Military grad put UNF education to use in Iraq

michael silverman
A political science degree might not seem like a useful weapon in a war zone. But University of North Florida graduate Michael Silverman knows that not all battles are won through shock and awe.

Sometimes, a softer touch and an understanding of the political ramifications of military operations are needed to accomplish the mission.

“After three tours in Iraq, one previous tour in Saudi Arabia and 50 months total in combat zones, I learned early on that you can’t respond every time with force,” said Silverman, an Army veteran, military consultant and novelist. “The political science degree I received from UNF was the backbone of the anti-insurgency work I did when trying to stand up some of the first post-Saddam Hussein governments.”

Silverman grew up in Jacksonville. He began his military career in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1983 and transferred in 1984 from the Corps to Army ROTC at UNF, where he studied political science and philosophy. Silverman said he wasn’t a high-achieving high school student, so he wasn’t guaranteed a spot in UNF’s first freshman class. However, Dr. Dale Clifford, a founding faculty member and then head of the University’s Freshman and Sophomore Programs, saw potential in him.

“She reached out and gave me a shot,” Silverman said. “I spent my first year on academic probation, but I ended up on the Dean’s List. If it hadn't been for Dale Clifford, I wouldn't have been able to go to college.”

In 1988, Silverman graduated with his political science degree, as well as an Army commission as a second lieutenant of armor. He spent time in Germany and Czechoslovakia before deploying to Iraq in the early ‘90s as part of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He spent years ascending the military ladder until he was installed as operations officer for the First Brigade (Raider), Fourth Infantry Division, where he planned and executed the initial ground campaign for Operation Iraqi Freedom. After the initial invasion, Silverman put his degree to work by establishing and advising the first provisional government for Saladin Province in Iraq.

He said his role throughout his almost four years in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 was more about engaging with the community and offering up American diplomacy than engaging in skirmishes.

“When I was battalion commander, we would go into a small community in Iraq somewhere, and I was basically the embodiment of the U.S. government to them,” he said. “I was a mid-level manager in the Army, but this was as high up as anyone they would communicate with. So from that perspective, it was my job to act as a diplomat of sorts.”

Silverman retired in 2008 as a Lieutenant Colonel and lives in Midway, Ga., with his wife, Randi. He has launched another career writing about the War on Terror, and his novel, “Awakening Victory: How Iraqi Tribes and American Troops Reclaimed Al Anbar and Defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq,” is available online. He now splits his time writing and handling occasional consulting work for the Army. Now that military operations in Afghanistan are winding down, Silverman said he is starting upon the path to yet another career. He’ll be attending Savanna Law School in the fall and hopes to focus on criminal law.

He credits UNF with granting him the academic background to use as a springboard to career success. He hasn’t forgotten the chance Dr. Clifford took on him, and he is forever grateful to the University that put him on the path to success.

“Had I not had the opportunity to go to UNF, there’s no telling where I would have ended up,” he said. “I’m not sure I could have gotten into another university without the help of a person with the kind of vision that Dr. Clifford had. Once I was here, the smaller class sizes gave me the chance to excel. Overall, this is where it all started for me.”