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How does an opera singer become an authority on naval strategy? We ask Samantha Moyer, IWP ’13

Samantha Moyer (1)The interview below is with Samantha Moyer, a member of IWP’s Class of 2013 and this year’s Maibach Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.  Samantha (known to her friends as Sam), describes her experiences as an opera singer, an Army intelligence officer, a graduate student, and a CSPC fellow.

Please tell us a little about yourself and your background. 

I grew up in New England, outside of Boston.  I was a choir and musical theatre kid, never interested in anything like the military or national security, or even history and international affairs.  I applied to undergraduate vocal performance programs out of high school and was accepted at Boston University– I wanted to be an opera singer (I am a mezzo- soprano).

How did you become interested in international affairs/national security?

I think that interest found me, and I don’t think I really felt that interested until I was serving with the Army in Iraq.  Sometimes I felt like a tiny cog in the war machine of the United States, and I didn’t really understand my role.  Since then, I am most interested in how a moral nation maintains the balance between a strong national security while preserving the civil liberties of its people.

How did you decide to join the Army?

I was very naïve when I joined the Army.  For instance, growing up in liberal Massachusetts, it never even occurred to me that there were still roles women were not allowed to fill.  All that is changing, of course, but in 2004 when I signed on that line, I didn’t realize I was signing up for an institution where I would forever be defined and limited by my gender. 

Signing up came a surprise to my parents, who probably didn’t imagine their opera-singing daughter would ever pick up a rifle.  But once I decided I didn’t want to sing professionally (this is what happens when you make your joy your job: it stops being joyful), I was looking for somewhere to land, and I landed in the Army. 

I would like to say this was a well-thought out and considered decision, but it was not.  I do come from an Army tradition; members of my family on one side or the other have served in every major war America has fought, including the Revolution.  My father was the first active duty officer of the family (recently retired as a full Colonel after over 30 years of service, active and reserve), and I was the first female.

Could you tell us a little about your Army experience and your deployment?

My time in the Army represents the most difficult times of my life, but has yielded invaluable experiences.  As an Intelligence Officer, I did a lot of staff work, like any young officer does.  When the orders came down for bodies from my unit to deploy to Iraq, I volunteered.  The mission was with the 20th Support Group EOD (explosive ordnance) in support of the counter IED (improvised explosive device) task force (Task Force Troy). 

We were basically “CSI: Baghdad,” trained to do battlefield forensics.  I spent two months as the only successful liaison officer from Task Force Troy to the Second Marine Expeditionary Force.  When the Marines were replaced by the 82nd Airborne, I headed to Camp Victory in Baghdad to serve as the Officer in Charge of the Functional Cell of Task Force Troy’s Intelligence Cell. 

Our mission was trends and pattern analysis of IEDs for the entire country in Iraq–my team focused on understanding the trends and patterns based on the type of device, such as deep buried, suicide vest, vehicle borne, etc.  My time in Iraq, though stressful, was the most rewarding in my career.  I even got the chance to award diplomas to dozens of Iraqi graduates from the Iraqi EOD school during their graduation ceremony, which was neat.

What attracted you to IWP?

I attended an open house while I was looking around DC for graduate schools, and I was struck by the way Dr. Lenczowski spoke about the challenges of national security.  Additionally, after attending a school the size of BU, I was very attracted to the intimate class sizes and how accessible the professors were to the students.  I was also blown away by the caliber of the faculty.  It has been a wonderful experience learning from such accomplished yet humble people.

Which program are you in at IWP/what area are you focused on, and when do you plan to graduate?

I graduate in May after mostly taking classes part time and working full time since 2008 (minus the year I was in Iraq).  I am in the National Security program, specializing in Intelligence.

What have been the most interesting things you have learned at IWP? Have you written any papers or taken any classes that you particularly enjoyed?

I have learned an incredible amount at school.  I particularly enjoyed Dr. Waller’s classes on Political Warfare and Dr. Miller’s course on the Western Moral Tradition.  I also found Dr. Rahn’s libertarian view of economics refreshing. 

I was fortunate to have been chosen to participate in the Oxford Study Abroad program, an opportunity for which I am very grateful.  I studied “The Great Game” while at Oxford’s New College with Dr. Mark Almond, and the best part definitely was access to one of the world’s largest libraries.

Has studying at IWP changed your thoughts about international affairs?

I think it has.  I think I have a broader understanding now of the workings of the whole of government, and what happens when there is no viable strategic vision.

Where are you working now, and have your studies at IWP impacted how you approach your profession?

I work at Logos Technologies in Merrifield, VA, supporting military and Intelligence Community customers.  My classes on Intelligence have greatly aided me in navigating the complexities of the Intelligence Community, in particular the Intelligence and Policy course once taught by Professor deGraffenreid.  As a non-government employee providing support to the government, being able to understand the challenges the IC is facing has been a huge asset.

Congratulations on serving as the 2012-13 Maibach Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress!  Could you describe your experience in this program? 

Thank you.  I am grateful for the opportunity Mike Maibach afforded me to be the CSPC Fellow from IWP this year.  It really was an interesting program.  

I think what struck me the most was how I, as an undergrad, would never have been chosen to go to such a conference!  The students there were so impressive and accomplished at such young ages.  I really enjoyed hearing their opinions on every subject from social issues to politics to history, etc.  We had a number of excellent, interesting guest speakers.  The highlight for me was the brief, private audience we were afforded with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the Supreme Court.  She was inspirational.

What have you done research on for this program?  How has it impacted the way you approach foreign policy?

I researched whether Admiral Mahan’s tenets for maritime success could be applied to the wartime presidencies of McKinley, FDR, and Truman, to help explain their relative successes and failures.

The most impactful thing I have discovered through this research is how easily a politically powerful outside force can derail the best intentions of very intelligent leaders.  I also have found a new appreciation for President McKinley, who ran the Spanish American War exceptionally well!

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to keep supporting the military and Intelligence Communities through broader training initiatives.

Samantha Moyer (2)

Photo at top of article: Samantha Moyer on a chair at Victory Palace, which served as headquarters for U.S. Forces in Iraq.

Photo directly above: Samantha Moyer in the office of the Iraqi Colonel in charge of the EOD school.