What's it like to be an Irish man in the US Army?
'I get slagged for my accent, but I’ve been well treated and welcomed'
US Army Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Flood, seen here in Ghazni, Afghanistan, is from Dublin. He works at Joint Forces Staff College, a component of the National Defense University and lives in Texas. Here he is pictured here in Ghazni, Afghanistan
Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Anthony Flood, from Dublin who is a Lieutenant Colonel at the United States Joint Forces Staff College, a component of the National Defense University in Virginia
When did you leave Ireland, and what were your reasons for leaving?
I left Ireland in 1984 due to a poorly performing economy, lack of opportunity and meeting an American, who I subsequently married. The US seemed more open to different careers, universities and activities. When I tried to join the Army in Ireland, there was no recruitment going on, so that door was closed. Being Irish in the British Army in the 1980s just didn’t seem like a good idea, hence the US Army.
Did you do any training in the US?
After I got settled in central Texas, working on the buildings and other odd jobs, I enrolled in a community college (similar to a ‘tech’ in Ireland). I trained as a paramedic initially and went on to take various other rescue and medical courses. After graduating from community college, I went on to get a degree from the University of the State of New York, a Master’s in Military Studies from American Military University and a Master’s in Strategic Studies through the US Army War College. My army career has provided tremendous technical and academic training courses over the years.
Tell us about your career in the US?
I enlisted in the US Army in 1991 having worked in the Emergency Medical Services as a paramedic. After serving as an enlisted soldier, I was offered the opportunity to attend Officer Candidate School and was commissioned into the Infantry.
After attending the Infantry Officer Course, I attended Airborne School and completed the gruelling Army Ranger School. Promoted to Captain, I was deployed twice to Afghanistan supporting Special Forces units working with the Afghan National Army. After promotion to Major, I attended the Army Staff College and served as a primary staff officer in reconnaissance units to include another deployment to Afghanistan as a Deputy Commander. Upon appointment as Lieutenant Colonel, I was selected to command a Cavalry Squadron, which was certainly a high point in my career. Command was followed by an assignment in a training regiment, which led to my current assignment as Military Faculty at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia.
What does your day-to-day work involve? What does you average day look like?
As Military Faculty, I teach operational and strategic planning to mid- and senior grade officers from all the military services, (US and foreign) and various government agencies such as the US State Department, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, etc.
My daily routine starts at the gym or the running trail. I’ve always been passionate about fitness and the Army places a high value on physical fitness. Once I’m at the campus, I could be teaching in class, marking exams, researching the curriculum, dealing with various administrative issues. I get to escort students on field trips to historic battlefields, visit ships or submarines at the nearby naval base or sponsor trips to Washington DC, visiting State Department, the National Security Council or the Pentagon. I interact with retired ambassadors, general officers and other senior defense and policy leaders which is a fascinating part of the job. As Army jobs go, this has certainly been rewarding and a pleasant change from line Army units where I spent most of my career on field training exercises, on weapons ranges, living in a tent or sleeping on the ground. Having said that, I do miss the unique camaraderie of the paratrooper community. Military parachuting is both exciting and exhilarating and fosters unique bonds.
Do the Irish fit in well there (in the US Army/the US)?
I would say, yes, the Irish fit in well overall. When I first immigrated to Texas, there were very few Irish and no community in the area. Now there is an Irish Consular office in Austin, several local GAA clubs and other Irish social groups. The Irish community has become well established in Central Texas. Despite the various assignments and travel, I’ve only ever met a small handful of Irish serving in the US Army. I get slagged off a bit here and there when others pick up on my accent, but I’ve been well treated and welcomed in the Army.
What is it like living in Central Texas?
It’s a good place to live, but it has become a destination and thus an expensive place to live. The heat does get to you after a while, we get something like 300 sunny days a year, which sounds great compared to the grey, drudge of Irish winters, but it can be too hot. After 90-plus consecutive days of temperatures of over 40 degree Celsius, it can be exhausting. Simply doing anything outside, even walking, you are drenched in sweat, so outside activities can be limited unless you do it first thing in the morning.
With the Army, I’ve lived in several different places in America, but I call Austin my American home. Being in the middle of a larger US state, we’re not close to the sea or mountains, so going anywhere will require an epic drive or a flight.
Are there any particular challenges you face in your work?
In the army, the biggest challenge is the separation from loved ones. My last deployment was a year in Afghanistan, coupled with weeks here and there for training courses and field exercises can wear on the family. My wife Jack, is an incredibly resilient and determined woman, but being apart for extended times does take a toll.
Have you any plans?
A large part of my future will be determined by the US Army promotion system. As officers, we are managed centrally, so, future plans will be driven by my next assignment. Short term, Jack and I will take a long trip in the autumn, hopefully to the Far East.
Do you think working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?
Without a doubt, I’ve had amazing opportunities living and working in the US and serving in the US Army. I have a much broader, global perspective on life in and learned the value of working in a team-based environment. I’ve worked with people from all over the world and many different cultures which has helped open my eyes to what the world has to offer. The US Army is a broad mix of American society, even within the service, the opportunities are great.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career abroad?
Give it a go. Take the step and see what the rest of the world has to offer. A set of qualifications (degree or the likes) will make you more competitive. Reach out to the Global Irish network before you travel and build relationships early. Every country has its own ways of doing things down to CV formats, value of exam results, etc. Learn as much of that ahead of time.
What is it like living in Texas in terms of accommodation, transport, social life and so on? What are the costs like?
Living in Austin has become very expensive, it’s getting Dublin expensive. House and rent prices have become exorbitant, especially for a young person or couple starting off. This is Texas, and the car is king. While Austin does have a bus and rail system, it is limited in scope. Without a car it is very difficult to get around, especially outside the immediate downtown area. Walking or cycling in 45 degree weather is not overly pleasant unless you don’t mind being sweaty upon arrival. The social scene is vibrant. Austin prides itself on being the “Live Music Capitol of the World” and there is no shortage of shows, bands and performances. Likewise, the food scene is amazing, from authentic Texas barbecue to vegan Ethiopian and all points between. Accommodation aside, the cost of living is reasonable, especially relative to Ireland. Utilities (fuel, electric, gas, phone, internet, etc) are competitive and groceries are handy enough too. Austin is also a very active city, with plenty of sports, running trails and lakes to enjoy for the active crowd.
Where do you see your future?
My wife Jack and I have started the “what do we do next” conversations. I retire in five years, as does she. We like where we live but both miss seasons (she is British) and we miss aspects of life in our respective homelands. No decisions made, but a lot of good conversations.
Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?
I miss the general Irishness of the place, the craic and the sense of permanence. While nowhere is perfect, the inherent smallness of Ireland and being only a few steps removed from anyone does promote a great sense of community. I also miss the definitive changing of seasons and Christmas in Ireland is an especially magic time.