After a 24 year career as an officer in the US Marine Corps, I have embarked on a Ph.D. at The Fletcher School. Two decades ago the Marine Corps decided I would be good at Chinese and sent me to school to be a China Foreign Area Officer. This decision would change the course of my life and set in motion a fascinating intellectual journey and a unique career path.
After sending me to school for a Masters degree and Chinese Language, the Marine Corps sent me study Chinese language and society in Beijing. The knowledge I built led to subsequent attache postings at the US Embassy in Canberra, Australia and the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) in Taipei. I subsequently returned to the operating forces and established the Regional Engagements Branch at III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan. Here my small team of area specialists brought a regional outlook and cultural competency to operational plans and exercises. I was subsequently assigned to Headquarters, US Marine Corps, where I was a Strategic Analyst in the Commandant’s Strategic Initiatives Group and later tapped to stand up the Marine Corps’ Communication Synchronization Cell. My career concluded with a posting at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, in Honolulu, HI, where I taught military and civilian security practitioners from across the Indo-Pacific.
This journey has shaped my academic future by sparking interests in Chinese political theory and Chinese foreign policy. My recent research and resulting lecture on Chinese strategic thought has highlighted the normative foundations of contemporary Chinese thought and its influence on the Chinese approach to international relations theory. However, I still desire more than to understand how states approach the international environment. I want to shape it. I want to know why leaders take the actions they do so that decisions are not only understood, but acted on in advance. In other words, I want to apply what some see as abstract academic subjects—philosophy and international relations theory—and make them useful to the foreign policy decision-maker. In some sense, I am still a young staff officer trying to convince my general or a young attaché persuading my ambassador that the complex problems they are dealing with are understandable, are solvable, and that the knowledge I have spent a career studying can be used to help.