Profile | Lieutenant Colonel Christy Orser, Army War College Fellow
From the field, to the Hill, to the Hilltop
Over the course of the semester, we have been interviewing ISD’s diplomatic and military fellows.
Alistair: Tell us about your path to the U.S. Army. What led you to enlist?
Christy: I actually stumbled into military service in the first days of my undergraduate studies. The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at the University of Massachusetts had activities that I found interesting and challenging, and there was no commitment in the first two years, so I tried it out and found that the Army is a great fit for me.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to ROTC and the Army as a career, so I decided to enlist as a Counterintelligence Agent in the Army Reserve. I actually skipped a semester to complete my training, and then returned to school and took every summer session to make up for the missed semester; I ended up earning two bachelor’s degrees and two certificates, and was able to offset the costs with GI Bill and tuition assistance through the military. That summer I went to Airborne school, and earned my jump wings, and decided that I wanted to pursue full-time service as an intelligence officer after graduation.
I signed my ROTC contract on September 10, 2001. The next day the magnitude of that commitment became very real; the reality of that day and the resolve of our nation in the ensuing months reinforced my decision to pursue a career in the military; the successes, as well as the missteps and challenges of that time, and in the almost 20 years since that day continue to motivate me to do my part to improve our institutions.
Alistair: Where has your military career taken you so far, and what have been the most rewarding and challenging assignments?
Christy: I’ve been very fortunate to have a varied career that spans both active duty and reserve service. I’ve been to many states and countries across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. My first active assignment was with an armored cavalry regiment. We deployed to Iraq and traversed the country from Kuwait to the borders with Syria and Turkey. After returning from that deployment I transitioned back into the Army Reserve where I worked for a training unit, and then later moved to Army Space and Missile Defense Command, where I did some intelligence work, and then commanded a headquarters unit of both active and reserve soldiers.
My deployment to Iraq and my time in command were really special times in my career. They were also the most challenging — the deployment for obvious reasons — but command because of the great responsibility, my personal investment in the success of the unit, and my desire to do right by the people in the command. I learned so much, and had the good fortune to serve with some excellent leaders who helped shape me as a soldier and a leader. The most cherished and rewarding parts of my career have been the times when I’ve been able to influence individual lives and careers, either through my own action on their behalf, mentorship, or by working on policy that has a direct impact on people.
Alistair: You’ve worked a lot with Congress and have experience in legislative affairs. How did that experience shape your views on the role of different branches of government in U.S. foreign policy making?
Christy: I spent a year in a Congressional office working directly with a Congresswoman, her staff, and the committees to help shape and inform legislation, and then I was able to apply what I learned in an ensuing assignment as a legislative liaison officer for the Army. I worked on a variety of topics, but I found the personnel-related issues the most engaging and rewarding. My portfolio included hazing and suicide prevention within the Army, integration of women into closed fields, sexual assault prevention and response, religious accommodation, uniform and equipment innovation, as well as assisting constituents with specific cases; some of it was heavy work, but we were able to accomplish a lot, and the bipartisan efforts on many of these topics was phenomenal.
I think one of the biggest takeaways from working in that arena is how easy it is to forget that the different departments and branches of government are all on the same team, and realistically we all have similar overarching desires, despite any disagreements over how to reach those goals. My time on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon forged my deep respect for the dedication of our nation’s civil servants and elected officials. I think it is easy to look from the outside and pay too much attention to inflammatory headlines, and perceived inefficiency and waste, and not give enough credit to the hard-working and dedicated people, including many under-compensated young people, who work tirelessly to keep the government running. That isn’t to say everything is perfect, but the day-to-day ongoings are incredibly encouraging even in contentious times.
Alistair: What motivated you to seek a fellowship at Georgetown at this stage in your career? What have you got out of it so far, and what do you hope to achieve during the rest of the year?
Christy: The U.S. military takes a proactive and structured approach to continuing education, requiring personnel to complete education requirements at various points throughout their careers. As I was researching opportunities available to me, the Georgetown program was instantly my first choice. I think understanding diplomacy is vital for military leaders, and I also think it is important for diplomats to understand the military tool of statecraft. I knew my Georgetown experience would complement my undergraduate studies in politics and international relations, my military experience, and my time working with Congress, and I felt my personality and experiences would also make me a valuable member of the ISD team.
As with my time on Capitol Hill, my Georgetown experience has given me a first-hand opportunity to better understand my counterparts in the State Department and the other military branches, and wow, am I impressed at the talented personnel associated with the program. The program was also the only program available to me that offers the opportunity to teach, and the teaching experience has been my favorite part of the program so far. I am really looking forward to teaching Morals, Ethics, and the Instruments of National Power in the spring semester, and I’m hopeful that in the coming year there will be more opportunities to build relationships with both the students and faculty.
The students in these programs will take the reins in the future; whether they make their way into the government, international organizations, or the private sector, my interactions with the students lead me to believe there are extraordinary things to come.
Alistair: The Department of Defense and the Department of State have not always agreed on the best way for the United States to engage in the world. From your experience, how do you think the military and diplomats can work together best to advance U.S. interests?
Christy: Again, I think there is great benefit to remembering that we are all on the same team, and in developing shared understanding and cross-agency relationships at all levels of these organizations. Frankly, programs like the military and Rusk fellowships are vital to creating a functional collaborative culture across our government. Although I don’t have any delusions about the dangers in the world, I think, like many in the military, effective diplomacy is almost always preferable to military intervention. However, reality is much more complex than that. It is helpful when the executive branch establishes clear foreign policy and national security objectives, and a framework for effective and routine collaboration across all of the executive branch departments and agencies, as well as a positive working relationship with the legislative branch.
I also submit that the goal should not be 100% consensus. There is value in exploring the differing approaches and ideas about U.S. global engagement and about how to best protect and advance U.S. interests.
Alistair: Post-ISD, what does life look like for an intelligence officer? What do you want to get out of the next few years of your career?
Christy: As a more junior lieutenant colonel, I have not yet completed battalion command, so perhaps another command experience is on the horizon? The military is in the midst of a talent management overhaul, and is making great strides in getting personnel into jobs that capitalize on their talents and attributes, so I am sure whatever the military decides for my next assignment will be a fun and challenging adventure! Whatever I do, I know that my experience here at Georgetown will advance my ability to continue those institutional improvements that were inspired in the early years of my time in the military.
The views expressed by LTC Orser are her own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.
Learn more about all of our fellows in our recent Despatches newsletter: