This is the 15th installment in the Honored Role Series.
Paula Broadwell does her best thinking and reflecting during her daily 6:00AM run with her Iphone and Pandora blasting. She runs at warp speed literally and intellectually. To say she is driven to perform is a precise statement of how discipline and determination have shaped her life. She is writing a dissertation on military leadership and effective organizational management, and an authorized intellectual biography of General David Petraeus, Commander, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
In June 2009, General Stanley Chrystal, Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), asked Broadwell, a counterterrorism expert, to form a “Red Team” of non-military people to think like enemy combatants and challenge the plans, operations, concepts, organizations and capabilities in the context of the operational environment. Paula explained, “We have to constantly assess and reappraise the operational environment. The enemy is ambiguous and incessantly seeks and uses new means to test, disrupt, and destroy us. Our forces require an organic capacity to adapt quickly to new and ever changing threats.”
Her trajectory into international affairs and national security began in North Dakota. During Paula’s senior year at Century High School in Bismarck, the U.S. waged the First Gulf War. It inspired her to consider the military as a means to an end—a career in international relations. “I figured having a military background could help differentiate me in the world of diplomacy. Understanding the military instrument of power is essential to being a well-informed policy maker,” Paula says.
Self-disciplined by nature, Paula set high expectations for herself. In high school, she excelled in and out of the classroom earning all state basketball honors, orchestra concertmistress, student council president, homecoming queen, and valedictorian. Ron Wingenbach, a teacher at Century High School commented, “Paula’s enviable work habits and relentless approach to curricular and co-curricular activities at CHS provided her the foundation to fulfill life-long dreams.”
Accepted to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy, Congressman Byron Dorgan who provided her nomination, suggested Paula consider West Point as he had other qualified students who were interested in flying.
Igniting the Flame
A dual major in systems engineering and political geography, Paula ran cross-country and track, and competed in the high jump. She earned 12 varsity letters. “West Point was an intense and empowering experience. Everything is about performance. It fueled my passion for competition and developed my foundation for understanding the entire instrument of military power and its employment.”
Participating in a summer cadet exchange program in Israel solidified Paula’s desire to work in international, and foreign affairs. Graduating number one in physical fitness in West Point’s Class of 1995, a class whose size numbers 1015 with 87% men, and a passion for international travel and intelligence firmly cemented, Paula selected Military Intelligence Corps. She chose an initial posting to Korea to serve as a platoon leader on the DMZ.
Assignments of increasing responsibility followed in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. They included the command of an International Defense Intelligence Agency Document Exploitation Unit in Bosnia and as a senior intelligence and security officer for the largest Military Police Battalion in the Army based in Mannheim, Germany. All of which served to spark an interest in covert military operations.
Having it All
As a senior Army Captain, Broadwell cleared many of the hurdles to enter into the world of black operations. But despite deep professional satisfaction and a unique opportunity, Paula traded her active duty commission for one in the Army reserves. “It was my own inability to balance work and family. I had just become engaged. Entering black ops was a lifelong dream and I questioned the choice for sometime but soon realized I would find my way via other professional outlets, which I truly have! And I am blessed to have an incredible family life, and a sense of work-life balance. The important lesson for me is that you can have it all, just not all at the same time.”
Recalled to active duty shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, Paula was assigned as a special operations command intelligence planner in Europe. Her role included planning of strikes on counter-terrorist targets in Africa, the Caucuses region and Afghanistan. She seized the opportunity to expand her physical skill by engaging in several self-defense and combative courses, and earning Airborne qualifications from four countries.
“Post 9-11 operations gave me a sense of mission again and “action-oriented “units such as the Special Operations Command and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force reignited my passion. The varied assignments have helped me think more broadly about international and interagency policy issues,” said Paula.
Paula returned to graduate school earning dual masters degrees in International Security and Conflict Resolution from the University of Denver and a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She also studied Arabic and Middle Eastern culture at the University of Jordan in Amman.
Becoming the Deputy Director of the Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies at Tufts University in 2006, Paula found her professional outlet. The Center’s mission was to increase the understanding and competency of counter-terrorism professionals at various levels. When General David Petraeus assumed command of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, the Jebsen Center provided his command group with robust research and analysis of counter-terrorism alternatives.
Paula’s research to support Gen. Petraeus led her to develop expertise in counter-terror financing, political risk analysis, social network modeling and the strategic leadership of national security organizations. It also inspired her to pursue a doctoral degree in organizational management. But as she got to know Petraeus, her interest in transformational leadership grew.
Paula explains, “With a faltering economy, soaring unemployment, and overseas military commitments consuming more each day than the gross domestic product of many small nations, the United States urgently needs adaptive and transformational leaders. Defense secretary Robert Gates has called General Petraeus the ‘preeminent soldier, scholar and statesman’ of his generation –- roles that he transitions among as the commander of US Central Command.”
Successfully petitioning her doctoral advisors at Kings College War Studies Department at the University of London for a change, Paula’s dissertation is now focused on adaptive leadership and the military leadership trajectory of Gen. David Petraeus. She states that,
“Adaptive leadership is a set of strategies and practices that can help organizations and the people in them break through gridlocks, accomplish change, and develop the adaptability to thrive in complex, competitive, and challenging environments. It differs from many leadership perspectives in its core premise that one can learn good leadership. Yet, in hierarchical institutions like the military, enabling creative decision making and encouraging young leaders to challenge assumption can prove difficult. The sheer quantity of issues and the uncertain nature of our current threat environment requires innovative thinkers who can manage and lead adaptively.”
Throughout her work and studies, and often complementary to them, Paula has taken an active leadership role in public service organizations, serving on the board of or as an advisor to Women in International Security, Service Nation, and other several other veteran-oriented groups. Through all of these endeavors, Paula has found great fulfillment in mentoring young women and veterans seeking to excel professionally. In fact, she attributes much of her own development and professional arc to this “pay it forward” attitude.
It turns out that Gen. David Petraeus is a runner. As Runners World described, “a fast, slightly obsessive, completely in-your-face runner.” But sources report, Paula Broadwell, mother of two young sons, may run faster.
If you would like to share your story or that of other veteran women, please contact me. contact me.