Retired Green Beret and Afghanistan Expert to Teach Politics at Howard University as Chamberlain Fellow
After 25 years as an elite Army soldier and a high-ranking White House official responsible for setting Afghanistan policies, retired Colonel Fernando Lujan is gearing up for his next major assignment, a year teaching politics at Howard University as a Chamberlain fellow and visiting professor.
The Chamberlain fellowship program gives recently retired military people opportunities on college campuses.
Lujan, a graduate of The U.S. Military Academy West Point, said he chose Howard University to ensure public affairs knowledge is dispersed to minority students. Lujan said the Chamberlain fellowship program gives him the opportunity to pass the lessons he’s learned to students. The program places a small number of officers at universities to engage with the student body for a year; the purpose is to improve dialogue between the military and higher education communities.
Lujan said he was attracted to Howard because of the work of Bernard Fall, one of the most famous chroniclers of the Vietnam War and a past Howard professor. Lujan said he had always been impressed by “Hell in A Very Small Place,” Fall’s account of the battle of Dien Bien Phu which brought an end to French rule in Vietnam.
Lujan, 46, grew up on the rougher end of west side San Antonio. His parents were Mexican immigrants. Inspired by GI Joe action figures and movies, Lujan was drawn to the idea of serving in the military. In high school, a junior ROTC instructor who was a Green Beret inspired Lujan to dream of also becoming a Green Beret. Hard work, ambition, and good luck earned him a spot at West Point.
“I was lucky enough to get in,” Lujan said. “That was my big shot – my winning, cosmic lottery ticket. I was offered the opportunity to go do something different, to go be in the Army in the special forces. All the people I ever knew were in San Antonio.”
Green Berets are an elite group within the United States Army Special Forces that receive specialized training and perform a wide range of missions in hostile settings around the world, including counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. As part of his training, Lujan learned Dari, a major language spoken in Afghanistan.
Lujan’s next military chapter came in Afghanistan during the Obama administration when U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice visited his base in Afghanistan. Rice, he said, was curious about how things were going. Lujan was the acting commander and gave her the briefings. While he couldn’t sense it during the visit, Rice was impressed. He was soon asked to come work in the Obama administration.
From 2014 to 2017, Lujan was director of Afghanistan, then senior director of South Asia on the National Security Council at the White House, where he led interagency setting U.S. policy and counterterrorism efforts. Lujan also spent three years in the U.S. State Department, as a member of the U.S. negotiating team seeking a political settlement in Afghanistan.
“I have had a very blessed career, running around doing operational stuff with the special forces,” Lujan said. “Then I was able to get a front-row seat to how policy gets made in the White House. I was able to distill a lot of lessons: the use of military forces, foreign policy, politics.”
In recent days, Lujan said been putting the final touches on the syllabus for his upcoming Howard course, which will be offered in the Department of Political Science. But he said what he’s most looking forward to is learning from Howard students.
“I want to understand how Howard students see the world, their hopes and fears, and new ways to imagine things,” Lujan said.
About Howard University
Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 14 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced two Schwarzman Scholars, four Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African American PhD. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu.
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