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Former CENTCOM chief talks new Security Institute

Mark Parker

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Retired Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie will lead the newly created Global and National Security Institute and the University of South Florida. Photo courtesy of usf.edu/news.

The University of South Florida announced the creation of the Global and National Security Institute Wednesday, with Kenneth F. “Frank” McKenzie, retired Marine Corps general and former commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), serving as its leader.

The Global and National Security Institute (GNSI) will take a collaborative approach to ensure protection across several sectors, including defense, economic and political security, health and human security and infrastructure and environmental security. Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base serves as CENTCOM’s headquarters, and the expansive facility is also home to U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

In an interview with the Catalyst, McKenzie added that U.S. Southern Command is just a few hours south in Miami, and the institute will capitalize on its distinct logistical advantages.

“So, it’s really a unique opportunity here – and you won’t find it anywhere else in the country,” McKenzie said. “Where you’ve got a major research university in an urban environment with a couple of combatant commands immediately adjacent.

“It’s a great opportunity, and I think it’s going to be a big selling point for us.”

McKenzie graduated from The Citadel in 1979 and spent over 40 years on active duty. He also served as director of the Joint Staff. Photo courtesy of centcom.mil.

While McKenzie said the military component is a key aspect – and he served the country for over four decades – the initiative will extend far beyond national defense.

He said his extensive experience working at the highest levels of policy and diplomacy alongside civilian leadership provides him the most benefit in his new position as executive director.

“So, while the military element is important, I think what we call the interagency component … and the international edge is something that will be more helpful for me personally in the role I’m in now,” added McKenzie.

The institute, said McKenzie, will bridge the divide between policy and technology. He elaborated that by technology, he meant the school’s applied research and engineering. USF is one of the nation’s top 50 public research universities and ranks first in Florida and eighth in the country for U.S. patents.

The GNSI will rely on McKenzie’s strategic planning, operational oversight and proven leadership skills. After earning the rank of general, McKenzie assumed command of CENTCOM in March 2019. He retired from active duty in April and will work alongside industry and faculty leaders from USF’s Colleges of Engineering, Arts and Sciences, Behavioral and Community Sciences, Marine Science and the Muma College of Business in his civilian role.

McKenzie noted the university is already successful in those areas, and the GNSI will provide the opportunity to combine the varying elements to reinforce each other and create added value. The institute will first serve the surrounding communities, he said, before bringing results to state, national and international officials.

“But we start locally because we have strong roots here in Tampa … and St. Pete as well,” said McKenzie.

According to USF, the institute’s goals include:

  • Advise city, county and state government, along with corporations, on policy matters, best practices and risk assessments related to security to protect essential infrastructure.
  • Discover innovative solutions by expanding faculty research in security.
  • Build upon existing cybersecurity, intelligence, criminology and analytics programs.
  • Support increased federal and corporate grants in national and global security.
  • Establishing a nationally and internationally prominent advisory board to help guide, communicate and evaluate the GNSI’s work.
  • Publishing actionable policy briefs associated with security threats relevant to Florida.

The institute will also advance the strategic growth of USF’s Institute for Applied Engineering as it evolves into the state’s first University Affiliated Research Center (UARC).

“There are 14 of those in the United States,” said McKenzie. “There are none in the State of Florida – despite our large military footprint and significant technology base that exists in the state.

“So we think that’s a need and would like to see USF receive that designation over the next few years.”

McKenzie said the institute would significantly increase the university’s national visibility, and reiterated that the things that make USF great and effective are already happening. He added that the GNSI is not building or creating anything new within the school’s various colleges.

Instead, the focus is on conjoining the colleges to answer the need for integrated responses more effectively.

“Answers to problems that talk about policy, but also to talk about the engineering and technology – including disruptive technologies – that we can apply to people who need problems solved,” he said.

As part of his new role with the GNSI, McKenzie will also assume leadership of the previously established Cyber Florida. Out of all the threats the U.S. faces, he said the nation’s cybersecurity worries him the most – a fear that stretches back to his time on active duty with the Marines.

“I worry about it now because we have a vast infrastructure in this country, and we are dependent on cyber for everything we do,” said McKenzie. “From controls for a hospital, the way our trains run, to the way our planes fly – and we are uniquely vulnerable.”

He believes there is a natural dependency between the GNSI and Cyber Florida, which is one reason why USF asked him to lead both entities.

After serving his country for over 40 years, McKenzie said he wanted the opportunity to work in a diverse and challenging environment with young people.

The retired general said he jumped at the opportunity with USF when it arose and could only go about a month without doing something before beginning to get on his wife’s, and his own, nerves.

“I still have a lot of energy, and I want to give that energy to the people around me,” said McKenzie. “I guess the main thing is … I like to work around good, bright and inquisitive people.

“And there are a lot of them here at USF.”

 

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