Below is an interview with Rob. A, Certificate Class of 2013. He shares about his experiences in the military, his time in Iraq, and his studies at IWP.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I am a northern NJ native, growing up 5 miles from NYC. I went to school in NJ, did a year of grad school in Puerto Rico, where I was in the Air Force ROTC (Detachment 755). I am prior U.S. Air Force intelligence. I spent a year in intel school in San Angelo, Texas and then went to the Joint Intelligence Center-Pacific in Hawaii. After a while there, I moved to Hickam Air Force Base to work the targeting mission. I got out of the Air Force after five years and transitioned to becoming a government civilian.
Could you share a little more about your work in the military?
After a year in school learning about all of the intelligence disciplines, I started off working North Korean military ground issues. It was a lot of fun and offered me a wonderful opportunity to learn. It’s an incredibly hard target. The good thing about it was if you could be a good analyst on that account, you could do anything. As soon as 9/11 happened, we had to shift gears and do targeting support to Operation Enduring Freedom. That lasted for a while, but then I shifted back to other issues as CENTCOM was able to run the fight.
Please tell us about your current professional work.
I have been a government civilian for 16 years, where I work in international policy. I worked as an analyst and staff officer before this job.
What is it like to transition from military to civilian life?
I would say it was what most people find when hanging up the uniform — you’re leaving a family. I don’t think I’ll ever transition from the military because it becomes a part of you, and I will always be a veteran. I volunteered to deploy during the surge in Iraq and wound up serving in Iraq from 2007-2011. I think that made me more “military” than when I was in uniform.
How was your experience as a veteran at IWP?
IWP gave me a lot to think, read, and write about. Another great aspect was the percentage of active-duty and veteran students, which gave a sense of connection and community.
When did you become interested in IWP?
In 2005, I was living in the D.C. area for about a year and needed some intellectual stimulation outside of work. I attended an open house and looked into the school. I was fascinated by the scholar-practitioners.
What attracted you to IWP?
The quality of the faculty, the ability to take classes at night, the robust instruction, and the smaller atmosphere. I didn’t need a school with sports or fancy amenities — been there, done that. I was looking for deep learning with professors who are at the top of their game. I found it at the IWP. I also loved how I was always able to attend a seminar before class or during the week for a perspective outside of the class I was taking.
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/were useful?
First, it is the amazing amount of knowledge and history. When you join the military or intelligence profession, no one sits you down and discusses U.S. Intelligence in the Cold War and Beyond. You’re not going to understand why we are the way we are structured and behave if you don’t understand the history. Second, is the vast knowledge you gain in the unclassified world. There is so much to learn — one may argue more to learn — than in the classified world. Third, it can’t be all military or intelligence — it’s a whole of statecraft approach. You need to understand and be able to think in such a manner.
Have your studies at IWP impacted how you approach your profession?
The IWP provided a deep education. I was able to study under one of the legends of the U.S. Intelligence Community, Dr. Dave Thomas. Dave’s instruction regarding U.S. Intelligence in the Cold War and Beyond; Denial and Deception; Surprise, Warning, and Deception: An Introduction; and Counterintelligence in a Democratic Society are courses that you don’t get in the military or Intelligence Community. I don’t know where you would get those courses with that level of instructor. I approach problems in a holistic manner. I just don’t look through the lens of my agency with a stovepiped mentality.
What do you feel is the way that you have made the biggest impact so far in your career?
I would say most definitely deploying to Iraq and helping the Iraqis rebuild their intelligence services. Being there during the surge was, to quote Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The worst because we lost two great Americans and one great Iraqi on the mission. All three of them laid down their lives for America and Iraq. All three of these men had sons, daughters, and wives. It was the best of times because we turned the tide of the war and really made a difference. You become really close to people when you’re in bad situations. When I left in 2008, I told the Iraqis if you ever need me to stand with you again, I promise you I will come back. They took me up on my promise really quick, and I was back there four months later. I stayed pretty much until four months before we withdrew troops from Iraq in 2011. I spent four Thanksgivings, Christmases, New Year’s, and my 40th birthday in Iraq. I would do it all over again without regret.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are to do a great job, attend seminars at the IWP, become more involved with IWP and help it grow, and stay put in D.C. I would love to go back to Iraq. Right now, our friends need us more than ever. I think about the brave souls and patriots we left behind often, yet I need to stay here with my family.