As part of my continuing efforts to honor veterans, I recently interviewed Navy Chief Warrant Officer (CWO3) A.M. Adair, an active duty Chief Warrant Officer in the United States Navy with over 19 years in the Intelligence Community.
She has been to numerous countries all around the world, to include multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her answers follow below.
Where were you born? (And/or what was your hometown?)
I was born in Newark, Ohio. Yes, I am a Buckeye fan and attended The Ohio State University as a theater major -- though I didn't graduate.
When did you serve and where? Also rank attained.
I am an active duty Chief Warrant Officer (CWO3) in the U.S. Navy. I will retire on 1 October 2022 after 21 years of service.
Who was your childhood hero?
Growing up I wanted to be either James Bond or Indiana Jones.
What made you want to join up?
I joined because of September 11, 2001. Up until that moment, I never had any interest in military service. Watching the news coverage throughout the day of the Twin Towers made me realize that I was not only patriotic, but pissed off. I felt compelled to do something. So, I put in my notice with my job, and started Boot Camp on 28 September 2001.
Tell us some of the big lessons you learned from serving.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to serve, even amongst those who have or are currently serving. Military life and culture takes on a myriad of facets depending on whether we are in peacetime or during a time of war. Through it all, what matters most are the people. Team dynamics are always unique and vitally important. All the tech, toys, and training in the world won't make any difference if you don't have the people to make it all work. It may be mission first, but there is no mission without the professionals that make it happen.
So, I think the public doesn’t really know what someone in intelligence work actually does. How would you describe this, if you are allowed to answer such a question?
Intelligence is about as varied as a job gets in the military, so it really depends on the circumstances. In general, the people who work in the intelligence field are the equivalent of “the man behind the curtain” while everything that you can see is “The Great and Powerful Oz.”
Nothing happens without Intel, but most don’t know we’re there. Basically, we have to sort through millions of puzzle pieces, try to figure out what the picture could be based on what we have, and make assessments and recommendations on how to fill the gaps or where to find other puzzles.
It can be a thankless job, since it’s hard to understand the impact. For the most part there are two possible outcomes for any mission: operational success, and Intel failure. When we do our job well attacks are thwarted, bad guys are captured, and lives are saved. But since most of the results of our efforts are intangible: how do you claim success for something that doesn’t happen? Or was carried out by operators on the ground?
It brings whole new meaning to being the gray man.
What was your most harrowing experience, that you’re willing to share? (This can be a training event, as I think most civilians aren’t aware of how dangerous even peacetime service can be.)
In 2006, I was conducting an interrogation in Fallujah, Iraq. We were in the middle of an intense exchange, and the man had just assured me that my death was imminent when the incoming alarms started blaring. The "room" we were using was a metal shipping container with a hole cut in it to support the cheap air conditioning unit that kept the internal temperature from cooking its occupants. It could barely be considered concealment let alone protection from an attack. When I looked at my watch, I realized it was after midnight and the date was now 11 September. Attacks on Camp Fallujah were commonplace, but given the significance of the date, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end--wondering if this attack would be different to mark the occasion. Luckily, it wasn't.
What do you wish those who have never served better understood?
There's a reason that most who have served are very patriotic. It's not that we've been indoctrinated into a belief system or had preconceived notions that drove us to service in the first place. It's that we KNOW that we are exceptionally fortunate to be Americans. We've been all over the world, and seen what life is like in other places first-hand. And not just the tourist spots, or for vacation trips. Even paradise can start showing you another side when you spend enough time there.
Are there any service members that you know, or served with, that you’d like to honor their sacrifice by naming?
I've said goodbye too many times to brothers and sisters over the years. I will never forget them. Those who had the most impact on me are: Steven Daugherty (2007), Jeremy Wise (2009), David "Blake" McLendon (2010), Jason Workman (2011), Shannon Kent (2019).
What piece of foreign or domestic policy frustrates you to no end?
Our policies tend to change as quickly as the weather, so you learn to just go with the flow. That being said, there is a general tone that has been more and more prevalent over the past decade or so that frustrates me to no end. The military is a warfighting entity. Not diplomats, politicians, or a playground for social experiments. Yet our policies and selection of leadership continues to push us away from being warriors. We spend more time worrying about what kind of buttons we should have for our newest uniform designs than preparing for the next fight.
Tell me the most heroic thing you ever saw, if you can.
Heroism takes many forms, particularly during armed conflict. The one thing that never fails to restore my faith in humanity, is how many times I've watched complete strangers willing to stand up to protect another. And not just those in uniform. There is true evil in the world, and one of the easiest ways to distinguish between the two was summed up in a poster I saw years ago of a U.S. Marine protecting an Afghani father and son by shielding them with his own body. The caption talked about true heroism as being the difference between those who chose to become human shields, instead of using them.
Share with us a story of a leader who inspired you while you served.
I've been fortunate to serve with a multitude of inspirational leaders. The one thing they all have in common is that they put their people first, and don't hide behind their position. While I never had the pleasure of serving under General Jim Mattis, directly, every time the subject of inspirational leaders comes up--my first thought is of this story: I'm paraphrasing, but over Christmas one year a Marine Master Sergeant went to check on the personnel who had duty over the holiday, and bring them cookies to try and brighten their day. When he got to the building he greeted the young Marine standing watch and then asked who the officer on duty was. When the young Marine replied that it was the General, the Master Sergeant thought it was a mistake. It wasn't. When General Mattis learned that the young Lieutenant who was standing duty over Christmas was married with young children waiting for him at home -- he relieved him of his watch, and stood the duty in his stead. There are no words to express how much that story illustrates the incredible caliber of that man.
What do you wish for the country?
We can do better, and we will. The American spirit is real, and we've all witnessed it at one time or another. Change always causes turbulence, but that doesn't make it a bad thing. Everything does not have to be an all-or-nothing scenario, and we can find meaningful solutions if we work together.
I just hope that we remember that fact sooner, rather than later.
Any closing thoughts or anything you’d like to add?
While I am literally counting the days until my retirement next year, I also count myself as being exceptionally lucky to have served. The wealth and breadth of experiences I've had over the last two decades have shaped my life in more ways than I probably even realize. It's something that will always be with me, as will the bonds I've forged.
I wanted to thank Navy Chief Warrant Officer (CWO3) A.M. Adair for sharing just a small slice of her service to our great country.
She didn’t mention it, and I didn’t tell her I’d be doing this, but Adair is also an author. She writes thrillers, which you can learn about here. So be sure to check those out.
As I’ve said before, I really enjoy spotlighting the great sacrifice that so many have made for this country.
And in that line of thinking, I need your help. If you know a veteran you’d like to have honored, then please email me. Veterans seem to NEVER nominate themselves. lol. So, if you have a father, mother, brother, sister, friend, family member, etc, please reach out to me and tell me about them. I would like to spotlight one veteran every single Sunday (from here to eternity, frankly.)
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I also post veteran interviews every Sunday.
And I do all of this from a moderate perspective that focuses on unity in our country.
Feel free to leave a comment below. I love having conversations on here! (Please be kind in the comments. I’m a proud moderate, who wants to unite the country. So if you attack someone or say something out of line, I will delete your comment.)
Stan R. Mitchell
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