Honors College

Michael Baumgartner

Michael Baumgartner's Experiences Inside the Afghan and Iraq Wars

Michael Baumgartner ('99)

From 2007-8, Michael Baumgartner (Economics '99, with minors in French and math) served at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and played a lead role in the support of the Baghdad Security Plan as part of the “Iraq Surge.”  His duties included attending and setting agendas for weekly Iraqi Cabinet meetings with U.S. Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, a native of Spokane.

Baumgartner also helped form an Iraqi government team to reduce Jayesh al Mehdi militia subversion of Baghdad’s fuel sector and worked closely on counterinsurgency with the U.S. military.  Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki twice presented Baumgartner with awards for his activities.

In 2009, he served seven months as an embedded advisor to a government counternarcotics team in Helmand Province in the southwest of Afghanistan, the source of a large percentage of the world’s opium and a major area of Taliban insurgent activity.

In Iraq, he experienced sandstorms, rocket fire, roadside bombings, and the kidnapping of one of his closest friends.  In Afghanistan, he worked closely with his Afghan colleagues to support the Helmand governor’s counternarcotics and economic programs.

”Living off base with a group of Afghans was a special experience,” he says.  “The work they are doing to support farmers to grow wheat instead of opium is an important part of trying to marginalize the Taliban, which receives significant funding from the drug trade.”

Following his WSU and Honors education, Baumgartner worked as a volunteer with a group of Jesuit priests in Mozambique from 1999-2000 when he returned to America to earn his masters degree in international development at Harvard University.  In 2002 he went to Dubai to work for the city-state’s Crown Prince, and then spent time in private business in Saudi Arabia from 2003-2006.  In total, he has been to 69 countries around the world.

“Everywhere I go, I’m proud to be an American, but never more so than when I had the privilege to serve our country in Iraq and Afghanistan” he says.  Currently, he is travelling in Ethiopia.

His plans are to “be back in Pullman within the year” to live near his family.

Politics, he has said, may be in his future.

(Posted November 2009)


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