IROnline Alumni Profile: James Anderson

Fulbright Scholar. Truman National Security Fellow. Air Force veteran, Operation Enduring Freedom.

In nine short years, Air Force intelligence officer James Anderson has amassed impressive credentials and experience.

Seeking an Education, Finding a Mission

Anderson initially enlisted in the Air Force for an education but instead found a mission.

“Once I got in,” he said, “I found I loved the camaraderie and being part of a common mission—a common goal. So I tell people that you learn about your call to service when you're in the military. You don’t learn about it beforehand. I was called to serve, and I love it.”

Deployed to Afghanistan at age 20, Anderson served as a member of a helicopter rescue unit, ensuring aircraft were ready when injured personnel needed to be evacuated from the field. During that tour, he realized he knew little about international relations or the circumstances that brought him to Afghanistan. He began asking questions. Beyond 9/11, how did we get here? When do we choose to intervene with military conflict? How do other nations decide to intervene?

Seeking answers, he briefly left active duty in 2013 and earned his undergraduate degree in political science from the University of South Carolina. In 2016, he rejoined the Air Force as an intelligence officer and enrolled in AU’s online Master of Arts in International Relations (MAIR) program.

Gaining Deeper Insights into Foreign Policy

Initially attracted by the program’s top-10 ranking, Anderson found professors with deep expertise in their fields and fellow students with a breadth of experience he could learn from.

“I remember one class in particular called Security Inside the State,” he said. “I learned everything from how the U.S. perceives itself on the world stage to how it employs different instruments to carry out that vision. Then I learned about strategic culture, how the historical and cultural aspects of American foreign policy help guide our work with other nations. You just don’t get those kinds of insights at the ground level in the military.”

Though unimpressed with prior experiences with online courses, Anderson says AU professors and the online platform were completely different. “The whole way professors deliver information and get everybody talking to each other was amazing. You’re able to get to know one another, to build a rapport. I got so much out of it.”

The technical and advisory support were important to Anderson, too. “I had a person always ready to walk me through all the processes—whether it was using the virtual tools or accessing my veterans’ affairs benefits. She was an absolute rock star!”

Still Asking Questions, Still Growing

Since graduating from AU, Anderson has continued asking questions.

In 2017, he was chosen as a fellow with the Veterans in Global Leadership program and a Defense Council Fellow at the Truman National Security Project. There, along with other veterans, active-duty personnel, and defense policy experts, he digs deep into foreign policy issues that affect our future.

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