Michael McAndrew contributes experienced street smarts and a compassionate vision to the CJP program. A member of the U.S. Navy from 2008 until August of this year, McAndrew is intimately familiar with concepts that remain theoretical in the classroom. “I tend to be a little more skeptical,” he said of his background’s influence on his role as a student. “I’m aware of how terrible the world is.”
His experiences in the military also gave him a heightened passion for peace studies.
McAndrew grew up in the mid-Atlantic, in what he describes as typical lower middle class, and began studying political science at East Carolina University in 2004. After graduating with a bachelor’s concentrating in the politics of genocide, he faced a recessed economy and limited options and joined the military.
“It will be the first and last time I didn’t listen to my morals.”
He joined with full knowledge of the state of the war, but went with the intent of being a regular electrician. However, he was stationed as a flight deck electrician on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. In managing take-offs and landings, McAndrew noticed aircraft leaving with ordnance, and returning empty. That, coupled with the social strains Americans put on nearby communities with four-day bouts of debauchery, prompted McAndrew to participate in community service projects.
In Bahrain during the Arab Spring, tear gas and riots in the streets were commonplace. A service bus McAndrew was riding was diverted because of a roadblock of burning tires erected in the highway. Cognitively, he knew the violence was not directly caused by his presence, but still felt responsibility to improve the lives of citizens.
Shortly before his second deployment–an eight month-long term–, McAndrew married Mary Beth. “Without her, life would be much harder,” McAndrew explains.
Despite gaining rank quickly, and achieving overwhelming success on the USS Abraham Lincoln, McAndrew “had never been more miserable.”
He read an article about veterans in peacebuilding and, upon further research, discovered CJP. Stationed in Virginia at the time, he contacted CJP Program Director Jayne Docherty, who encouraged his application and worked diligently to ensure his enrollment.
“Michael is part of a new generation of veterans who want to actively promote peace in a practical way,” Docherty said. “I think that if CJP and EMU can welcome students such as Michael, we really can alter the driving forces behind the U.S. tendency to respond to conflict with military means.”
When he broached the idea of attending CJP with Mary Beth, she expressed entirely positive support. Initially, the military constructed a catch-22 in which McAndrew could not receive an early release unless he was admitted to a school, but could not enroll at a school without definite knowledge of his release time.
Docherty helped write an admittance letter for the official protocol to proceed. He was originally slated for release in November, and supervisors deliberated on his discharge paperwork until Aug 1. By then, his wife had left good employment in Norfolk to transition to Harrisonburg, and McAndrew was sleeping on a friend’s floor while wading through red tape.
Now a member of the graduate school, he fantasized about while in Norfolk. McAndrew jokes, “I’m like the number one disciple for that program.” In class, he analyzes counterterrorism strategies and state-funded assassinations in an academic context, and lends valuable experiential knowledge.
“He brings a different perspective into our classroom,” said Docherty, “and that helps all of our students and faculty think more realistically and more creatively about the work of building a world that is less violent and more just.”
While he does not claim trauma for himself, McAndrew notes, “I come from a traumatized population,” and addressing veterans’ needs has become his vocation. A monthly GI check does not provide for psychological and spiritual resources that veterans require.
“They need help, and there’s not really an apparatus for them,” said McAndrew. He cited the fact that, every day, 22 active duty members or veterans commit suicide.
“[Veterans] suffer deep and lasting psychological and emotional harms that are left untreated when they come home,” commented Docherty. “The resulting rate of suicide and homelessness among veterans is a national shame.”
It is with this demographic that his passions lie. He also envisions himself working for an organization like Alliance for Peacebuilding, and eventually owning a brewery. McAndrew’s attraction to Anabaptist avenues for peace-building come not from a specifically religious conviction, but from an appreciation of the social progress made by such churches.
“If change is coming from the church, then I’m going to the church.”
Ultimately, McAndrew describes himself as a veteran who wants to be a peacebuilder; not glorified, but instrumental, and is enthused by the practical application of peace studies in graduate work and beyond.
-Randi B. Hagi, Co-Editor In Chief
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