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No good deed goes… Student’s brilliant paper leads to 7 month Afghanistan assignment

Adam MacAllister, IraqIt is not often that a student’s paper will catch the attention of a high-ranking military officer – but this is the type of thing that can happen at IWP.

Upon reading a paper by Adam MacAllister written for Dr. Chodakiewicz’s class in Small Wars Journal (, then Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, chosen by General David Petraeus to be the top counter-corruption official in Afghanistan, wanted to hire the author. 

As a result, Adam, a Major in the US Army, found himself taking seven months off from IWP classes to help General Petraeus’s team in Afghanistan, or, as Adam called it, a “side trip” to his academic experience.  He worked with General Petraeus and General John R. Allen, USMC, on their Commander’s Initiatives Group, which is focused on helping to enable the Commander’s effectiveness across the full spectrum of their responsibilities to the mission. 

“I believe that if it wasn’t for the IWP, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity,” comments Adam. 

But this was not the first time Adam had served in Afghanistan.  Before his time at IWP, and after serving in Germany, Iraq, and Colorado, Adam spent a year as a company commander in northeastern Afghanistan, where he was responsible for a remote district.   The mission included the challenge of applying counterinsurgency principles within the most violent and austere of regions. 

When asked about the difference between his two trips to Afghanistan, Adam remarks,

My entire career before IWP was focused at the tactical level: managing forces, resources, environments, and problems that pertain directly to mission execution.  At IWP, I started to appreciate the strategic context under which my organizations operated. 

During my second tour, where I spent time in Kabul, and studied, among other topics, eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan, I gained a greater understanding of the mission and its value.  While my work might have seemed small and limited in the effect it would have, IWP and my time at ISAF opened my eyes to how important my former mission was from a strategic standpoint.

During this deployment, Adam found that:

I saw firsthand the value of strategic level leadership, and this tour increased my confidence in it tenfold.  I saw that our leaders are truly caring of their soldiers, attuned to the mission’s complexity, and receptive of the endless stream of information.  I saw our strategic leaders interact with and incorporate the opinions of NGOs, NATO and US political leadership, subordinate commands, not to mention the Afghans, and they were always aware of the domestic and political implications of their words and actions.  There are so many competing inputs into the decision-making process – it’s amazing what they do.”

Adam was glad he had taken some IWP classes prior to this past deployment.  Of Amb. Alberto Piedra’s class, he comments, “This class helped me gain a foundation for my position on many subjects.  It gave me an improved ability to articulate clearly the things that I believe in.  When I made decisions during my deployment, I felt like they were well formed.”

Although Adam had a basic understanding of military strategy before he came to IWP, he found that, “General Jajko opened me up to the fundamental theories that account for how strategic objectives are pursued by different services and nations.    This was helpful when working in a NATO headquarters and an office with representatives from every service.”

Adam plans to graduate from IWP in December 2012, and hopes to become an operations officer or an executive officer for an infantry battalion.  He is not sure where he will be stationed next, but hopes to return to Afghanistan to contribute to the final phases of our combat mission there.

Of IWP, he says, “The school does such a great job of teaching the different arts of statecraft.  Until you have an idea about all these capabilities, you won’t be able to develop a coherent, complete, and fully integrated strategy.”

Adam MacAllister, Afghanistan