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Alumni Profile: Colonel Wilson III MPA '98

Isaiah Wilson
by Amanda K. Jaros

As he completes his 28th year of service to the United States, Colonel Isaiah Wilson III, MPA/MA ’98, PhD ’04, remains passionate about his work. 

His career in defense and global affairs began when he was an Army Apache helicopter pilot. “I’d been very much involved in national security and public affairs as a practitioner,” Wilson says, “particularly with the crises in the years coming out of the Cold War.” After seven years immersed in conflict situations, Wilson attended graduate school at Cornell. He learned the policy and theory behind all he had seen first-hand and experienced his “intellectual birth.”

Thanks to his studies at CIPA, Wilson is now a sought-out military strategist. His work dramatically shapes military operations. He documented and analyzed the Iraq war and peace plans – and was among the first to publicly speak out about the lack of an exit strategy – and worked as the resident strategist for General David Petraeus. After teaching strategy at Cornell and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Wilson has spent recent years at U.S. Central Command in Florida as Chief of the Commander’s Initiatives Group (CIG), designing and implementing plans for Afghanistan.

Wilson doesn’t like to call himself an “expert,” but when it comes to military strategy, he clearly is one. He notes that his job is to bring people together, “to identify all the key players and to knit these groups together in an effective and winnable way.” He likes the idea of “whole of community” and “whole of government” solutions. As he moves into retirement, he intends to continue this work as a specialized strategist.

He credits his Cornell education with setting him on his journey. “It allowed me to be schooled within the prescribed boxes,” along with finding “encouragement to endeavor outside the box, and frankly, to move beyond boxes altogether.”