Amazon Web Services and Northern Virginia Community College launch courses to train US Marines

By Nick Barrickman
17 July 2019

When the fall 2019 semester begins next month, Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and Amazon Web Services (AWS) will jointly take a major step in their integration with the United States war machine. According to a school press release, the fall semester at NOVA will unveil courses specifically tailored to providing data intelligence, machine learning and artificial intelligence training to members of the United States Marine Corps (USMC).

In essence, NOVA will become a semi-official supplemental military academy tasked with providing training and “hands-on experience” to the Marines.

The press release states:

Historically, Marine Corps training was completed aboard USMC or other services’ installations where the military developed, managed, and taught the curriculum. This is a transformational approach of the current project that provides a non-traditional training solution. Marines will enroll in NOVA’s courses to complete a significant portion of the knowledge, skills, and abilities as defined in their military occupational specialty (MOS, Intelligence Data Engineer). The remaining military-specific components of the MOS will be covered in a “finishing course” offered by the USMC.

The statement adds:

These new courses, combined with existing information technology coursework, will not only satisfy the USMC’s MOS training requirements, but place Marines well on their way to earning NOVA’s Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in Information Systems Technology (IST) ... which was also developed in consultation with the AWS Educate team.

In addition to training troops for military service, Amazon is seeking to attract military veterans into its corporate structure. Similarly, the structure of the course is designed to integrate the military into the campus’s student body.

The press release notes that while US Marines will attend the campus “in a cohort structure,” i.e., as a group, the courses will also be open to the general student body “as an educational opportunity to learn alongside their military peers.” According to Marine Colonel Randy Pugh, “the Intel Data Engineer course’s blend of academic instruction, commercial courses and internships and traditional military training represents the future of Marine Corps intelligence training.”

In addition to being compatible with the Marine’s military requirements, the 31-credit associates course will feed into a new four-year Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degree supplied by George Mason University (GMU), which has also been designed by Amazon.

Prior to its decision to create a direct conduit to the Marines, NOVA was already closely tied to the US intelligence establishment. The state’s community college system was a founding member of the National Cyberwatch Center, billed as “a national consortium of colleges and universities focused on cybersecurity education.” In 2013, it was selected by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in the area of “information assurance.”

Last year, NOVA debuted its single-semester AWS-directed cloud technologies course. The first class to enroll in the new feeder course was comprised entirely of military veterans, according to a press release previewing the course from 2017.

With its academic community leading the way, the state of Virginia is increasingly becoming an incubator for the expanding nexus between internet technology companies, academia and the military-intelligence complex. The role of Amazon is critical in this process.

In June, George Mason University, the largest four-year public university in Virginia, unveiled a new bachelor’s degree as a part of its ADVANCE program, which has been jointly administered by Amazon Web Services, NOVA and GMU for training in cloud technology. Also last month, Amazon Web Services announced the creation of the US Cyber Range, intended to “provide cloud-based infrastructure for educators, industry, and others, allowing them to offer tailorable hands-on cybersecurity training and education in order [to] increase the number of skilled cybersecurity experts across all sectors.”

The US Cyber Range builds upon infrastructure previously introduced in Virginia by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe in 2016, with the assistance of the state’s academic community and AWS. “The public cloud has allowed the Virginia Cyber Range, and now the US Cyber Range, to quickly and cost-effectively scale to meet the rapid growth in demand for its services,” stated the Virginia Tech vice-president for information technology and chief executive officer to Executivebiz.com.

AWS operates dozens of data centers in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC, through which nearly a third of the globe’s internet traffic passes. For the capitalist establishment, the ability to monitor and control this technology and the traffic it channels is an increasingly important military question. An Amazon blog from March 2016 spells this out, noting that the “adoption of cloud computing is critical to maintaining our military’s technological advantage.” The statement continues: “Our nation’s warfighters deserve the most innovative and secure solutions at the tactical edge—whether on land, in air, or at sea.”

This year, Amazon is set to begin breaking ground for its East Coast corporate headquarters, nicknamed “HQ2,” in Arlington, Virginia. HQ2 will be situated across the Potomac River from the US capital and within an hour’s drive to the various headquarters of the US intelligence and military agencies, including the CIA, the NSA and the Pentagon. Amazon was recently awarded the largest US military contract in history—a $10 billion deal with the Department of Defense to administer the military’s cloud computing JEDI Project.

The integration of academia and technology giants with the military and the capitalist state continues, even as the various media propagandists for the state decry the supposedly malign effect of the internet and web technology, arguing for censorship. This expanding nexus of war and surveillance demonstrates the need for an international movement of the working class to take technology out of corporate hands and transform it into a publicly-owned, democratically controlled utility as part of the struggle to put an end to the source of militarism and repression—the capitalist system.

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