The Hamilton Lugar School is one of a select number of institutions with the privilege to host fellows from the US Army War College Program, which helps Army leaders sharpen their skills and broaden their outlook as strategic thinkers. In 2020-21, HLS hosted US Army War College Fellow Colonel (COL) Steve Lacy, who attended classes, conducted research, and undertook community outreach while based within the Robert F. Byrnes Russian and East European Institute (REEI).
COL Lacy, who speaks Russian fluently, has a long history engaging with the country and the region, having studied abroad in the former Soviet Union as a high school student. The American intelligence community’s renewed focus on Russia over the last 10 years inspired Lacy to better understand this region and contribute his knowledge as an Army Strategic Intelligence Officer. Collaborating with officers from other agencies and branches, Lacy gained significant experience working with large intelligence organizations and fulfilling assignments at the Pentagon and combatant commands.
While at HLS, COL Lacy pursued research in strategic communication and disinformation.
“This is a perfect fit for me,” COL Lacy says about his research interests and the resources at the Hamilton Lugar School.
COL Lacy began his Army career as a ROTC cadet in college. After four years of active duty, he joined the Army Reserves and attended law school. He was practicing in Williamsburg, Virginia, when he was deployed to Afghanistan, where he pursued an intelligence assignment.
“I just absolutely loved what I was doing,” he says about the fulfilling work in Army intelligence.
Once back in Virginia, then-Major Lacy was asked to be director of operations for an initiative that would integrate anthropology and the social sciences into the Army’s operations to provide commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq with a better understanding of the needs and perspective of local populations. While it is rare for someone to leave the military for civilian life and then return to service, Lacy accepted the offer and became a Strategic Intelligence Officer back in the Regular Army. He has now been in the Army for 22 years.
His time as a lawyer gave him added perspective about the positives and negatives of being a private citizen. “I appreciate [military service] more and I think it makes me a better officer,” he says about his variety of life experiences.
Doing ROTC , being in the reserves, and now back on active duty for more than a decade “gives you such a flavor and perspective” on the military and its diverse range of work and applications, he says.
“I think ROTC is a great program for developing leaders; I wish we had a broader spectrum of college students who did it,” he adds.
At HLS, he worked on a seminal paper about strategic communication and disinformation under the guidance of HLS International Studies Professor and REEI affiliate faculty Andrew Bell. The dissemination of disinformation marks a large difference between US and Russian intelligence operations, he says. While US intelligence operations involve significant amounts of defensive-minded data collection and analysis, Russian intelligence operations more likely involve counter-intelligence and active measures meant to disrupt democratic practices abroad, particularly in Eastern Europe. Having learned more about this process, he is now better able to share information with allies and partners in Europe about how to combat Russian disinformation campaigns.
Lacy’s expertise has also expanded from Russia to Eastern Central Europe, particularly Hungary after he attended courses with László Borhi, a professor in the HLS Department of Central Eurasian Studies.
A major part of Lacy’s time at HLS—and the fellowship in general—involved communicating more about the military’s role in confronting some of the world’s most difficult challenges.
“There are a lot of people like me in the military who are very defensive minded,” he says, “and we care about politics to the extent that we want to support our political system. We care about diplomacy; we care about the subjects that people study [at HLS] not just because we want them to have a potential wartime application but because we think broadly that winning the peace is something that takes a lot of effort in a multi-spectrum way. Senior military officers care deeply about peace, because most of them understand the consequences of war.”
This public outreach has included an online lecture series at Naval Support Activity Crane, a US Navy installation located approximately 35 miles southwest of Indiana University, about Russian strategic interests, as well as talks with local groups.
HLS has also been beneficial to him in the classroom. “Having the undergraduate students in my classes has been valuable because they provide a perspective of that generation, so when I have my next assignment and soldiers to lead, it just gives me more perspective on the way they think and the way they look at the world,” he says.
The faculty, too, he has found helpful in his work. HLS is “probably the most balanced institution I’ve been to,” he says; “the pragmatism here has been amazing.”
“I think that [the fellowship program] provides a lot of benefit to both me and I hope to the university. This is a relationship that I believe will continue for a while, and I think it’s one that will become a coveted spot [among Army War College fellows].”
After his time at the Hamilton Lugar School, Lacy will be pursuing a new assignment. In July he will be stationed in Izmir, Turkey as the intelligence director for NATO’s land forces command (LANDCOM).
Lacy is the Hamilton Lugar School’s second US Army War College Fellow. The school hosted Lieutenant Colonel Angela Reber during the 2019–20 academic year.
This article is adapted from HLS Welcomes New US Army War College Fellow, an article posted to Hamilton Hamilton Lugar School News on February 22, 2021. Many thanks to the Hamilton Lugar School for allowing us to use the piece as a basis for this article.