The Crucial Role of Political Centrists

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Does the future lie with politicians who appeal to the center? Learn why this former Congressman says yes.

The world appears to be one of political extremes, with the far right and far left denigrating each other on a regular basis. But could the future lie with politicians who appeal to a larger group?

Our guest on this week’s podcast says yes. Former CIA agent and Republican congressman Will Hurd of San Antonio won three terms in Texas’s 23rd congressional district, a district he was told he could never win because it was bright blue, while he was red.

He says he succeeded by engaging with everyone, not just voters who shared all his beliefs – and he believes others can do the same. Just don’t call them moderates.

“In the media in Washington DC…moderate means middle of the road,” he says. “But in reality, moderates are the ones that do the hard work and get things done because they’re the ones that are having to take a philosophy to people that may not identify with it.”

Hurd grew up bi-racial in Texas, which gave him early experience of finding common ground. In his book American Reboot he outlines how to ‘get big things done’ by focusing on policy, not politics. He also shares his thoughts on what Americans should be worrying about, including losing control of the technology on which we run our lives.

All in this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground.

Will Hurd

Will Hurd is currently a managing director at Allen & Company and former member of Congress, cybersecurity executive, and undercover officer in the CIA. For almost two decades he’s been involved in the most pressing national security issues challenging the country whether it was in the back-alleys of dangerous places, boardrooms of top international businesses or halls of Congress.

After stopping terrorists, preventing Russian spies from stealing our secrets, and putting nuclear weapons proliferators out of business, Will helped build a cybersecurity company that prepared businesses for the next domain of conflict – cyberspace.

While in Congress, Texas Monthly and Politico Magazine called Will “The Future of the GOP,” because he put good policy over good politics at a time when America was often consumed with what divides us rather than what unites us. He was able to get more legislation signed into law in three terms than most congressmen do in three decades – substantive legislation like a national strategy for Artificial Intelligence.

Will is a native of San Antonio and earned a Computer Science degree from Texas A&M University. Additionally, he is growing the US transatlantic partnership with Europe as a trustee of the German Marshall Fund, an OpenAI board member, and most recently served as a fellow at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. He is also the author of American Reboot: An Idealist’s Guide to Getting Big Things Done, which was released in March 2022. For more information, please visit

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Common Ground Podcast

Our Common Ground: What Polling Doesn’t Reveal About Americans

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Are we as far apart as polling suggests? What this research innovator found might surprise you on what polling doesn’t reveal about Americans.

All too often people in public life talk past one another. But what happens when we listen and give people the space to explain who they really are and how they view today’s most divisive issues?

On guns, abortion, government spending and even partisan politics, most people may not be as far apart as polling suggests.

For more than four years, our guest, entrepreneur and market researcher, Diane Hessan, conducted a remarkable series of conversations with hundreds of voters from all across the country. She checked in with them every week. What Diane found may surprise you, give you hope, and change the way you feel about your fellow Americans.

Diane Hessan

Diane Hessan is an award-winning entrepreneur and innovator in the market research field and a nationally recognized expert on the American voter. Since 2016, she has been engaged in an in-depth longitudinal study of the electorate, looking for trends, shifts and common ground. She has written more than fifty columns about her findings for the Boston Globe and her work has also been featured on CNN and NPR, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, and many other outlets. Her new book, Our Common Ground: Insights from Four Years of Listening to American Voters, was published in 2021 by RealClear Publishing.

She is the founder and Chairman of C Space, formerly called Communispace, and was CEO of the company during fourteen years of exponential growth, as C Space worked with hundreds of global corporations across twelve countries.

She received a BA in economics and English from Tufts University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School, and received an honorary degree from Bentley University.

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We’re Less Divided Than We Think

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Are we all Team Red or Team Blue? Here’s why this thought leader is sounding the alarm on a false narrative.

Every day on social media and cable TV, in newspapers and magazines, we’re told that we live in a red-versus-blue world of rigid divides. Our podcast guest, Tony Woodlief, begs to differ.

“In reality, most people fall somewhere in the middle, or else have a complex blend of views from both sides of the aisle,” says Tony. His new book I, Citizen uses polling data, political history and on-the-ground reporting to make the case that party activists and partisans are attempting to undermine the freedom of Americans to govern themselves and make decisions that have a direct impact on their lives.

Many people have fallen for a false narrative promoted by leaders of political parties, academia, media and government, that we’re all team red or team blue, he argues. In this episode, we learn a different perspective and discuss how all of us can find common ground in our local neighborhoods and national discourse.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep 58 – We’re Less Divided Than We Think

Tony Woodlief

Tony Woodlief is Executive Vice President at State Policy Network, which advocates practical federalism and catalyzes thriving, durable freedom movements in the states. Previously he led the Bill of Rights Institute, the Market-Based Management Institute, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Prior to those positions, he worked for Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation.

Tony’s essays on politics, faith, parenting, and culture have appeared in The Wall Street Journal,  New York Post, Washington Post, and other publications, and he has appeared on Fox News, CSPAN, and radio programs across the U.S. His short fiction has appeared in Image, Ruminate, Saint Katherine Review, and elsewhere. An alumnus of the University of North Carolina, Tony holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan, and an MFA in creative writing from Wichita State University. He is the founder of Intentional Fathering, which is devoted to helping fathers build better parenting habits, and the author of I, Citizen, a book about reclaiming American self-governance.

Want to hear more? Check out our podcast page to see all the discussions!

Depolarizing America: Building Consensus Step-by-Step

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These political veterans disagree on many issues, except that now is the time for bridge building. Here’s why.

Kelly Johnston and Rob Fersh disagree strongly on many issues, and voted differently in the 2020 presidential election. But they are friends and “agree on major steps that must be taken for the nation to heed President-elect Biden’s welcome call for us to come together.”

Both believe that constructive steps must be taken to help build trust among Democrats and Republicans, despite deep polarization and a firm resistance to bipartisanship from both ends of the political spectrum. They encourage open dialogue between sectors and interest groups whose views diverge in an effort to deal with divisive political discourse.

Rob Fersh founded Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, and previously worked for Democrats on the staffs of three congressional committees. Kelly Johnston, also a founding board member of Convergence, is a committed Republican and former Secretary of the U.S. Senate. In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground produced in partnership with Convergence, we talk with both Fersh and Johnston about bridge building and why this work is so urgently needed in an era of political gridlock.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep. 57- Depolarizing America: Building Consensus Step-by-Step

Rob Fersh

Rob Fersh is a Senior Advisor and the Founder of Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, a non-profit organization founded in 2009 to promote consensus solutions to issues of domestic and international importance. Immediately prior, Rob served as the United States country director for Search for Common Ground, an international conflict resolution organization. While at SFCG, he directed national policy consensus projects on health care coverage for the uninsured and U.S.-Muslim relations.

In the 1986-98 period, Rob served as president of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a leading NGO working to alleviate hunger in the United States. Rob also served on the staffs of three Congressional committees, working for U.S. Representative Leon Panetta and for Senators Patrick Leahy and Edmund Muskie. While a Congressional staff member and at FRAC, he was deeply involved in shepherding passage of bipartisan legislation to reduce hunger in the United States. Rob has held additional positions in the federal executive branch and non-profit sector. He was a 1994 recipient of the Prudential Foundation Prize for Non-Profit Leadership. Rob holds a law degree from Boston University and a bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, where he has served as a guest lecturer and co-instructor of a course on collaborative decision making and public policy. He is married, has four children, and two grandchildren.

Kelly Johnston

Kelly Johnston retired from the Campbell Soup Company in October 2018 after a 16-year career as Vice President-Government Affairs. Previously, Kelly spent nearly 25 years in Washington, DC in several leadership positions within the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, politics, and the trade association world. He was Executive Vice President for Government Affairs and Communications at the National Food Processors’ Association (NFPA), serving as the organization’s chief government affairs and communications officer for nearly 6 years.

From 1995 to 1997, he was the Secretary of the US Senate, the Senate’s chief legislative, financial and administrative officer. Kelly has also served as Staff Director of the Senate Republican Policy Committee; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of Transportation; and chief of staff or press secretary to three Members of Congress.

Kelly remains active in the non-profit community. He is a founding board member of the Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communication at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. He also currently serves on the board of Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), which is dedicated to helping employers educate their employees on public policy issues of importance to their jobs. He is a former chairman of the Canadian American Business Council and former co-chair of the Congressional Management Foundation. He blogs on public policy issues, history, and politics at Against the Grain.

A native of Oklahoma, Kelly earned his B.A. degree in Communications in 1976 from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, where he has been named to the Alumni Hall of Fame. He attended Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Demography in Washington, D.C. He has guest lectured on politics, government, lobbying and communications at several universities, including Yale University, the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, George Washington University, Shepherd University, and Burlington County College in New Jersey.

He and his wife, Adrienne, live in Arlington, Virginia. They have two sons.

Say That Again? Podcast eP. 56

How Our Accents Can Divide and Unite Us

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Can the way we speak be a source of unity instead of division? Two journalists share their stories.

We all judge others on how they sound: their accent, their pronunciation, their use of slang. Some of us have been criticized for these things ourselves, mocked because we sound different from those around us.

The way we speak can be a source of division. But it doesn’t have to be.

In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground, we speak with Jessica Mendoza and Jingnan Peng of The Christian Science Monitor. They host the Monitor’s new podcast Say That Again?, which explores how we sound, how we listen, and how we can come to better understand each other.

Both hosts and guests on this show were once newcomers to the US. We hear some personal stories of how their own voices have affected their experience, and how listening differently can help us all find common ground.

Our show includes several extracts from Say That Again?, including a man who was turned down for a job because of his accent, and two women whose use of Black English – often derided by outsiders – has become a source of pride both professionally and personally.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep 56 – How Our Accents Can Divide and Unite Us

Jessica Mendoza

Jess is a reporter and podcast producer for The Christian Science Monitor. She’s produced and hosted podcasts about the legacy of racism in Tulsa, Oklahoma; the challenges and resilience of women in the pandemic; and the ways that accent and language shape identity. Her work includes helping to develop the Monitor’s long-term multimedia strategy and collaborating with other Monitor reporters and editors to engage audiences beyond written stories.

Jess started at the Monitor in 2015 as an intern at the Boston office, where she worked her way from the web team to the National News desk. She worked two years as the Monitor’s West Coast correspondent out of Los Angeles before coming to Washington, D.C., to cover politics on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Previously, Jess was a radio DJ for a top 40 station and sideline reporter for a pro basketball league in the Philippines, where she’s from. She holds a bachelor’s in communication from Ateneo de Manila University and a master’s in journalism from Northeastern University.

Jingnan Peng

Jingnan Peng is a reporter and multimedia producer for The Christian Science Monitor. He mainly shoots and edits videos, with a focus on disability, culture and politics. He previously covered breaking news for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and reported on technology and culture for Quartz. Say That Again? is his first podcast.

A Beijing native, Jing studied literature as an undergraduate at Yale and went on to complete a Master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School. Outside of work, he likes learning languages, watching films, and performing improv comedy (he has a gig at Boston’s Improv Asylum).

Want to hear more? Check out our podcast page to see all the discussions!


Guns: Ryan Busse Loves Them But Sees The Need For Limits On How They’re Used and Sold

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How can gun violence in America be reduced? A former gun industry executive shares his candid thoughts.

The recent mass shootings in Sacramento, California that left 6 people dead and 12 injured have renewed the calls for action on gun control. In our forthcoming podcast, we hear a unique perspective on the raging debate with a former gun industry executive who says the NRA and its supporters have gone too far.

Our guest, Ryan Busse grew up around guns — hunting and shooting with his father and pursuing a career working for a gun manufacturer. Today he is still a proud gun owner, hunter and an avid outdoorsman, who lives in Montana. But Busse argues that his industry radicalized large numbers of Americans and says it must change before gun violence can be reduced and our nation can heal.

After a successful 30-year career, he retired from the gun manufacturer he helped to build and wrote Gunfight, a book that tells the inside story of a little-known industry. In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground, we learn about Busse’s lifelong love of guns and discuss his take on the responsibilities gun owners and manufacturers need to accept.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep 55 – Guns: Ryan Busse Loves Them But Sees The Need For Limits On How They’re Used and Sold

Ryan Busse

Ryan Busse is an author and former firearms executive who spent many years in the industry and was nominated multiple times by industry colleagues for the Shooting Industry Person of The Year Award.

As Ryan’s career progressed, he became increasingly concerned by what he calls “troubling NRA extremism” that he believed was radicalizing millions of Americans. He spent nearly two decades finding ways to fight back from the inside and left the gun industry in 2020. His book, Gunfight, was published in October 2021.

Busse is also an environmental advocate who served in many leadership roles for conservation organizations including as an advisor to the U.S. Senate Sportsmen’s Caucus and the Biden Presidential campaign. He remains a proud outdoorsman, gun owner, father, and resident of Montana.

Want to hear more? Check out our podcast page to see all the discussions!

Journalist Mónica Guzmán

Healing Conversations Across Dangerous Divides

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Is it possible to find common ground with anyone? A liberal daughter of a conservative family shares her story.

Journalist Mónica Guzmán is the loving liberal daughter of Mexican immigrants who strongly support Donald Trump. We hear her personal story of how Mónica set out to understand what divides America and discovered ways to overcome divisions that hurt our relationships and society.

In this episode of “Let’s Find Common Ground,” we discuss ways to use our own sense of curiosity to have cross-partisan conversations with colleagues, friends, and family.

Mónica Guzmán is the author of the new book I Never Thought Of It That Way. She serves as an advisor to the depolarization organization, Braver Angels. Our interview shows listeners how to cross boundaries and find common ground with anyone.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep 54 – Healing Conversations Across Dangerous Divides

Mónica Guzmán

Mónica Guzmán is Director of Digital and Storytelling at Braver Angels, a nonprofit working to depolarize America; host of the Crosscut interview series Northwest Newsmakers; and author of I Never Thought Of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times.

She was a 2019 fellow at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, where she studied social and political division, and a 2016 fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, where she studied how journalists can better meet the needs of a participatory public.

Before committing to the project of helping people understand each other across the political divide, Mónica cofounded the award-winning Seattle newsletter The Evergrey and led a national network of groundbreaking local newsletters as VP of Local for WhereBy.Us.

Want to hear more? Check out our podcast page to see all the discussions!

Bridge Builders in Congress

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Concern is growing that America’s deep polarization is damaging the nation. How can Congress bridge the divide?

Polarization and division in the United States have reached such a point that they threaten our strength domestically and overseas. But today, bridge builders in Congress are making a concerted effort to work across the aisle and find common ground.

In this podcast episode of “Let’s Find Common Ground“, we interview two House members—Democrat Derek Kilmer and Republican William Timmons—about their support for The Building Civic Bridges Act and their work together on the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.

We also discuss how bipartisan support for robust measures in response to the invasion of Ukraine may strengthen efforts to improve ties between Members of Congress of both parties.

This effort comes at a critical time. Recent polling found that about four out of five Americans are very or extremely concerned about America’s political divisions.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep 53 – Bridge Builders in Congress

Rep. Derek Kilmer

Derek Kilmer serves as the United States Representative of Washington’s 6th Congressional District.

The son of two school teachers, Derek was taught to appreciate the value of education. Derek wanted to make a difference in his community, so he chose to study public policy, looking for ways to help economically struggling communities. He received a BA from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs and earned a doctorate from the University of Oxford in England.

Derek put his education into practice right here in Washington, first as a business consultant for McKinsey & Company, where he helped businesses, non-profits, and government agencies run more efficiently. He moved closer to the community he was raised in so he could put his experience in economic development to use helping to retain jobs and attract new employers during the decade he worked for the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County.

After seeing how the decisions that government made affected employers in our region, Derek decided to put his experience to work in Olympia. He served in the Washington state House from 2005 to 2007 and the state Senate from 2007 until he was elected to the US House in 2012. While in Olympia, Derek was the principal writer of the state’s capital budget and helped author a bipartisan infrastructure package that has been credited with creating 18,000 jobs. He also led a successful bipartisan effort in the Washington state Senate to balance the budget and reduce state debt.

Derek was reelected to a fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020 and serves on the House Appropriations Committee, one of only four ‘exclusive’ committees in the House. Derek serves on the Interior and Environment Subcommittee, Defense Subcommittee, and Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. He was also appointed to serve as the Chair of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, a bipartisan Committee formed to investigate, study, make findings, hold public hearings, and develop recommendations to make Congress more effective, efficient, and transparent on behalf of the American people.

Derek has learned that addressing the challenges facing our nation will require an end to political brinkmanship and a focus on finding common sense, practical solutions. He’s a member of organizations like the Bipartisan Working Group which works to bring Democrats and Republicans together to forge greater consensus on a wide variety of issues.

Rep. William Timmons

William Timmons serves as the United States Representative of South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District.

William entered Congress in 2019 with a commitment to bring real reform to Washington. His experience as a prosecutor and small business owner inspired him to run for public office. As a state senator, he fought for accountability and transparency in Columbia.

In Congress, William is a voice for Upstate residents and South Carolina’s business community as a member of the Financial Services Committee. In addition to his role on the committee, William was chosen by the Republican Leader to serve as Vice-Chair of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress and elected by his classmates to represent them on the Republican Steering Committee.

William is a lifelong member of Christ Church in Greenville and also serves as a JAG Officer and Captain in the South Carolina Air National Guard. He and his wife, Sarah, live in Greenville.

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Finding Common Ground on Re-Entry from Prison

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Can we balance public safety and re-entry from prison? Two leaders in prison reform and corrections explore solutions.

America has the highest rates of incarceration in the world. Once people leave prison, the hope is that they’ll be law-abiding, productive members of society. But all too often this isn’t the case – four in 10 prisoners are back behind bars within three years of release.

In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground, we meet two men who want to fix the flawed re-entry process in the U.S.

They come to the problem from very different backgrounds. A former prison warden and overseer of regional prisons, Daren Swenson has spent his career in corrections. Georgetown University professor Marc Howard is a reformer who has long campaigned for the rights and humanity of incarcerated people.

They joined a diverse group of leaders and experts brought together by Convergence Center for Policy Resolution to come up with solutions that take into account both the dignity of the person re-entering society and the public safety implications of that person’s release.

Initially, each man was nervous and a little wary of the other. But as they tell us in the podcast, they had much more in common than they realized. Several years after their initial meeting and their work on re-entry reform, they’ve become good friends.

This podcast was co-produced in partnership with Convergence Center for Policy Resolution and is one of a series of podcasts that Common Ground Committee and Convergence are producing together. Each highlights the common ground that resulted from one of Convergence’s structured dialogues-across-differences.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep 52 – Finding Common Ground on Re-Entry from Prison

Marc M. Howard

Marc M. Howard is one of the country’s leading voices and advocates for criminal justice and prison reform. He is a Professor of Government and Law, and the founding Director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, at Georgetown University. He is also the Founder and President of the Frederick Douglass Project for Justice, a non-profit organization that launched in 2020.

Howard’s scholarly research addresses the deep challenges of contemporary democracy and the tragedy of criminal justice and prisons in America. The author of three books and dozens of academic articles, his work has received numerous awards. His most recent book is Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment, and the Real American Exceptionalism.

Under Howard’s leadership, the Prisons and Justice Initiative recently launched the Pivot Program for formerly incarcerated women and men to become entrepreneurs and business leaders, the Paralegal Program for formerly incarcerated jailhouse lawyers to become certified paralegals who are employed by major DC law firms, and the Prison Scholars Program, which offers both credit-bearing and non-credit courses to incarcerated students at the DC Jail, and a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree at the Patuxent Institution in Maryland.

Daren Swenson

Vice President, Reentry Partnerships and Innovation, CoreCivic

A 30-year veteran in the field of corrections, Daren Swenson was named CoreCivic’s vice president of Reentry Partnerships and Innovation in January 2021. In this newly created role, Daren utilizes his diverse background in facility operations and community corrections to develop cutting edge reentry partnerships that help returning citizens get back on track. In 2017, Swenson participated in the Convergence Reentry Ready Project, a multi-stakeholder effort to help formerly incarcerated people succeed by focusing on what happens during incarceration and immediately after release.

Prior to accepting his role in reentry partnerships and innovation, Swenson served for five years as vice president of Community Corrections where he led the company’s efforts to expand residential and non-residential alternatives to traditional incarceration.

Swenson joined CoreCivic in August 1992 as a sergeant at Prairie Correctional Facility in Minnesota and has continued to hold positions of increasing responsibility with 20+ years spent in executive correctional leadership. In 2007, he was promoted to managing director of Facility Operations, and in June 2010, he was promoted again to vice president of Facility Operations overseeing 22 facilities. Swenson holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology from North Dakota State University.

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Retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson

Protecting American Democracy: The Military’s Role

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Can our military help protect the future of American democracy? Get insights from a retired general.

The riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2020, and the deep partisan divide since then over what happened on that chaotic day and who should be held responsible, added to deep concerns about the future of American democracy.

After decades of service in the U.S. military, retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson decided to speak out about the threat of future insurrections and the possibility that a coup might succeed next time. “There is a significant threat being posed to our nation and our democracy,” he says.

While some of those arrested and charged in the attack were veterans or even active members of the military, General Anderson says America’s armed forces can play a constructive role in the future. In this episode of “Let’s Find Common Ground,” he says the Pentagon should order a civics review for all members—uniformed and civilian—on the U.S. Constitution and electoral integrity. We also discuss how the military can foster diversity and common ground.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep 51 – Protecting American Democracy: The Military’s Role

Steven M. Anderson – Brigadier General, US Army (Retired)

Steven M. Anderson is a highly experienced logistician, environmental advocate, project manager, business developer and service-disabled military veteran, with over twenty years of service in challenging leadership positions in overseas operational environments and combat zones, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea and Libya.

Anderson retired in April 2010 after a 31-year career in the US Army that included logistics command and staff assignments all over the world and four tours in the Pentagon. His most notable military assignment was serving as the deputy chief of staff, Logistics for the Multi-National Force in Iraq for 15 months (Aug 06 – Nov 07), and he was the chief logistics architect of the Five Brigade Surge of 2007. From 2004-2006 he served as the senior logistics staff officer for US Forces in Korea. His final active duty assignment was Director of Army Logistics Operations & Readiness in the Pentagon.

Anderson is a 1978 graduate of the United States Military Academy and was awarded a Master of Science degree in Operations Research and Systems Analysis Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1987. A graduate of the US Army War College and the Marine Command and Staff College, his military awards include the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Bronze Star. In November 2013, he was elected into the US Army Ordnance Hall of Fame.

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