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FMS alum plays key role on presidential campaign

Life in politics is, John Noonan says, “90 percent luck and 10 percent skill.”

“You can be a star one minute, unemployed the next,” said Noonan, FMS ’99, whose star is in ascendancy at the moment, with Noonan serving as a foreign-policy advisor to the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Noonan, who left the Air Force in 2010 and worked for a foreign-policy think tank and as the spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee before joining the Romney campaign, advises the campaign on issues including the military, counterterrorism, cybersecurity and veterans affairs.

The job will be something of a high-profile role for Noonan, who in addition to working closely with top campaign staff on foreign-policy issues will be out front on the campaign trail explaining the nuances of Romney’s positions on policy issues to reporters.

Key to his performance on the high-profile, high-stakes job will be his experience on the ground in the military.

“No scrap of sheepskin is a substitute for experience,” Noonan said. “I worked with nuclear weapons in the Air Force. The operational work I did there was infinitely more valuable than a PhD from Harvard in strategic studies or nuclear arms control. When students ask me how they can break into the world of senior government, the first thing they hear is a suggestion to get their higher education as an officer. Graduate students and master’s degrees are a dime a dozen these days. But serving your country makes you special and wanted.”

Another skill learned in the military will be just as key.

“The tide of a campaign ebbs and flows on personnel management,” Noonan said. “I have a firm understanding of the 30,000-foot stuff, but I need to lean heavily on experts for in-the-weeds knowledge. Washington is filled with brilliant advisers who specialize in esoteric subjects like tactical airlift, or al-Qaeda in the Horn of Africa, or Navy shipbuilding. Half the job is pinging their expertise, formulating it into cogent policy, and bringing it north to Boston.”

Noonan credits his time at Fishburne Military School for allowing him to grow. The culture at Fishburne allows cadets to make mistakes and to learn from them.

“It’s just as important as being allowed to succeed,” Noonan said. “Culturally, we seem inclined to shield youth from failure. It’s a monumental weakness in the public-school system, where everyone gets a ribbon, and everyone gets a trophy. Emphasis is on self-esteem and not development. It’s ironic that FMS’ old-fashioned disciplinary system seems revolutionary today. There’s sophistication in the simplicity.”

Noonan recounts a story from his years at FMS – when he showed up to formation with shaggy hair. “Two minutes later, I was huffing around the parade ground with a heavy log on my shoulder. Lesson learned. No more shaggy hair.”

“Can you imagine that happening in a public school today? School administrations would have to convene a focus group to figure out what outside influences caused poor, victimized me to break the rules. FMS, comparatively, had me squared away before breakfast. It’s a stark dichotomy. No question, Fishburne does a better job armoring you up for reality,” Noonan said.

Noonan’s reality right now is a presidential election. The cadet in Noonan is carrying a different log on his shoulders these days.

“It’s fun and the atmosphere is positively electric, but it’s also hard, exacting work,” Noonan said. “You can spend 70 hours a week trying to peg a state poll half a percentage point in your direction. You wrestle over infinitesimal details, and everything can be treated like a crisis.  Military experience, by virtue of Fishburne, VMI, and the Air Force, was a fantastic prep for life on the campaign trail.”


Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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