On August 18th, Lieutenant General (LTG) Michael Flynn sat down with me at his home on Ft. McNair to discuss life on post, the Southwest neighborhood, his storied military career, and plans for the future. In our talk, LTG Flynn spoke extensively on how change is never easy yet sometimes required, and how that is applicable to more than just the military.
After 33 years of service to our nation, the highest ranking intelligence officer in the United States military, LTG Michael Flynn, has retired. Since taking over as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 2012, LTG Flynn has put his stamp on the 50-year-old agency previously seen as lagging behind in the intelligence community. LTG Flynn’s tenure as director was filled with consternation–a needed correction after years of a top-heavy, uninspired organization.
“I’m surprised I got this far, to be honest,” says the steely-eyed, amenable leader. To LTG Flynn and his wife Lori, the military has been their entire life for over three decades, but the structured job does not fit his personality. LTG Flynn is iconoclast, to say the least. He does not accept the status quo when he knows there is a better way.
“Intel’s job is to tell truth to power. It is certainly not meant to be a popularity contest.”
In his six assignments as a flag officer (rank of brigadier general or higher) over the past 10 years, 4 ½ of those have been deployed in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Whether it was serving as the intelligence advisor to General Stanley McChrystal, as the director of intelligence at the Pentagon, or as the director of DIA, LTG Flynn never forgot where he came from. The son of a retired Army Sergeant First Class in Newport, RI, Flynn grew up in a small household with nine siblings, two parents, and one bathroom.
“We weren’t allowed to be hanging around the house. We had jobs. We took pride in ourselves and our community.” He still drives his second-hand 1986 Buick Park Avenue, complete with velour interior, with pride.
In his daily runs through the neighborhood to and from work on Bolling Air Force Base, LTG Flynn readily noted the blight of citizens in parts of Southwest.
“Parts of Southwest remind me of Park Holme in Newport, RI. Our neighborhood here could learn a lot from the story of Park Holme.” In Park Holme, a young city leader by the name of Paul Gaines came to the neighborhood, not with a focus on a small subsection of the community, but instead on the community as a whole. Mr. Gaines engaged with local businesses (similar to DC’s BIDs), philanthropists, and neighborhood leaders to attack the blight first.
“Once people start to take pride in their surroundings, they don’t want to give it back,” the general says. “With all the development that is happening right here, why would you look anywhere else to hire people? People here could walk to work! Why not invest both in the infrastructure and the people? It’s a win-win.”
But to make that happen, he notes it will have to be a community-wide effort. Leaders from every block need to step forward and meet regularly. It cannot continue to be a small group of well-meaning individuals; it must be a team effort to move all of us forward.
“Why not lobby to have the federal government fund a plan to turn the former Coast Guard headquarters into apartments and then move people in there while we rehab our local public housing?” While this is just one example of the out-of-the box thinking the good general is known for, it is similar to Councilmember Tommy Wells’ plan of Build First mixed with the Broken Windows Theory.
When asked what is the one thing people should know about the third oldest active Army post, LTG Flynn says, “This beautiful post of Ft. McNair is yours. Anyone is allowed on with their driver’s license. Come walk around. We have the most amazing running route in DC right along the water. It’s a college campus, to be honest; we have three of the finest military universities in the world right here in the National Defense University, the Inter-American Defense College, and the National War College. Take pride in what you have right here,” both on post and off.
By: Shannon Vaughn