First-year MBA student Brad Thompson completed several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As a first-year MBA student, Brad Thompson, 28, is enjoying the most personal freedom he’s had in over a decade.
"At the end of the day, I can do whatever I want; it’s great," says Thompson, who grew accustomed to highly structured environments during his undergraduate engineering studies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and six years of active duty in the U.S. Army, including several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Now I really enjoy having a free weekend and being able to go where I want without needing someone to approve it."
Though challenging, Georgia Tech’s MBA program just doesn’t seem that stressful to Thompson in comparison to his life as an infantry captain in the U.S. Army. "It definitely puts it in perspective," says Thompson, who’s completing his last year and a half of inactive reserve service. "I feel better equipped to deal with adversity, chaos, and failure than the average person."
Like many soldiers returning home from the war, Thompson found his capacity for stress was a bit too high after completing his last tour of duty in Iraq from January-December 2005. "It’s difficult to adjust to life back home," says Thompson, a native of Greenwood, South Carolina, who was awarded three Bronze Stars and two Army Commendation Medals. "You’re willing to take a lot more risks than a typical American and that’s dangerous. You’ll take risks most people would not because it's minimal compared to what you are accustomed. It takes awhile, but that slowly goes away."
Thompson ranks the capture of Haditha Dam during the first weeks of the Iraq war in 2003 as one of the most intense experiences – and greatest successes – of his military career. U.S. military leaders feared that a sabotage attack on the dam, the second largest hydroelectric contributor to Iraq’s power system, would disrupt a planned thrust into Baghdad and result in a humanitarian disaster, severely flooding towns downstream along the Euphrates River as well as eliminating a key source of electricity for the country. Extremely tired and with little information or time to prepare, Thompson led one of three platoons that snuck up under cover of night to take the dam while braving heavy artillery and mortar fire.
During his last year in Iraq, Thompson served as an assistant team leader of a Military Transition Team helping develop the Iraqi Army’s capabilities. Acting as a liaison with Iraqi forces, Thompson quickly learned he had to adapt to their culture to get things done. He’s proud that the Iraqi Brigade he worked with was widely regarded as one of the best equipped and most professional Brigades in the country, and he still communicates with some of the Iraqi officers and interpreters he befriended.
"A premium is placed on your ability to understand the culture," Thompson says. "Someone who doesn’t is not going to succeed in Iraq or Afghanistan at all."
For his transition back into civilian life, Thompson initially considered master’s programs in civil engineering, but he decided he didn’t want to become too specialized and that an MBA better suited his goals. "As part of the infantry, I’d been on the Army’s leadership track," he explains. "Infantry officers are the managers and generalists of the Army."
Thompson, who plans to concentrate his MBA studies on strategy/operations and go into consulting, chose to attend Georgia Tech because of the sense of community and ambition he perceived among students and faculty. "Those were the two things I was really interested in seeing," he says. "I definitely felt there was a strong support structure here. As far as value goes, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find another MBA program any better. There are incredibly smart people in class who care about each other."
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