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Frank Tapparo grins when colleagues ask how he, an MIT-trained engineer with a background in chemistry, got stuck in a place like this. And by “this,” they usually mean some variation on a military environment–Ranger school in Florida’s swampy panhandle, an outpost in Vietnam, or a desk in the Pentagon.

His response? “If I wasn’t here, I’d be leaving the whole thing to people like you. I feel like I’m doing missionary duty,” Tapparo jokes. But he takes his service to the military seriously. In 1960, he completed MIT’s army ROTC program as a Distinguished Military Graduate and chemical-corps officer. Later he earned airborne and ranger qualifications while detailed to the infantry; he left active duty in 1971 as a major. He remained in the reserves and retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1984.

“There was something in my gut that drew me to the military,” Tapparo says. “That and my father probably had a lot to do with it.” His father served in the New York National Guard for many years.

Today Tapparo travels the world as an adjunct research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, VA, collaborating on projects such as assisting former Warsaw Pact countries that want to become NATO partners. He pokes fun at the fact that he rarely uses his training in chemical engineering–“My wife always says MIT gave me my degree if I promised never to sully the profession by using it”–but he relies heavily on his general MIT education.

“I received excellent technical training, but I also got a pretty darn good liberal-arts education,” Tapparo says. “I think that well-rounded education contributes to my enjoying working with people from different cultures. Having studied courses that exposed me to Eastern European and Islamic culture, even if it was years ago, really helped.”

Tapparo lives with his wife, Marie, in Arlington, VA. Their two sons, Stephen and David, work in the construction industry in the Washington, DC, area. For the past nine years the Tapparos have spent a lot of time living and traveling in Italy, trying new restaurants and varieties of wine. “We love seeking out good wine,” Tapparo says. “Life is too short to drink bad wine.”

Linking Current and Future MIT Military Leaders

Frank Tapparo is extending his commitment to MIT students and fellow alumni by serving on the board of the new MIT Military Alumni/ae Association (MITMAA). This new affinity group connects MIT military alumni with one another and the Institute and provides a way for alumni to retain a close relationship with the ROTC program and current cadets and midshipmen. All alumni interested in military matters and related industries are welcome to join. Learn more about the MITMAA in “Military Alumni Unite.”

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