The Corner

A Pentagon View of Peter

Colonel Jack Shanahan e-mails:

I served as Peter Rodman’s Military Assistant (MA) for two years when he was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. The life of an MA in the Pentagon is tough, to say the least. The high stress, brutal hours, and political atmospherics test even the hardiest of colonels and Navy captains. You have heaps of responsibility but remarkably little authority.  Yet unlike many of my peers who had to deal with Pentagon bosses whose severe and challenging personalities led to utter exhaustion, despair, and the occasional heart attack, I am incredibly proud and honored to have served as Peter Rodman’s MA. He was one of the finest gentlemen I have ever met in my 24 years in the United States Air Force. 

As I heard many people tell me over my tenure, I was fortunate to have worked for “one of the few adults in the building”.  I was amazed day after day by Peter Rodman’s formidable intellect, unfailing sense of propriety, and passion for his country. He was a brilliant thinker. Whether writing or speaking, he was a man of few words; those few words he used, however, amazed me time after time.  I took great pleasure in watching him take a bland policy memo and, in less than 10 minutes, make it sing. He would never change “happy” to “glad”; his modifications were focused only on shaping and refining grand strategic thoughts.  Nobody could do it quite like he did.  Once the initials “PWR” were on a policy memo, we MAs knew that memo would sail all the way to the Secretary of Defense, the State Department, and even the White House. 

It was also somewhat amusing to watch him close his eyes and appear to nod off during meetings with U.S. and foreign dignitaries; only to open his eyes when he had heard enough to grasp the salient points, summarizing the germane issues in mere seconds.  It could be a little disarming for those who were unprepared for it!

In two years, I never once heard him say a bad word about a colleague or a foe. Not once. His only fault was one of his true strengths for which he will long be remembered: he was without ego. He never sought the limelight; on those rare occasions when the limelight would find him, he would accept it only reluctantly.  He simply refused to play the political games that are part and parcel of life in the beltway. The only politics he cared about were those he practiced day in and day out: those of conservative realism. I watched with wonder when he testified on the Hill. Time and time again he frustrated his opponents with remarkable clarity; they could disagree with his position, but never with his impeccable logic.

Unlike so many others in Washington, Peter Rodman managed to combine success at work with success at home. Anyone who has met Theodora and Nicholas will attest to that. It is so sad that his wonderful wife and children saw him leave this earth far too early.

It is most telling that during his farewell remarks at the Pentagon a little over a year ago, instead of spending time talking about power politics and dropping names of beltway titans, Assistant Secretary Rodman devoted almost all of his time to thanking the men and women of the armed services and the Pentagon desk officers who toiled away day after day with little reward for their efforts. He was that kind of man–a patriot in the purest sense of the word. I only hope that this nation eventually recognizes his significant, lasting contributions to our nation’s defense. The world will be a worse place without him.

It was fitting that Peter Rodman finally got to see his beloved Red Sox win a World Series. Rest in peace, PWR.

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