Start a business degree at American Military University.
By Melanie Conner, APUS Alumni Affairs Liaison and Wade Jones, AMU Graduate
Wade Jones traveled the world in the U.S. Army and as a contractor for the Department of State, but ended up somewhere he had never heard of after being asked to move there by his wife – Vanuatu. In 2015 Wade and his wife Meg moved to Port Vila, Vanuatu, for a three-year posting for her job as an Australian diplomat. But Wade knew that he needed to complete his education in order to open up new opportunities in an extremely limited and challenging South Pacific job market.
Wade completed his Bachelor of Business Administration at AMU in May 2016 while living in Port Vila. While he awaited graduation, Wade applied to a graduate program at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. He was accepted into the inaugural class of the university’s new degree program, the Executive Master of Public Service and Administration.
While working on his master’s degree, Wade used the business skills he learned at AMU to work for another American veteran living in Vanuatu who had started a maritime company, Ocean Logistics Limited. The work included creating business plans and conducting research and analysis to drive decision making at the company.
Wade completed his master’s degree and graduated from Texas A&M in December 2017. After graduation, he worked with Ocean Logistics Limited on climate change adaptation projects in the Pacific Islands region. These projects gave him the opportunity to travel to Tuvalu and Fiji and to learn about the many challenges that small island developing countries face.
The opportunity of a lifetime presented itself when Wade was hired as National Security Policy Advisor to the Solomon Islands in May 2018. After helping Solomon Islands draft its first-ever National Security Strategy, Wade has settled into business consulting with clients in the South Pacific and North America.
We spoke with Wade about his time in Vanuatu and the opportunities created by completing his Bachelor of Business Administration with AMU.
What is your area of specialty?
I have found that I excel at strategic planning. The work with the Solomon Islands government in 2018 was an amazing opportunity that allowed me to help develop a whole government approach for a sovereign nation.
Between May and December 2018, I consulted with the government and people of the Solomon Islands to draft a National Security Strategy that will help the government in its efforts toward safety, security, and prosperity. I have continued business consulting in 2019, since I really enjoy helping businesses with strategic planning and development.
What inspired you to pursue this career path?
I served in the United States Army as an infantryman, seeing combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. I worked with Blackwater after the military, protecting Department of State officials in Iraq and Afghanistan. I spent almost a decade protecting the people carrying out U.S. foreign policy in overseas locations.
I loved my contracting job, but I always felt that contractors were unfairly perceived as second-class citizens by the Department of State. This misconception motivated me to show that I had the ability to do more and to make a difference in a meaningful way. I recognized that an education was the tool to achieve that goal.
I worked hard to complete my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Regardless of my initial reason for deciding to complete my education, I quickly realized that education was a way to translate the skills that I had gained during my time overseas into new competencies that would enable me to be successful in ways that I had never imagined.
I realized that I could help to set strategic direction and develop policy, rather than simply being an instrument of implementation. When I saw that the Solomon Islands government was looking for someone to craft its first ever National Security Strategy, I jumped at the opportunity.
I enjoyed working with the public sector, because I felt that I was helping to make a difference in the lives of the people in the Solomon Islands, even though it was a challenge to change the course of a government. I equally enjoy working with the private sector, because successful business relies on having a strategic vision and being able to adeptly respond to changing conditions. I have the opportunity to use the same set of planning and strategy skills whether I’m working with business or government.
How did you prepare to enter the national security field?
My master’s degree focused on public administration, but I was able to pursue a homeland security track within the degree. This education helped me develop a solid foundation for understanding the essential components of national security.
I utilized the critical thinking and analysis skills learned in my undergraduate and graduate degrees to evaluate the national security needs of the Solomon Islands. I spent considerable time researching and analyzing its security environment before even being offered the position, so that I was able to spring into action upon arrival on Guadalcanal.
Equally important to my preparation for National Security Policy Advisor and private sector consultant has been spending time learning the customs and social norms of the environment that I am working in. The South Pacific – Melanesia in particular – is a unique place, and government and business norms and procedures often vary greatly from those of America. It is essential to be aware of these differences and remember that every problem is unique, requiring a solution that fits the purpose.
Has the knowledge you acquired for your bachelor’s degree assisted you in the field?
While my master’s degree laid the foundation for my work in national security, my journey to prepare for this position really began with AMU. At AMU, I developed the techniques and discipline required to tackle complex problems by breaking them into manageable components in order to not be overwhelmed by the enormity of a project.
National security is comprised of a wide range of components — much more than just military and law enforcement — and covers other sectors, such as the government, the economy, the environment, and society. To manage and complete this wide-ranging strategy, I needed to draw on my skills in project management, analysis, critical thinking, leadership and motivation, law, ethics, finance, economics, and strategy – all of which were a part of my curriculum at AMU.
At the beginning of January 2019, I was asked to return to the private sector to evaluate a young, struggling company for its long-term potential for success and determine if an additional capital investment could help the company to establish itself and eventually capture the market in its area of the North American Pacific Northwest. I traveled from Vanuatu to Canada to conduct an evaluation, all aimed at determining whether the company could succeed and what was needed to make that happen.
In essence, much like helping the Solomon Islands government determine its future, my role was to help the parent company’s directors decide how they could invest in the young company’s future in order to maximize its potential. I’ll keep working in this field and continue to use the skills and knowledge gained at AMU to help not only this company, but also other companies in need of strategic planning.
What were the biggest challenges that you faced in your role as National Security Policy Advisor?
Solomon Islands is a developing island nation, working to overcome significant challenges. National security is largely an unfamiliar concept to the government and citizens.
The government embarked on an ambitious new endeavor with no previous national security plans in place. I drafted the country’s National Security Strategy from scratch and helped to create the nation’s first national security framework.
It was an enormous task to develop a wide-ranging strategy to address all of the threats and challenges facing the Solomon Islands. Beyond the actual drafting of the National Security Strategy, it was essential that the document accurately addressed the threats facing Solomon Islands and aligned with the priorities of the government. Creating a document that reflected those two critical areas ensures that the National Security Strategy has a much greater chance of being implemented in 2019 and used to guide the government’s approach to national security.
What advice do you have to give to people seeking a new career after completing their education?
My advice is to be willing to travel and seek unique opportunities – even if it means having to work in remote locations at first. If the opportunities are not available in your immediate area, think about looking outside your town, city or state – even outside your country – for new opportunities.
I have enjoyed living in different places and having a meaningful influence on the lives of the people in the South Pacific. My wife and I are moving to Canberra, Australia, in February 2019, but I will continue to travel internationally to help clients – government and private sector – achieve their goals.
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Drafting the National Security Strategy for Solomon Islands is my greatest accomplishment to date. I wholeheartedly believe that the new National Security Strategy will help the Solomon Islands government provide a safe, secure and prosperous future for the nation. However, I would not have been able to achieve this accomplishment were it not for my education at AMU and Texas A&M.
What is your life motto and why?
Dr. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and author, advises to think about “What can I do today – that I will do – to make life a little better?” It resonates with me because I believe in continual improvement. Small daily improvements can add up to big changes, personally and professionally.
What do you do in your free time?
I love the water: fishing, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, sailing and beachcombing for shells. Just being near the water makes me happy. Working in the South Pacific has been an opportunity not only because of the professional doors that I have opened, but also because of the beautiful natural environment I’ve been able to enjoy.
If you would like to know more about the South Pacific and Wade’s journey from soldier to strategist, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.