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  • Terrorist Attack at Pensacola Air Station: Powerful Lessons 
  • New DSS Department Head Named

Terrorist Attack at Pensacola Naval Air Station

Powerful Lessons of December 6, 2019 from an MSU Graduate


Missouri State University’s Graduate Department of Defense and Strategic Studies is proud of its graduates and thought it would be great to highlight them on our new Facebook page to share what they are doing now. To kick things off, we reached out to one recent graduate, Ensign Joe Zeman, USN, newly married, and living his dream as a participant in the Navy’s Flight School, at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, in Florida. A humble chap, the first question Joe asked was “Why me?” and we said, “Why not you?” We wanted to make our alumni highlight series relevant and interesting for current and potential students. Little did we know just how interesting and relevant this particular alum highlight would be due to the terrorist attack on December 6th at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.

Joe graduated in May 2019, with a Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS), from Missouri State University, Washington, D.C. Metro Area campus.  His thesis research topic was “Disaggregating the United States Military: An Analysis of the Current Organizational and Management Structure of U.S. National Security Policy as it Relates to Military Operations in Space.”   

When asked what he liked most about the DSS graduate program, he shared, “On a professional level, I enjoyed exposure to world-class defense practitioners. On a personal level, while at DSS I gained a deep appreciation for higher education and recognized the importance of fostering lifelong relationships with students and faculty. More than anything, DSS gave me the ability to access current events in an analytical manner. It provided me with the confidence and knowledge to effectively argue in favor of my own ideas and beliefs with regards to defense-related issues.” What makes a guy, with a Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology decide to get a post graduate degree in defense and strategic studies? It was all part of a greater plan.

For Joe, his plan was always to apply to be a U.S. Naval Officer, go to flight school, earn his “Wings of Gold”, join a Naval squadron, and later return to DSS for his Professional Doctorate. On Friday, December 6th, stationed at Pensacola Naval Air Station, it was a day just like any other day, until it wasn’t.

With no warning, he and approximately 45 members of his flight school learning community, faced a fellow student, transformed into an armed terrorist shooting to kill. Their classmate, a Saudi Arabian Air Force officer, opened fire in a classroom, shooting randomly at his peers. Chaos ensued within two floors of the education building, causing those present to literally run for their lives. Three heroic men, Jason Kaleb Watson, Mohammed “Mo” Haitham, Cameron Walters, died trying to stop the shooter, while eight others were injured in what should have been a safe place. 

In Joe’s note to DSS Department Head, Dr. John Rose:
Never did I imagine that I would be in the same building as the gunman when he decided to begin firing, none of us did. Days after the event had occurred, the approximately 45 students, who were at the scene, realized we were going to grow a new appreciation for life after having to run for our own.

When Dr. Rose, learned that Joe was among those who personally experienced the trauma of what occurred, he asked if we should share what happened as part of the Facebook feature. It was a question that made us give pause, leaving a more difficult question. “How would DSS have responded, if Joe were among those lost December 6th?” The answer is simple. We’d want to celebrate and honor his life.

Immediately, Dr. Rose alerted DSS faculty, staff, students, and alumni to the unbelievable news, Joe was one of the individuals, unarmed and under fire, during the attack on Pensacola Naval Air Station, and encouraged all to reach out to him.

In the Facebook feature, as originally planned, we wanted to highlight Joe’s academic accomplishments and plans for the future. At the same time, we wanted to mention his involvement in the day’s events on December 6th and the powerful lessons it should teach all of us – to garner a new appreciation for life, and the earnestness in which we should approach each day, semester, and opportunity before us.

We asked Joe for his thoughts. His response (below) confirmed what we’ve always known. He is a man of character, strength, kindness, and grace.

Joe stated that his involvement on December 6th deserved no mention but insisted that the “focal point” of our post be predominately focused on the families of those three men who had lost their lives. Additionally, Joe reiterated the importance of emotional and psychological self-care. Noting that this type of care is not only important for those who had experienced the evils of December 6th, but for anyone who has been exposed to trauma. In true DSS fashion, Joe recommended a book, “The Transformation” by Dr. James S. Gordon, asserting that it may aid others in their journey to overcome the residual effects of trauma.

An unimaginable act of terror occurred at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, on December 6th, setting in motion the terrifying reality that none are promised a tomorrow.  Just as Joe requests, we wish to honor those who tragically died that day, due to their acts of bravery.


Naval Airman Mohammed “Mo” Haitham
Naval Aircrewman, St. Petersburg, Florida
19 years old, Lakewood High School graduate
Described as a track & field star with a wicked sense of humor who stood up to bullies.

Naval Airman Haitham had just finished boot camp and recently was assigned to flight crew training at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. Hundreds of loved ones gathered at a vigil on what would have been his 20th birthday, on Dec. 16th, at Lakewood High School. To honor him, hundreds ran two laps around his high school track. His mother is a 20-year Navy veteran.

Joe briefly met “Mo” when they stood a “watch” together in November. This provided them a few hours to get to know one another. Like so many others, Joe stated, “He was a great kid.”  (photo courtesy of U.S. Navy AP)

Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson
val Aviator, Enterprise, Alabama
23 years old, Naval Academy graduate, Class of 2019
Described as a natural born leader and selfless volunteer

Ensign Watson was the Officer on Deck when the attack occurred. After being shot multiple times, Watson alerted the first response team to the shooter’s location and gave a detailed description of his appearance. Ensign Watson’s father, Benjamin Watson, in a Pensacola News Journal interview, shared that while at the Naval Academy, his son was a small-arms instructor, a wrestling coach and a captain of the rifle team. With pride, his father recounted that the Academy's rifle team had beaten the Army's for the first time in a decade under Joshua's leadership.  (photo courtesy of U.S. Navy AP)

Naval Airman Apprentice Cameron S. Walters
Naval Aircrewman, Richmond Hill, Georgia
21 years old, Effingham County High School graduate
Described as a team motivator who drew everyone in with his infectious smile

Family members say joining the Navy was a dream of Cameron’s. He proudly followed in the footsteps of his father, Shane Walters. As a student at the Naval Air Schools (NAS) in Pensacola, Naval Airman Apprentice Walters recently passed his ‘watch quals’ and was extremely proud. This meant he was qualified to stand watch and secure building entrances at the Naval Air Station. After completing Boot Camp on Nov. 22, 2019, he reported to Pensacola. Two weeks later, on December 6, he died standing watch.  (photo courtesy of U.S. Navy AP)

Captain Tim Kinsella, commanding officer, NAS Pensacola stated: “The Sailors that lost their lives in the line of duty showed exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil. When confronted, they didn’t run from danger; they ran towards it and saved lives. If not for their actions, and the actions of the Naval Security Force that were the first responders on the scene, this incident could have been far worse.”

The U.S. Navy has posthumously awarded Wings of Gold to the three American sailors.The young men who died in the attack at NAS Pensacola put others first, always, and in all things.  Because of these three heroes, and others, over 40 men and women survived a terrifying terrorist attack on American soil, December 6th, including our friend, Joe, MSU Graduate College, Defense and Strategic Studies alum. 

We honor Naval Aircrewman Mo Haitham, Cameron Walters, and Ensign Joshua Watson and say "thank you" for their incredible acts of bravery as well as the powerful lessons we can learn from the events of December 6th.  



New DSS Department Head Named

Dr. Victor Matthews, Dean, College of Humanities and Public Affairs, Missouri State University, announced Dr. John P. Rose will serve as the new Department Head of the Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS) Graduate Department, for Missouri State University’s Graduate College, at their Fairfax, VA campus. Prior to Dr. Rose, Dr. Keith Payne served as department head, since 2005. He retired in May 2019.


Upon receiving the news, Dr. Rose thanked the dean and said, “Great credit must go to my predecessor, Dr. Keith Payne, for his leadership, dedication and service to the men and women he has guided, educated and influenced. The program would not be where it is had it not been for Dr. Payne.  He has influenced a generation of defense and foreign affairs specialists who will guide our nation for decades to come.  His legacy will live for decades.”


Speaking to the faculty, Dr. Rose continued, “While I am honored to serve in this position, your continued support for the program is essential. Thank you for all you have done to make the program Bill Van Cleave started in 1971 grow into what it is today… an elite defense and strategic studies program.”


Dr. Rose came to DSS, in 2011, serving as a Visiting Professor. He continues to teach a variety of topics such as Science, Technology and Defense Policy; NATO and European Security Issues; International Terrorism; Military Operations; and Leadership for National Security Professionals.


Under Dr. Rose’s guidance, in 2018, DSS began an agreement with the U.S. Army’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Captains Career Course Training Program to provide an educational path for officers to earn their Master of Science degree in DSS-CWMD.


Before arriving at DSS, Dr. Rose served as Director of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. He directed a graduate level Defense and Security Studies Program, managing the efforts of a college dean, and 30 professors from ten nations.  He also oversaw the Center’s Outreach Program hosting 100 Security focused conferences each year throughout Europe and Eurasia.


Prior to that, Dr. Rose served as Director of Requirements for the U.S. Army, at the Pentagon, and Director, International Programs Branch, NATO, SHAPE, in Mons, Belgium. Dr. Rose is a retired Brigadier General, U.S. Army and has a great heart for the men and women who serve in the military for our country.


Dr. Rose is a graduate of the Defense and Strategic Studies program when it resided at University of Southern California.


Faculty, staff, and students are excited to know as department head, Dr. Rose will continue his excellent stewardship of the program, work to grow the program, while maintaining it as an elite defense and strategic studies program.


Please contact the the Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS) Graduate Department for more information about the program.