Outside the wire: USAFA professor uses deployment experience to show cadets importance of leadership skills

  • Published
  • By Harry Lundy
  • Academy Public Affairs
An Academy officer recently returned from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan where he found himself serving his country in a far different capacity than he's used to here.

Maj. Kristopher Pruitt, an assistant professor of mathematics, said he typically spends his time at the Academy teaching statistics to engineering students and filling in for other professors, but overseas he teamed with Afghan leadership to determine their equipment needs, process acquisition paperwork for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, track the equipment's delivery and make nearly 90 "outside the wire" convoy missions to make sure the equipment arrived, as the ground branch chief for foreign military sales at Camp Eggers, Kabul.

"My work there had little or nothing to do with my normal job," he said. I was responsible for the lives of a half-dozen people and $100,000 of equipment every time we went out with little training specific to these duties. I learned a lot about myself and what I'm capable of in a very stressful, high-consequence environment. I learned that I'm able to lead people in that environment. I definitely did not know this about myself or at least was not confident about myself before this deployment."

Pruitt saw the delivery of items ordered before his arrival and began the acquisition of items that wouldn't arrive until after he returned to the U.S., he said.

"The most rewarding part of my deployment was a specific vehicle we bought exclusively for Afghanistan -- the Mobile Strike Force Vehicle," Pruitt said. "That was one of the few things I got to see start to finish and I went to a very large-scale firing range to see them use it."

Now that he's supervised a team, managed a large budget and served as a convoy commander in a forward-deployed location, Pruitt says he's more proud of his Air Force service and eagerly anticipates sharing his experiences with his students, he said.

"It will help cadets realize they are capable of much more than what they might think," he said. "As future officers, they potentially have an opportunity to be put in situations where they're going to find out what they're made of when things get intense."

The leadership skills cadets learn at the Academy are useful anywhere in any situation, Pruitt said.

"The skills I needed to be a good convoy commander were not related to my specific career -- they were general leadership skills," he said. "(The convoys) were in an urban environment. Nearly every car in Afghanistan is a Toyota Corolla -- it's arguably the most popular car there so nearly every car-bomb comes from a Toyota Corolla. Constant attention to detail and watching the behavior of the drivers while on these convoys was crucial. I was communicating nonstop with my team. Along with the leadership skills, the communication skills cadets learn here are invaluable anywhere."

Although he had no experience in foreign military sales, Pruitt relied on his math skills during his deployment.

"I was able to provide cost-benefit analysis insight for generals, provide options and help them make better decisions," he said. "It is the same thing we teach our students -- how to convey information."