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John D. Sherwood

Reinforcing Alliances, Building New Connections: Documenting Responses to Humanitarian Crises

John D. Sherwood, PhD
Historian, Naval History and Heritage Command 
2019 Fulbright-Schuman U.S. Scholar to Germany and Greece   

A group of U.S. Naval Academy students (midshipmen) in uniform sitting in a classroom with Dr. Sherwood sitting among them, in a suit.
Dr. John D. Sherwood teaching a class and discussing his Fulbright-Schuman award with a class of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Dr. John D. Sherwood’s expertise in naval history has real-world impact. The author of six books on military and naval history during his nearly 25 years as a civilian historian  with the U.S. Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), his insights directly support naval operations and strategy development. A 2019 Fulbright-Schuman Program award to Germany and Greece gave him a front-row seat to humanitarian and disaster relief operations in the Mediterranean Sea. This multi-country experience informs his forthcoming book, A Global Force for the Good: Sea Services Humanitarian Operations in the 21st Century

Dr. Sherwood, who holds master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University and The George Washington University, respectively, is the first member of NHHC to receive a Fulbright U.S. Scholar award. “It was a fantastic opportunity,” he says, “not just for me but for NHHC and the Navy as a whole.”  

Dr. Sherwood’s experience and unique project was made possible by the Fulbright-Schuman Program, administered by the Fulbright Commission in Belgium and jointly financed by the U.S. Department of State and the Directorate General for Education and Culture of the European Commission. Reflecting the complexity of contemporary geopolitical issues, the program enables American citizens to conduct research into policy and the U.S.-European Union transatlantic agenda, and allows European citizens to do the same in the United States. 

As a Fulbright-Schuman Scholar, Dr. Sherwood focused his research on Operation Sophia – A EU Naval Force Mediterranean humanitarian operation designed to prevent the loss of migrant life and combat human trafficking. He spent two months at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK) in Germany and two months at the Hellenic National Defence College (HNDC) in Athens, Greece, giving him a chance to research and engage with allied uniformed military, civilian policymakers, defense intellectuals, and NGO workers involved in migrant rescue operations. Germany has been a major contributor to Operation Sophia and Kiel is one of its most important naval bases; Greece is equally significant for its location on the front lines of the migration crisis and the large role its navy and coast guard play in Eastern Mediterranean migration operations.  

Two men standing next to each other in a hallway
Dr. John D. Sherwood (left) with Captain Chris Deyannis, his Fulbright-Schuman host at the Hellenic National Defence College (HNDC)

“I am forever grateful to the Fulbright Commission of Belgium and Luxembourg for choosing me as a Fulbright-Schuman Scholar,” says Dr. Sherwood. “This program has been the most professionally and academically rewarding experience in my career. It has forged a host of new relationships and solidified some older ones on both sides of the Atlantic.” Two blog posts, “Kiel: Germany’s Naval City” and “Greece: Breaking Stereotypes,” provide in-depth descriptions of his multi-regional Fulbright experience. 

The research that Dr. Sherwood conducted during his Fulbright features as a case study in his new book, as well as part of a forthcoming book on allied maritime strategy, edited by two of his ISPK colleagues. The 48 interviews he conducted with EU naval and coast guard officers, government officials, and NGOs will also eventually be stored in Navy archives. Dr. Sherwood has presented his research to students and faculty at the U.S. Naval Academy and through a podcast with the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).  

Dr. Sherwood standing at a large podium with a presentation on the screen behind him.
Dr. John D. Sherwood giving a lecture at Hellenic National Defence College (HNDC).

Mirroring the words of Vice Admiral William Douglas Crowder, USN (Ret.), who commanded the U.S. Navy’s humanitarian operation in Indonesia following the 2005 earthquake and tsunami, and was an exchange scholar in Switzerland early in his career, Dr. Sherwood reflects, “The Fulbright experience doesn’t just compel its participants to think outside of the box, but places them outside the box and compels them to think. Very few days pass when I am not drawing on my Fulbright-Schuman experience in some way—whether it be in how I interact with foreign colleagues, the emphasis I place on foreign exchange with my interns/colleagues/students, or my desire to return to Europe to conduct more research on transatlantic relations.”