Dept of Defense training center proposed

The closest most Americans come to the U.S. Special Operations Command is through action movies or headlines splashed across newspapers revealing covert operations after they occur.

But if the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine opens a training center with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Yale students and professors may share a campus with soldiers who have come to New Haven to develop their interviewing skills.

Charles Morgan, a psychiatry professor at the Yale School of Medicine who has worked with the government on scientific research in the past, said the proposed center — the USSOCOM Center of Excellence for Operational Neuroscience — remains in the development phase because it is still under contractual negotiation. The training center, which would be a joint venture between the Department of Defense and the University, would serve as an educational institution to teach soldiers the skills to read and question people. If approved, the center could open as early as April, added Morgan, who said he would direct the program and teach interviewing to soldiers.

“[The Center would function] really to build a cadre, or cohort or group of people who are skilled in interviewing so they can move forward and train other people,” Morgan said. “They call it a force multiplier in the military.”

While the funding for the center would come entirely from a $1.8 million grant Morgan received from the Department of Defense to establish a site for teaching, conducting research and advising, classes will take place in Yale facilities and instructors may come from within the University faculty.

Morgan said the Yale Office of Grant and Contract Administration is working with the Psychiatry Department to finish paperwork securing the grant funding, which was delayed due to both congressional budget issues and the need for more time to work out funding for administrative expenses.

The Center’s annual schedule will be broken into trimesters, with two one-week “teaching modules” focused on a specific subject per trimester. Morgan said he hopes to teach up to 20 soldiers per trimester with three instructors, including himself. The curriculum aims to provide soldiers with interpersonal skills such as ways to determine whether scientists are offering legitimate benefits when offering to sell the Army products, Morgan said.

In addition to the educational component, Morgan said he wants the center to include a “very focused” science research project roughly every year and a half on topics such as the ability to sustain focus under stress and other concerns of the military. Morgan added that these research activities are not covered by the $1.8 million grant, and would require future funding.

The Center would also serve as an advisory body for the Army by providing reviews of new technologies as they relate to enhancing military function, such as which laboratories show promising research results in topics like improving people’s sleep, he added.

Besides supporting Special Operations Commands in the military, Morgan said the flow of military personnel and soldiers into New Haven for classes with the Center would give members of the Yale community a chance to meet people who have had a “very different career” than they have.

“In my profession, there are lots of doctors who have no idea there’s a war going on,” Morgan said, “and it would be nice for them to meet doctors who were deployed or in a war zone.”

University spokesman Tom Conroy and Chief Communications Officer Elizabeth Stauderman said they do not have information about the possible USSOCOM Center, and the University has not made any announcements about the Center. Morgan said the Center’s program will include instructors from outside the University’s staff, including well-known pickpocket Apollo Robbins. Robbins, who gained fame after pickpocketing former President Jimmy Carter’s Secret Service agents, would serve as an adjunct instructor if the plans for the Center are approved, he added.

The USSOCOM is the part of the Department of Defense, which oversees the Special Operations Commands for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, which perform atypical military operations and missions.

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