Dr. Patrick James Christian
Nova Southeastern University School of Humanities and Social Science
Area of Study: Conflict Studies, psychopathology of ethnic and cultural violence
Military Branch: US Army Special Forces
Years Served: 24
Highest Pay Grade: 05 LTC
Tell us about yourself:
I am a psychoanalytical anthropologist specializing in the sociological breakdown and psychological devolvement of communities in violent conflict. My work is part of a research and development effort leading to evolving military and diplomatic approaches to countering violent extremism and the spread of terrorist ideology and organizational spread. I have twenty-four years of experience in the practice and research of intra-state violence, civil war and tribal conflict. I have led field teams conducting combat advisory missions, tribal engagement and counterinsurgency operations in Caquetá, Putumayo and Los Amazonas Colombia; Puerto Francisco de Orellana in Ecuador; Darfur Sudan; Bilate and Ogadin regions of Ethiopia; and Baghdad and Taji Iraq. For the past year and a half, I served as a Special Forces interagency field team leader with US Africa Command’s Special Operations Command – Africa, conducting counter-terrorism, intelligence analysis, international security, and military operations (advise/assist/accompany) in the northern reaches of the Republic of Niger in the Central Sahel.
What prompted you to return to school?
As a field practitioner in the analysis and intervention of extreme violent communal conflict for the US Army, I had been searching for an advanced graduate program specializing in the psychosocial and emotional drivers of violent conflict. With over 70 months of deployed field experience in combat or hostile fire pay zones, I found that the US Government’s military, diplomatic and humanitarian organizations were operating on a strictly human physical needs framework of conflict analysis, completely overlooking the underlying and unmet psychological, sociological, and emotional aspects of conflict drivers. While my first graduate degree in organizational leadership (cross cultural) provided an awareness of these unmet human needs, NSU DCAR’s program laid out the science and practice behind this interdisciplinary approach to analyzing and intervening in violent human conflict.
Why did you choose Nova Southeastern University?
I started pursuing my doctorate at George Mason University’s School of Conflict Analysis & Resolution, but found that their program was oriented towards a policy approach to understanding violent intractable communal conflicts. In 2011, I was invited to serve as a guest mediator for a live tribal mediation between the Ewele and Njeke tribal elders from Central Cameroon at NSU’s DCAR program. During this experience, I found that NSU’s DCAR program possessed a distinctly practice-oriented focus, supported by the program’s physical colocation with their school of psychology. As well, the vast international diversity of the DCAR doctoral program’s student body was unmatched by programs in the National Capital Region. This diversity of graduate students allowed for an unusual collaboration and comparison of experience that I would not have been able to achieve had I remained at GMU’s SCAR program.
What military education benefits, such as the GI Bill, did you use?
I used the GI Bill to fund most of my tuition and books. My travel between school and work was funded in part by my agency (Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy) in exchange for teaching evening courses at the National Intelligence University’s Department of African Studies in Washington DC.
What has your experience been like as a student?
During all of my face-to-face and virtual interaction with my fellow doctoral students at NSU DCAR, I found as many new ways of thinking about and analyzing psychological, sociological, and emotional conflicts as there were nationalities and cultures represented in class. In the African Working Groups for instance, we would integrate live personal perspectives from North, West, East, and Horn of Africa communities in our discussions of trauma, memory, ethnopolitical, or identity based political violence. During my 5 years at NSU DCAR, 20 of my fellow doctoral students and graduates formed a research and development practice that is now incorporated as Valka-Mir Human Security Behavioral Analysis & Clinical Engagement LLC. Even now, we are sought after by government and non-government agencies to apply our knowledge and experiences gained at NSU DCAR.
Did you face any challenges adjusting to student life?
As a career military officer with 6 combat deployments since 9/11, I found that the normal daily discipline required of a doctoral program was as intellectually challenging as serving as a combat advisor team leader in a violent war zone, but certainly less physically challenging. The discipline required to survive multiple and back to back combat tours however, really allowed for the mental toughness to meet the rigorous demands of a graduate or doctoral program.
Do you feel like your time in the military made you a better student?
My field work as an Army Special Forces officer in counterinsurgency and foreign internal defense served as a nearly perfect foundation for the program in international conflict analysis and resolution of violent intractable conflict. Every course and paper was perfectly aligned with my wartime field experiences. My doctoral dissertation research was performed in the Central Sahel in Niger and Mali under NSU DCAR Human Subject Institutional Review Board supervision and while serving as United States Special Operations Command – Africa, senior military advisor to the Republic of Niger. My research had the full support of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans Sahara and my analysis was routinely infused into the US Embassy Country Team’s analysis of communal conflict. My completed doctoral dissertation is included in the libraries of USSOCOM and USASOC’s University libraries.
What advice could you offer to other veterans choosing to pursue an education?
My advice for veterans returning to school is to go for what you are passionate about rather than what makes the most financial attraction. If you don’t love what you do, you won’t be successful anyways. Most importantly, treat each degree program like a deployment; the job doesn’t end until you walk down the graduation aisle.