Buttgieg are eager to apply what they have learned with senior officers upon returning to their respective countries.

“It’s [about] building bridges and sharing the knowledge,” Buttgieg said.

CORRECTION (03/08/24): Article was updated by Anna Saal, the Standards and Practices Editor to clarify image credit, edit minor grammatical issues, and correct two factual errors. A previous version of this article listed the institute as the Virginia Marine Institute of Science and inaccurately stated how long IMOC cohorts have visited the College.


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