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Shortly after Brendan McCord ‘08 was commissioned as a U.S. Navy ensign at graduation, he reported to the Pentagon, where he worked as a congressional liaison to the House and Senate Defense Appropriations Committees. Among his duties was squiring legislators around navy bases in various parts of the country. “I would go around with the other military legislative assistants and talk to young sailors about education in the navy,” he says, noting that the navy would like to increase educational opportunities for enlisted sailors, particularly while they are at sea. “I thought, why not bring OpenCourseWare to the navy?”

OpenCourseWare (OCW), it turns out, is seeking sponsors and told McCord that beyond the MIT community itself, the Department of Defense is the next-­largest user by a wide margin. Members of the military are using it to supplement training and, in some cases, for entertainment. “I’ve met submarine officers who study relativity just for fun,” he says.

Strengthening the OCW connection is just one of many ideas McCord has for matching military needs with MIT assets, so he began creating a network to put those ideas into practice. “Once I started reaching out to the military alumni in the DC area, I got lucky,” he says. “I talked to Bill Bonvillian [director of MIT’s Washington, DC, office], and he put me in touch with Frank Tapparo, former president of the DC club and a Pentagon official for years, and Mike Telson, the CFO of the Department of Energy for years.” McCord says Tapparo ‘60 and Telson ‘67, SM ‘69, EE ‘70, PhD ‘73, SM ‘74 encouraged his effort.

Tapparo says McCord’s tremendous energy has been key to organizing the MIT Military Alumni/ae Association (MITMAA), a new affinity group for people with interest in the military or related government agencies and industries. “It’s useful to have an organization that will help foster a broader interest in the military and defense industry in students at MIT,” says Tapparo, who rose to lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and served 23 years in the Department of Defense as a civilian.

Working with the Alumni Association, McCord e-mailed alumni who were in ROTC or indicated a military career in the online alumni directory. By fall 2008, he had assembled a team of about 20 people willing to serve as officers or board members of the MITMAA and about 100 alumni interested in joining. Projects in the works include updating a campus war memorial, advocating for reduced tuition for those studying under the GI Bill, and establishing a mentoring program.

Cynthia Bedell ‘80, SM ‘93, a colonel in the U.S. Army and the MITMAA board member who chairs the Mentorship Committee, is pairing interested ROTC students and young officers with older alumni who are current or former military members. Six pairs began mentoring relationships in the spring, and many others have expressed interest. “West Pointers very much mentor newer West Pointers,” she says. “This program is an opportunity to help young MIT officers be successful in their careers.”

McCord and other MITMAA officers were on hand in June when General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, commissioned the 12 officers of the ROTC Class of 2009. “We saw the nostalgia at the commissioning event,” McCord says. “There isn’t a school with a richer history with the military than MIT.” President Susan ­Hockfield noted at the commissioning that MIT began military training when it opened its doors in 1865 and that 150 of the more than 12,000 officers commissioned at MIT have attained the rank of general or admiral.

McCord, after completing the Pentagon assignment, training at the navy’s Nuclear Power School, and taking the Basic Submarine Officer Course in the same whirlwind year, returned to DC last summer to start a new Department of Energy job working for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees both military and civilian nuclear facilities. In his spare time, he helped organize the MITMAA’s fall 2009 event in DC. MIT nuclear-engineering faculty and Admiral Frank Bowman, SM ‘73, former head of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, were invited to speak.

And there is more ahead. “This is a plan I’ve been thinking about–the navy has a business program with Wharton for one good submarine officer to go there every year,” McCord says. “I want to start a nuclear-engineering program at MIT for submarine officers.”

Learn more about the MITMAA, the mentorship program, and an effort to gather the names of alumni who have died in military service since 1970:

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Credit: Darren McCollester

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