Lima Charlie News offers a brief spotlight on new team member and Senior Political Correspondent Mike Connolly
Lima Charlie’s Managing Editor, U.S. Army combat veteran Don Johnston, sat down with our newest team member Michael Connolly. Michael, also an Army veteran, having served two combat tours in Iraq, joins as Lima Charlie News’ Senior Political Correspondent. Don asked Michael some questions about his service and his new mission assignment here at Lima Charlie.
Don: First Mike, it’s an honor and a pleasure to work with you and welcome you to our team.
Michael: Thank you.
Don: The decision to enlist in the military and serve your country is a monumental one, a decision our team members find resulted from many diverse factors, but more often than not, out of a sense of duty, honor, and wanting to make a difference. What were some of the reasons you chose to enlist in the Army?
Michael: For myself, it almost felt like a foregone conclusion that I was going to enlist. I had grown up my entire life watching my Dad jump out of planes when I would go see his unit at drill for the National Guard, and there was just no way that I was going to miss that kind of experience.
I had also just seen the Iraq War start when I was in high school and turning 17, so I knew there was a good chance that the experience wasn’t going to be boring. I had a lot of ideas about patriotism, but I thought we were also falling into a problematic policy web as a country. So I wanted to gain some more experiences that would give some context and perspective.
Don: To serve in combat, in a forward position, can often be a conscious choice. As an Infantryman, why did you seek to serve in a conflict area?
Michael: As an Infantryman, you are supposed to know that your entire purpose is to go into combat and cause a controlled ruckus. I had been in the Army just a few months when I had the chance to volunteer to deploy for the first time in Iraq, but I knew it was something I would regret forever if I didn’t go and get in the ring to try to throw some punches.
I’d like to say there was a higher ideal to why I volunteered for that first tour, but frankly I was an 18-year-old idiot who wanted to experience combat. So that was the biggest driver of my decision-making process at the time, being an idiot.
Don: Was there a moment, an event, a realization during your service that affected you the most?
Michael: The biggest realization for me came after the tours in Iraq were over. I thought a lot about the work we did, how we weren’t perfect as individuals or a unit, but on the whole we did our best and did well for the Iraqi people we were around. To me, that was a large source of pride.
Then in the last few years, ISIL has come in and controlled most of the operational space I was involved in during both tours. Even while those territorial gains from ISIL have been rolled back recently, it was still like a kick in the gut. It was a very visceral reminder for me that while picking up a rifle can be helpful, it’s policies that start and end wars, famines, governments, etc. The rise of ISIL has been a tremendous motivator to get back in the public sphere more than ever, and not be content with being a spectator.
Don: In retrospect, how do you view the profession of arms?
Michael: As I’ve grown older I’ve viewed the profession of arms more critically I think. I used to believe when I was younger that there was no other reason to be on Earth than to be in the military and running around doing Army things with Army people. Especially when I was a kid, I thought the military was the source of all virtue and wisdom.
After being in the military, I just see the profession as something not inherently noble, but filled with people that are capable of nobility or the opposite. Like any organization, the military is filled with people capable of greatness and mediocrity or worse. And I think which of those outcomes we get depends heavily on the leaders we empower and the situations we put the military in.
Don: What did you do after your service?
Michael: I spent a long time figuring out what comes next. I didn’t have any concept of what life would be like after the two years in Iraq, so I struggled for quite a while figuring out how to put all of it together and find meaning again. Eventually I made my way into a stable career, and finished my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
But the biggest change came in understanding how much the political process mattered to me. I worked in field and finance on congressional campaigns, as a speech writer, and as a volunteer in the field for an entire cycle of the Iowa caucuses for a campaign. I’ve also joined the Defense Council of the Truman National Security Project, and worked in communications for several veteran-focused nonprofits. Finding those ways to continue service in a different way has meant a lot and given things a lot of meaning again.
Don: Lima Charlie’s core mission is to train veterans and service members worldwide to become journalists, to enable them to report on the world around them. How do you see yourself as a part of this mission?
Michael: I see myself as the direct example of it. While I read a huge amount and understand the news, I haven’t gained a ton of experience in developing and writing it directly. But I think for myself, and people like me out there in the world, our voice matters because we’ve seen the ripple effects of policies when they actually have to be executed on the ground.
We need people who think and explain the context surrounding the end-state. Every piece of foreign or domestic policy can look good on paper, but we need to understand and explain the outcomes and developments as they happen. If I can do that, and be a part of training more people to do that, the world will be a slightly more informed and nuanced place. Or at least that’s the hope.
Don: As you know, Lima Charlie’s goal is to report the news in an unbiased, non-partisan manner. When we report on the news, unless it’s obviously an op-ed, we try our best to stick to the facts. There’s enough running commentary in the mainstream news today. How do you see yourself reporting on U.S. politics for LC? Especially in the current heated political environment?
Michael: For myself, I’m not someone without an opinion or who will pretend to hide it in other forums. But there are so many outlets that are better conduits for that opinion, that it isn’t necessary or useful to have in LC.
I also have a passion for just the mechanics and movements of the political process. I’m obsessed with the idea of a perfect campaign, of how laws happen or don’t, of all of it.
So for myself, it’s great to have an outlet to nerd out completely on what is going on and why. I see myself reporting as much information as possible in a digestible format, and explaining what it means to readers. If I personally want a campaign to win, but they’re in a middle of a collapse in the polls, I want to tell you about it and why. Readers in Lima Charlie don’t need to hear me on a street corner yelling about the minimum wage. But I do know a huge amount about the political process, and I’m thrilled to have a forum to explain it as it happens.
Don: What political issues are of the most interest to you?
Michael: I care a tremendous amount about foreign policy, about Ireland and issues there, about the Middle East, the security implications of energy, I could go on and on. Domestically, I care about the ways we conduct elections, about rights for women and minorities, about economic security and personal safety for everyone.
But the bigger issue for me is the idea that through a collective experience, we all can live a better life than we would by trying to make it alone. I think that the more we allow ourselves to lose faith in a democratic system, the more dangerous an environment we all will exist in. So policies and issues that can restore faith in the American experiment are what I care about the most.
Don: We’re all excited here at LC that you’ll also be heading up a regular politics podcast. Can you tell our readers what they can expect?
Michael: Though I think the product will develop over time, I want to present political developments in an entertaining and relatively factual way. While the news pieces I write will be more heavy on harder information, I want to take an hour each week and tell you what it all means. There will likely be some sarcasm and personality that gets thrown in because that’s who I am, but I want to make sure the product has a lot of added value. I also imagine there will either be cohosts or a heavy focus on interviews, so there can be a bit of rapport and we can bring interesting people in to talk about what they know.
I’m someone who has spent enough time on campaigns to know when things aren’t going well, and so much of campaigns are designed to spin every daily development into a sign of positive momentum. On the podcast, we’ll have the ability to cut into that a bit, and laugh some at the circus of political animals that traipse through our environment.
Don: What message would you give to a young person considering enlisting in the U.S. military?
Michael: I would tell anyone enlisting to think about how smart they are and about everything they know, and realize they’re much dumber and know way less than that. That was certainly true of me, and most young people I knew. While I had good mentors to look up to, it would have been easier if I was ready to absorb all of that wisdom much sooner.
I would also tell them to join for themselves and no one else. If someone thinks joining is going to make them happy and it’s a personal goal, then they should go all in and enjoy every minute of it. But don’t join because you think you should or because your grandfather’s tailor’s cousin joined way back when, join because you can’t imagine letting that opportunity pass you by and feel like it’s something you just have to do.
Don: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
Michael: For either of those timeframes, I see myself as influencing the political process in some way. I’ve always wanted to play a substantial role in helping a good person get into high office, and then turn around and watch them actually deliver and make a lot of peoples’ lives better. Maybe that happens for me in the next ten years, or maybe it never happens, but I’ll always be grinding away at trying to make sure I’m ready if that moment comes along.
And in the meantime, I’ll be sucking the marrow out of every last bone of political news I can find, and trying to explain it to others.
Don: Thank you Michael. We here at Lima Charlie News welcome you to our family, and can’t wait to see what you can do!
Don Johnston is Managing Editor and Director of Business Development at Lima Charlie News. SGT. Johnston served with distinction in the U.S. Army as a non-commissioned officer with tours in Central America, Africa and the Middle East, from 1994 to 2008. Don was with the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC) on active duty in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Follow Don on Twitter @DonJohnstonLC
Michael D. Connolly, Senior Political Correspondent. Michael Connolly is a former Army Staff Sergeant who served in the Infantry, completing two combat tours to Iraq. He currently serves as the Director of Military and Veterans Affairs for the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland-College Park. Michael is a member of the Truman National Security Project Defense Council. Follow Michael on Twitter: @MConnollyLC
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