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From war zones to the classroom

In this August 2007 photo, Phil McTigue (second from right) shows members of the National Interdiction Unit, a specialized counter narcotics law enforcement unit in Afghanistan, how to use a Russian PKM machine gun. The weapons were used by the unit for operations and raids on narcotics compounds throughout the country. Photo courtesy of Phil McTigue.

In Kosovo, he shielded lawyers and judges conducting war crime trials and helped military units scoop up war criminals. In Iraq, he aided an intelligence task force in its search for weapons of mass destruction. And in Afghanistan, he flew around in Russian helicopters raiding Taliban-run opium farms.

Then, thrust into a 9-to-5 for the better part of the past decade as a director for an aerial imagery company, Phil McTigue realized he needed a new challenge. He decided to return to school in his 40s and finally get that degree he’d been putting off after dropping out of college to join the Marines in 1989.

Learning to outsmart the Taliban, enduring constant brushes with death, and handling machine guns? Piece of cake. But the thought of stepping into a classroom frightened McTigue like nothing he’d experienced in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“I never went back to school because I was intimidated by it,” he said. “For me, having just come out of a war zone after 10 years and going into a corporate environment, I was bored. I didn’t have challenges anymore, so it was a very big challenge to take on something that I was afraid to do and that was to go back to the classroom.”

He came to realize he did possess the self-discipline to be a student again, and earned his bachelor’s degree in homeland security at the American Military University in West Virginia.

And he didn’t stop there. In June, McTigue received his master’s in homeland security from Northeastern, and now says he wants to return to get his doctorate.

Working at EagleView Technologies, McTigue said, made him realize how important it is to have a degree in order to advance your career.

“One of the reasons that I decided to go back to school was to put myself on an even playing field,” he said. 

He also gets great satisfaction, he said, from speaking at local commencement ceremonies and telling kids he went from being a college dropout after high school to a graduate student with a 4.0 grade point average at Northeastern.

Phil McTigue visits the Kufa Orphanage in Kabul where in 2007 he and his wife delivered more than half a ton of supplies they had collected from family and friends including balls, games, musical instruments, winter accessories and quilts.
Phil McTigue visits the Kufa Orphanage in Kabul where in 2007 he and his wife delivered more than half a ton of supplies they had collected from family and friends including balls, games, musical instruments, winter accessories and quilts.
A Russian Mi-17 helicopter Phil McTigue used during the Drug Enforcement Administration’s operations targeting a Taliban drug cache in a mountainous region north of Kabul, Afghanistan.

He believes that the discipline he learned from the Marines and serving in the Persian Gulf War from 1990 to 1991 turned him into a straight-A student, a far cry from his “wild child” days in high school. His mother often told him he would either end up as a great cop or a great criminal, he said.

As it turned out, he went on to have an illustrious career in law enforcement, putting away bad guys in his hometown of Rochester, New York. Then the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks happened, and the entire trajectory of his career took an unexpected turn.

The next decade of his life would see him working as a security contractor in some of the most unstable and dangerous countries, with stints on a United Nations special operations team in Kosovo, and as a security specialist for the Central Intelligence Agency in Pakistan, Iraq, Israel, and Afghanistan before switching gears to enter the corporate world.

McTigue said he’d like to return to Northeastern to teach in the near future. He could see himself running a course on, say, how terrorists are exploiting technology for their own nefarious purposes.

“I had a fantastic experience here and part of that, maybe a really big part of that, was all the instructors I had,” he said. “Their resumes were spectacular. When you took a course, you were learning from somebody that didn’t have experience just from a book. I really think that’s what made the program so good. I thought I would like to be a professor at Northeastern and kind of add to the credibility of the program.”

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