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Reservist completes FBI National Academy

  • Published
  • By Capt. Amanda Opitz
Dedicating your life to serve and protect and sharing in the brotherhood of arms are obvious parallels between the American military and law enforcement cultures. However, not many people get to experience just how similar these two communities really can be.

Col. Paul Sternal, the senior individual mobilization augmentee and Reserve adviser to the deputy commander of the Joint Force Headquarters-Department of Defense Information Networks, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, is one of those unique individuals who gets to wear both hats. In his civilian life,

Sternal is an assistant special agent in charge with the Defense Criminal Investigative Service. In this capacity, he was recently selected to attend the FBI’s National Academy, an 11-week professional development course for leaders in U.S. and international law enforcement.

Although the course naturally focused on developing and improving professional abilities in both a classroom and field environment, some of the most important lessons came from softer, less technical skill sets that span both the military and law enforcement realms.

For Sternal, the biggest takeaway from the academy was the importance of communication strategies when dealing with people across a wide spectrum of backgrounds and intents.

In both law enforcement and the military, you learn to “interface with people, from allies to adversaries, and everything in between,” the colonel said. And although the importance of these strategies may seem obvious in high-stress, adversarial environments like deployments, to Sternal it was even more important to learn how to best turn away from aggressive tactics and pivot toward supportive communication strategies with one’s own staff.

“In law enforcement, it’s particularly challenging to keep a positive outlook when you’re dealing with people who don’t have the government’s best interest at mind or who are not dealing with you above board,” Sternal said. “It can be difficult to move from that perspective and then turn to your own staff and be a strong and positive leader.”

That type of communication takes just as much, if not more, care and attention in order to be present and supportive. For Sternal, the training offered by the FBI enforced many of the lessons the Air Force has taught him throughout his career and brought interpersonal communication to the forefront of his leadership focus.

The other prevalent theme highlighted during his training was networking. As a long-time Reservist, Sternal is no stranger to the weight personal networks can carry.

“It’s amazing, particularly in the Reserve, the talent pool that’s available when you have people who have dual careers,” he said.

Sternal noted that when working with joint forces, the more colleagues someone has to assist him, the better off he is; you never know the resources people have at their fingertips. The colonel said the academy was a particularly interesting place to continue developing a network, because he was able to interact with people from organizations he would not ordinarily encounter. Sternal was also able to witness firsthand the nature of joint work in law enforcement.

“In the military services, there’s a healthy level of rivalry between services, but when we combine forces, it’s a unified effort,” he said. “It’s similar in the law enforcement world. When the rubber meets the road, whether on a task force or a joint operation, people come together and unite to get the mission done.”

Overall, Sternal said he was highly impressed with the FBI National Academy, particularly the level of discipline and situational awareness, and sense of mission and purpose exhibited by all of the participants. He left feeling energized and armed with a new focus on leadership’s softer skills, which he looks forward to carrying into both his law enforcement and military careers.

(Optiz is an IMA assigned to the Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command public affairs office at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.)