John Graham (CS'05) has served in many roles for the Army, including deputy commander of forces in Kabul, Afghanistan. He credits Carnegie Mellon University with teaching him skills that apply from the classroom to the battlefield.
Graham's leadership in Afghanistan will be showcased on a six-episode documentary series, "The Fighting Season," which begins at 9 p.m. EST on Tuesday, May 19 on the Audience network from DIRECTV, with new installments weekly. The series will be available on iTunes starting Wednesday, May 20.
Building a country is messy," Graham said. "But right now as far as Afghanistan goes, it's going pretty well. A lot of good people are risking their lives and volunteering their time to help them out, and a lot of good Afghans are pushing themselves to establish their own country."
Graham traveled to Afghanistan to work as a data analyst during a 14-month sabbatical from West Point.
"But then senior leaders starting repurposing me to solve different problems," he said.
As deputy commander of Kabul he oversaw operations securing the war-torn city.
Graham worked with the Afghan Army and Kabul police force. He was charged with mentoring the city's chief of police and quelling violence ahead of Afghanistan's national elections.
The series is produced by actor/director Ricky Schroder. He said Graham's access to Kabul City Police Commander General Zahir Zahir enabled the film crew to get a unique perspective.
"Ending a war is ugly, it's complicated and filled with opportunity for both success and disaster," Schroder said. "John's commitment to his mission and the next generation of Army leaders at the USMA is inspiring. I consider John a friend of mine and would follow him again with cameras in tow, but as he says, 'not again and not for this war in Afghanistan. We must finish it, this was our war, or else the next generation of American kids will need to return.'"
Graham was recently appointed chief scientist and associate dean of research at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
He said he admires CMU's passion for research and hopes to recreate that mindset at West Point.
"When I got here, I was a lab director. Over time, the academy changed my role to work on projects tied to 'adaptive leaders' development," he said. "The problems the young men and women at West Point are responsible for solving are complex. In the military, there's a need for cross-cultural understanding, critical thinking, teamwork and engineering innovation, all wrapped in an individual with action orientation. Engaging in undergraduate research enables our graduates to meet that demand."
Kathleen M. Carley, a professor in the Institute for Software Research in the School of Computer Science and the director of the Center for Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Science, served as the Ph.D. adviser for Graham's thesis, which focused on social network analysis using ORA and shared situational awareness. The two have stayed in touch as Carley lectured at West Point, and Graham served on the dissertational committee for several CMU Ph.D. students.
"John is a very energetic person, a solid scholar and a natural leader," she said. "Whether in the classroom, at a conference or on the battlefield, he is able to bring together new ideas, an interdisciplinary perspective and strategic thinking to solve complex, real-world problems."
Graham can recall the first problem set Carley asked him to handle. Remembering work he did in a class taught by CMU's John Anderson on artificial intelligence, he told Carley he could have her an answer in 2½ weeks.
"She said, 'no, no, no, I need this done tonight,'" Graham said. And he did.
"It is so invaluable to adapt quickly, and Carnegie Mellon really expects and demands that you come at it with intensity," Graham said.