On Point

Self Reflection as an Effective Tool for Growth with Michael Meese ‘81, President of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA)

Episode Summary

This episode features a conversation with BG (R) Michael Meese ‘81, President of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA), a not-for-profit, member-owned financial services association that provides life insurance, military benefits counseling, Survivor Assistance Services, residential mortgages, financial planning, investment management and trust services to the American Armed Forces Community.

Episode Notes

This episode features a conversation with BG (R) Michael Meese ‘81, President of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA), a not-for-profit, member-owned financial services association that provides life insurance, military benefits counseling, Survivor Assistance Services, residential mortgages, financial planning, investment management and trust services to the American Armed Forces Community.

Michael retired from the US Army as a Brigadier General after serving for 32 years. At AAFMAA, Michael oversees all aspects of the Association to ensure the financial security and independence of the American Armed Forces Community through insurance and other benefits. In his career, he served in a variety of strategic political-military positions including deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia. Michael was also the Executive Director of the Secretary of the Army’s Transition Team in 2005. He is a leader in military and Veterans issues, including chairing the 2016-17 Transition Team for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In this episode of On Point, Michael talks about his time as a student, teacher, and Department Head of Social Sciences at West Point. He explains the importance of empowering people, educating them, and then allowing them the ability to run with what they've learned. Michael also gives insight into being a part of the presidential transition team, and how AAFMAA is working to give needed support to veterans, survivors, and caregivers.


“You get paid to work out, you get paid to study, they send you to school, you get paid to read and develop professionally. And all of those skills are not there just because the military likes to do it. It's because it makes it a better force. If you have a smart force that's reading, that's studying, that's working out and it's doing all those things, it makes you more effective and it makes the force overall more effective.” - BG (R)Michael Meese ‘81


Episode Timestamps

(02:00) First segment: AAR

(04:00) The Service Academy Global Summit

(05:50) Michael’s West Point experience

(07:45) Teaching at West Point

(08:00) Cadet walking hours

(09:45) Mentorship

(13:15) Branching in Field Artillery

(17:30) Michael’s Army career

(23:45) Segment: Sit Rep

(26:45) Retiring from the military

(28:00) Working at AAFMAA

(34:00) Mentorship

(38:30) Segment: SOP

(40:45) Physical fitness and Routines

(41:30) Segment: Giving Back



Michael’s LinkedIn

West Point Association of Graduates

On Point Podcast

Episode Transcription

[00:00:00] Narrator: Hello and welcome to On Point.

This episode features a conversation with Michael Meese ‘81, President of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA), a not-for-profit, member-owned financial services association that provides life insurance, military benefits counseling, Survivor Assistance Services, residential mortgages, financial planning, investment management and trust services to the American Armed Forces Community.

Michael retired from the US Army as a Brigadier General after serving for 32 years. At AAFMAA, Michael oversees all aspects of the Association to ensure the financial security and independence of the American Armed Forces Community through insurance and other benefits. In his career, he served in a variety of strategic political-military positions including deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia. Michael was also the Executive Director of the Secretary of the Army’s Transition Team in 2005. He is a leader in military and Veterans issues, including chairing the 2016-17 Transition Team for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In this episode of On Point, Michael talks about his time as a student, teacher, and head of the economics department at West Point. He explains the importance of empowering people, educating them, and then allowing them the ability to run with what they've learned. Michael also gives insight into being a part of the presidential transition team, and how AAFMAA is working to give needed support to veterans, survivors, and caregivers.

Now, please enjoy this interview between Michael Meese, and your hosts Tim Hsia and Lance Dietz.

[00:01:47] Tim Hsia: Welcome to on point founded by Eddie king west point class of 2008. I'm Tim Hsia, West Point class of 2004. 

[00:02:00] Lance Dietz: And I'm Lance Dietz, class of 2008.

[00:02:03] Tim Hsia: And today we're joined by Michael Meese class of 1981. Michael, how are you? I'm doing well. Awesome. Thanks for being on the podcast. Let's get into our first segment AR or for our non-military listeners after action review.

[00:02:08] Tim Hsia: In this segment, we'd like to touch on specifically what other veterans can learn from you, your process and your journey. First and foremost, could you please talk to us about your decision to attend west point? 

[00:02:18] Michael Meese: Well, I was a high school graduate in 1977, and that was kind of after the tail end of the Vietnam era.

[00:02:27] Michael Meese: And I honestly wasn't sure what I wanted to do when I grew up. And so I liked math and engineering and if I really wanted to do that, I probably would've gone to the coast guard academy. On the other hand, I also. Considering going to law school. And if it would've done that I would've gone to, at the time it was called the Claremont men's college.

[00:02:46] Michael Meese: Now the Claremont colleges. But since I was undecided between political science and law and engineering, I figured that leadership would be a good thing to learn. And so that's why I went to west point. Interesting. 

[00:02:58] Tim Hsia: Did you have a [00:03:00] family with military background? 

[00:03:01] Michael Meese: Yeah, my father was in the army reserve, but other than just going on weekend duties and those sorts of things, I really didn't have that much engagement with the military being from San Diego.

[00:03:13] Michael Meese: I absolutely did not wanna go to the Naval academy. I was smart enough to. Know that even as a young 17 year old and everybody else from San Diego did want to go to the Naval academy. So applying to west point and going there seemed to be a good option. I 

[00:03:29] Tim Hsia: wanna note a Naval academy grad connected 

[00:03:31] Michael Meese: us.

[00:03:32] Michael Meese: Yep. I've got a credit Rob Schroeder and I've learned to become much more joint the organization that we can talk more about. Is the American armed forces mutual aid association, which works now with all of the services. And I had a lot of time over in Iraq and Afghanistan, working with folks from the other services.

[00:03:49] Michael Meese: I really appreciate Rob connecting us. 

[00:03:51] Tim Hsia: I think referencing Rob is important to note that a lot of other listeners to this podcast are not just west pointers. I've heard air force academy folks say they [00:04:00] listen to this podcast and it's good that the other service academies are listening. What our grads have to.

[00:04:05] Michael Meese: I think it's excellent. And in fact, the more you work with the other academies, the service academy global summit is something else that I've gotten involved in, which has really been a great way to network old and young from all different service academies. Could you 

[00:04:18] Tim Hsia: talk a bit more about this summit?

[00:04:20] Michael Meese: Yeah, the service academy global summit was started by, uh, person Ray Jefferson, uh, west point class of 88. He's actually right now nominated to be the undersecretary of benefits for the department of veterans affairs and Ray thought it would be great to get together graduates from all different academies and they've held it for several different years.

[00:04:41] Michael Meese: It was kind of on hiatus for COVID and they held it last year and it was a neat forum to get people together. To talk about issues at the academy and then just have camaraderie among them. For several years, I hosted the global affairs panel and we ended up with, uh, great folks from [00:05:00] all walks of life.

[00:05:00] Michael Meese: Michelle floo, former under secretary defense, Vince Brooks, the commander out in us, army Pacific. And the first captain when I was a cadet, as well as leaders from each of the other services and service academies as. We're going on a 

[00:05:15] Tim Hsia: rabbit hole this early in the podcast. And it's my fault, but I just want to mention another thing that Rob and I talked about, and it's connected to your background, which is it's unfair that the Navy gets San Diego and the army gets like Fort Polk.

[00:05:28] Tim Hsia: I'm curious if you have any thoughts on that. 

[00:05:31] Michael Meese: I completely agree. It just is the nature of where sea services happen to be located and where there's a lot of land that you can blow up. And, uh, without much of an impact, uh, having been, uh, a field artillery, officer Fort SI is a beautiful place, but if you miss, it's only a bunch of buffalos that get concerned.

[00:05:52] Tim Hsia: Amazing. Could you please talk about your west point experience? 

[00:05:56] Michael Meese: Well, I showed up at west point straight outta high school. And [00:06:00] actually I was the second youngest person in my class. I only turned 21 about 40 days before graduation. And so was, uh, relatively young, but had done a lot of academic things.

[00:06:12] Michael Meese: And so ended up. Being in a fair amount of advanced classes is what we would call today. A scholar, not an athlete. And so just played intermural athletics. I was for a couple years on the debate team. And then as a cadet became an honor representative and was on the honor committee became the regiment honor representative.

[00:06:33] Michael Meese: At, I think a critical time, people may remember that 77 was the west point honor scandal. And we went through a substantial reform of the honor system, really creating much of the changes that are still in place today to make sure that the cadets have ownership of the honor system, but that it could be adapted to make sure that you're emphasizing the ethics and the spirit of the honor code.

[00:06:56] Michael Meese: In addition to all of the legal ramifications of. [00:07:00]

[00:07:00] Tim Hsia: I wanna talk about academics real quick. In, in class rank, Dan Andry talked about how he started off his first two years struggling. Then he kind of like started really climbing the ranks. Bob McDonald mentioned in his podcast that if he only had another semester or two, he'd be at the very top of the class, it sounds like all four years you were at the top of your.

[00:07:21] Michael Meese: Yeah, I generally was, I think I finished about 25th, uh, or so in the class and always stayed up there. That was mostly what I concentrated in was the academics. At that time, we were taking six or seven classes and so I ended up almost becoming a double major in both international relations and economics.

[00:07:41] Tim Hsia: We're skipping ahead here. Um, but you also taught at west point, and I'm curious how you felt about the academic rigor between when you were a cadet and then when you were an instructor, 

[00:07:51] Michael Meese: that's a good question. More and more of the emphasis. Was put on independent thought and independent thinking, [00:08:00] as things became less wrote and less prescribed.

[00:08:05] Michael Meese: Uh, when I was a cadet, we didn't have majors. And so you had very little independence. We were starting to get into concentrations, but if you looked at my curriculum and the curriculum that I had in a class, 10 years before 20 years before they would be very similar. By the time I came back on the faculty, which was 1990 to 1993, we had evolved and had majors.

[00:08:27] Michael Meese: And so that people could study things in a lot more depth than we did, which I think better prepared the cadets that we taught to be able to go into a lot more depth in a lot more of the complicated situations that they would be faced with as officer. 

[00:08:42] Tim Hsia: So the stereotype or the phrase the core has maybe it's the core has improved.

[00:08:47] Michael Meese: It depends upon what you look at. In a lot of ways, it has improved. Many of my classmates and myself would be hard pressed to accomplish all the things that they do in the core cadets today. 

[00:08:58] Tim Hsia: I'm assuming given [00:09:00] your a stellar academic record, you probably didn't have to walk too many hours. 

[00:09:04] Michael Meese: I saw that that was gonna be one of the questions and have to admit that I think I had 16 hours on the area, but you'll be amused to know that at least eight of them, you used to get an eight and four for a security violation.

[00:09:17] Michael Meese: And a security violation then was leaving out a calculator cuz your ti 59 calculator that now you might be able to buy for $5 in a dime store. That was a major security violation. And I know at least a couple of the slugs were for that. 

[00:09:33] Tim Hsia: Interesting. I would be walking a lot of hours. If I had left my calculator out.

[00:09:38] Tim Hsia: Did you have any particular mentors or instructors at west point that had a major impact on you? 

[00:09:45] Michael Meese: Yeah. As a matter of fact, my sponsor wasn't a west point graduate, but it was an officer by the name of Ty Cobb. He was actually the great. Great nephew of the baseball player TA cob. And he was a field artillery officer that had transferred to military [00:10:00] intelligence.

[00:10:00] Michael Meese: I took him for about three or four classes. He taught Soviet studies and I took an independent study with him and he and I became very close. I actually taught his daughter in the cadet Sunday school, and then he later ended up working in the white house and lived near where my parents lived and we stay in touch to this day.

[00:10:20] Michael Meese: It was great to. Get to know him. And then a lot of the other faculty members, primarily from the department of social sciences that I got to know when you 

[00:10:30] Lance Dietz: were at west point, was it what you expected? Like had you done a lot of research prior to arriving and, and was it hard or easy for you beyond 

[00:10:38] Michael Meese: academics?

[00:10:39] Michael Meese: It's funny now, cuz my nephew is a yearling up at west point and everybody does these college tours where they know everything. I never, the first day I sat foot on west point was our day and I was as surprised and shocked. So I didn't honestly know what I was getting into [00:11:00] the best piece of advice though.

[00:11:02] Michael Meese: My dad gave me before I went to west point is he said, look, if you think you can't make it. Mark that time down. And if nothing good happens in the next week, then after the end of a week, call me up and you can come, you know, think about quitting. And honestly, every time I was really down at west point, whether it was plebe or actually throughout the rest of my time in the army, when you think of that time, something good happens at least in the next week, usually in the next 24 hours.

[00:11:34] Michael Meese: And so that was a useful perspective to. That 

[00:11:37] Tim Hsia: reminds me of the story of this too, shall pass. Like if you're on the top of the world, you should be humbled cuz it'll pass. And if you're at the bottom, you should also take hoping that it'll also pass. 

[00:11:49] Michael Meese: Yeah. And that's really what west point does. It gives everybody so many different experiences for me, you know, some of the highlights were a lot of the academic stuff, working [00:12:00] with faculty, going to conferences and those kinds of things.

[00:12:04] Michael Meese: Some of the toughest. Frankly was plea boxing, which was quite a challenge for me. And there's enough diverse experiences that every cadet goes from the highs to the lows. And it helps you develop the, I think, appropriate strategic, uh, relationship that you 

[00:12:20] Tim Hsia: need. One thing mentors of mine have been telling me that I need to develop is equanimity.

[00:12:26] Tim Hsia: And apparently I didn't learn that enough at west point something that all cadets. I, 

[00:12:31] Michael Meese: I think that that is important. You develop that by having. Intense important experiences, whatever that happens to be. And west point definitely stresses you in all of those different directions. And because you bring in 1200 to 1300 different individuals, they all have to be stressed in different ways.

[00:12:52] Michael Meese: And for some it's military, for some it's academics, for some it's the moral, ethical challenges and the [00:13:00] rules based system that we have. But all of it. Puts everybody through their paces so that they can grow to the, uh, optimal level and then become great officers in the. What 

[00:13:10] Tim Hsia: branch did you decide and why?

[00:13:12] Tim Hsia: Uh, 

[00:13:12] Michael Meese: I chose field artillery at that time for really two reasons. Field artillery was, uh, a little bit more intellectual, uh, and a little bit more strategic than other branches, uh, or at least that was how it was perceived at the time. And a lot of the mentors that I. Regardless of what department they, uh, were in my English professor, captain Landrum later retired as the head of the field artillery journal.

[00:13:40] Michael Meese: As I mentioned, Ty Cobb was a field artillery officer, several other officers that I knew and respected happened to be field artillery. And then when I was teaching on the faculty at west point, I would suggest to cadets when they're trying to choose their branch. Without thinking about it, write down the officers that, you know, uh, or [00:14:00] non-commissioned officers that you know, that you think would be good to get to know good, to have a beer with that kind of thing.

[00:14:06] Michael Meese: And if you find that they all happen to be in one branch or another, your personality and your fit may better in those kinds of branches. For me, it happened to be the field artillery. And I really enjoyed being in the field AR. Before we jump into 

[00:14:19] Tim Hsia: your army career would like to append on the note you said about the Vietnam era.

[00:14:23] Tim Hsia: So you came to west point as the Vietnam war was ending. What was that like in terms of instructors and how much of a shadow of Vietnam did that have over west point? Yeah, 

[00:14:33] Michael Meese: it's, it's actually interesting. I think that the cadets at west point. Because they learn from the officers in front of them. They kind of take on the perspective of those officers and that for better, for worse influences the perspective that they have.

[00:14:51] Michael Meese: So for example, we knew. What a bronze star looked like. We knew what air metals looked like because all of the officers that taught us [00:15:00] were wearing those metals. And at times, at least for the first class, they would teach with all their, uh, greens on. So we had that kind of a perspective and. All of the departments were grappling with at that time, the army was really suffering under the pressures of the all volunteer force.

[00:15:18] Michael Meese: We had not figured out, uh, the slogan be all you could be, which was done by general max Thurman in the 1979. In fact, when I was a yearling at west point was when general Scheyer, the chief staff of the army at the time west point class of 51. Testified before Congress that we had a hollow army. And so it was learning from the officers how to stick with it and how to grapple with the challenges that faced the army at that time.

[00:15:49] Lance Dietz: So one thing that I think is really interesting when you went back to teach at west point, I believe starting in oh five, again, whos in Iraq at Afghanistan. So I know for me, same [00:16:00] thing, like a lot of my, you know, instructors and so on had combat tours, ribbons, et cetera. Very interesting. I'm curious when you were back teaching and again, we're skipping ahead.

[00:16:11] Lance Dietz: What that was like then being on the other side of the table as an instructor and managing a lot of combat veterans that were now. 

[00:16:18] Michael Meese: Again, to just sort of go through this and this skips forward to some of the stuff in the army career. But when I first came back to teach 90 to 93 was when the army was reducing from 780,000 to 500,000.

[00:16:33] Michael Meese: And all the captains and majors at west point were being influenced on whether or not they should get out of the army or not get outta the army. Cuz they were actually paying my class. To get out the army with a voluntary separation incentive. And so many of the cadets from that are now flag officers today from the classes of 91, 92, 93 were being taught by faculty members that were considering whether to get in or stay [00:17:00] out.

[00:17:00] Michael Meese: And so the concept of staying into the army for a long period of time became more of an issue for those classes in part, because the officers that were teaching. Had that kind of decision that they were faced with. And so it took a while for the army to reform itself, to get people to stay in for a longer period of time.

[00:17:20] Michael Meese: And the issue of retention of officers in the army became a much bigger issue after the 1990s drawdown. 

[00:17:27] Tim Hsia: After choosing field artillery. And after graduating, can you walk us through your army 

[00:17:32] Michael Meese: career? My first studio assignment, because I was very high in my class. The first few people in the class of course chose Hawaii.

[00:17:40] Michael Meese: My girlfriend at the time that I met in high school, uh, she was a year behind me. Finishing San Diego state. And so I chose to go to Fort Ord, California, which is in Monterey. It now has been subsequently closed, but it was where the seventh and street division was. And I chose it cuz it was near my girlfriend, which was apparently a good [00:18:00] decision cuz we've now been married for 39 years and have three kids.

[00:18:05] Michael Meese: So first assignment was there as a second Lieutenant in a very interesting time. Again, the army was going through a huge transition. The first Howitzer that I had was an M 1 0 1, a one Howitzer that were built before world war II. Uh, so they were 1938 ish howitzers, and we traded those. In favor of the new big 1 55 towed howitzers.

[00:18:31] Michael Meese: And by the end of my time there, we had traded those out because general Wickham had developed the concept for the light divisions and the seventh tree division light then adopted the M 1 0 2 Howzer, which is, was a common Howzer until it got replaced by the M 1 1 9. So I had a really unique perspective of having three different howitzers in my first assign.

[00:18:54] Lance Dietz: So were you a two percenter then? Did you make it through school? We did. Oh yeah. 

[00:18:59] Michael Meese: [00:19:00] Oh, amazing. Myself and Frank Ryan Smith, uh, are the two people from the class of, uh, 81 who both of us had the same and still have the same wives, which is, I think , uh, a tribute more to my wife's patients than anything that I.

[00:19:16] Michael Meese: From there went back to the advanced course. And at that time went to the TAC, the nuclear targeting school, because I was deploying to the third armor division in Hau Germany, which right before we got there, 60 minutes to do special on Hau being the kind of worst place in all of Germany to be the motor pools were literally on mud.

[00:19:39] Michael Meese: All of our housers just had mud. There was not asphalt for 'em and. They took pictures of everything. And then it, our impression was they were never gonna fix the T your concern where we were, because it had been featured in 60 minutes and we kept getting more money to upgrade barracks in Germany. But at that time, I commanded a [00:20:00] 1 55 self-propelled hows, her battalion, which was nuclear capable.

[00:20:04] Michael Meese: So we went through all the special weapons training of nuclear artillery rounds and deployed to VIR like nine times to do our training and had a general defense planned position, or my battery Bravo battery 4 82 fielder artillery was actually the forward most battery in the folded gap. Now for you guys, you think the fold, the gap is a place where you might go to buy clothes.

[00:20:30] Michael Meese: The fold dig gap is actually the historical line for people to move in and out of Germany. And our battery's job was to fire scatter mines onto the other side of the inner German border, and then scoot across the river, blow the bridges and leave the infantry and armor guys on the other side of the river to fire as many copperhead rounds as possible as.

[00:20:53] Michael Meese: The Russian army or at that time, the Soviet army would be approaching. And then from there I had kept in touch [00:21:00] with some of my sponsors back in the social sciences department and they asked me to go back to teach. I applied to a bunch of different schools and ended up going to Princeton for two years, taught at west point from 90 to 93.

[00:21:12] Michael Meese: And then I left west point never thinking that I would go back other than for reunions, went to commander general staff college. Went to the first cavalry division where again, one of my teachers at west point was not a west point graduate, but was, uh, captain Pete Carelli who later became at that time, Lieutenant Colonel Pete Carelli was the G three of the first cavalry division.

[00:21:34] Michael Meese: So after I served as a battalion S three, there, I went and became the deputy G three of the first cavalry. Under general Leon Laport was our commander. At the time he had just taken over for general Shinseki class of 65, who I got to know pretty well and worked for general Carelli who later became the vice chief staff of the army and had a great time there at the first [00:22:00] cavalry division.

[00:22:00] Michael Meese: My division artillery commander at the time was class of 76 general Ray O Deno later, chief of staff of the army. And I would. Probably stayed on his fire sport coordinator, except the head of the economics part of west point, Tom Dola had retired. And so they were looking for somebody to come back and take over the economics, uh, division at west point.

[00:22:25] Michael Meese: So I was selected for that. And came back to west point 1996, honored the faculty as the director of the economics division. And then later became a professor, us military academy and the deputy head of the department in 2001, and then stayed on there until I was the department head in 2013. One thing 

[00:22:44] Lance Dietz: I read in one of your interviews was that you didn't necessarily think you would stay in past the five years.

[00:22:50] Lance Dietz: Is that 

[00:22:50] Michael Meese: correct? Absolutely. Uh, again, I was marrying this girl from San Diego who had never been outside the San Diego area. Um, and so I thought, oh, [00:23:00] shoot, we'll go back to Fort SI at the end of the advanced course, I probably, uh, I, in fact, because who was involved in the artillery might go into software or something like that, but we kinda like the army.

[00:23:13] Michael Meese: It might be fun to go to Germany. And the more we got to know more people in the army, our best friends were our neighbors. There became the godparents of our daughter who was born shortly after there. And all of the people that we knew that my west point roommate, uh, Bob Sager marries my wife's sister.

[00:23:34] Michael Meese: It's tough when you're sharing a room it's even tougher when you share a mother-in-law with your roommate. And so suddenly most of the people that we know are people from the. And I hadn't had a week where things had not gone well for this whole timeframe. So I continued to stay in the army for 32 years.

[00:23:52] Tim Hsia: We're gonna move to the next segment, the sit rep. And in this segment, we'll dive into what you're focused on today and [00:24:00] how your vision of transforming the future of industry and society. Could you please give us a quick overview of your post-military career and bring us to where you are? 

[00:24:08] Michael Meese: Sure. After serving at west point as a senior faculty member, where I ended up deploying quite a bit.

[00:24:15] Michael Meese: And I'll get into that later on from that position. In 2013, I had been in the army for 32 years, so it was time for me to retire. And so upon retirement, I had been in touch with again, One of the teachers that was on the faculty. When I was at west point, uh, at that time he was major Walt Lincoln and he was teaching a course called personal finance.

[00:24:40] Michael Meese: He subsequently left the army and was the president of the American armed forces mutual aid association. So he had been in touch with me and asked if I was interested in perhaps joining. And after 32 years in the army, I didn't want, and I had been involved in a lot of policy things I had deployed to Iraq and [00:25:00] Afghanistan for about 32 months at various times.

[00:25:02] Michael Meese: So there. Possibilities of going to work in the Pentagon or possibilities since I had been in academia of getting to work in academia, but I didn't really wanna do those things, but did want to be in a values based organization that was working with the military, but not necessarily in the military. And so AFMA, as we call, it seems to meet that bill AFMA started back in 1879, actually also related to the story of a west point, graduate George Armstrong Custer back in the old west, whenever anybody was out fighting native Americans at the time, if anybody died, the only way to take care of them was to literally pass the.

[00:25:44] Michael Meese: Well, when Custer was wiped out at the battle little big horn in 1876, there was nobody to pass the hat, nobody to pass the hat too. And so they said, we've gotta come up with a better solution to this. And they created at that time, the army mutual [00:26:00] aid association, uh, general Abner double day, general Arthur MacArthur, general, Phillip Sheridan appointed, uh, a committee put together this organization that was to take care of the survivors of, uh, those in the army.

[00:26:17] Michael Meese: It started out just being army officers with essentially a mutual insurance organiz. And over the past 143 years, that's now grown to about a 25 billion insurance organization where we've got 85,000 members. It's not a charity in that people don't donate to us, but it's officers helping other officers.

[00:26:38] Michael Meese: And it now. Stretches to not just officers, but non-commissioned officers enlisted service members and is now open to all veterans of all services. So we've got on my board Naval academy graduates folks from the air force and many, many others, sir. And 

[00:26:55] Lance Dietz: what was that like stepping into that organization, leaving the military, [00:27:00] um, and having a leadership position there?

[00:27:02] Michael Meese: Well, it is a challenge. What you realize is that you have a good strategic perspective. But you've gotta have humility with regard to what you don't know. I knew finance. I knew how to run spreadsheets. I had taught economics, but I didn't know the insurance industry. And I frankly did not understand that a lot of what the insurance industry is, is really financial services attached to a large information technology platform.

[00:27:31] Michael Meese: And so I became. Uh, friends with the chief information officer, making sure that all of our computers and everything like that was working well and studied very hard to do it, worked with the life management Institute to be able to get my fellow of the life management Institute, which is kind of the certification for people being involved in life insurance and continued to study and learn more and more about this new career that I was.

[00:27:56] Michael Meese: And one thing 

[00:27:56] Lance Dietz: I think you've talked about during your time in the army, [00:28:00] as well as post military is talent management and how important it is to one hire. Right. But also empower and let, let those team members do what they're best at how much of that was from the military that you took into the civilian world.

[00:28:17] Lance Dietz: And how have you applied that to. 

[00:28:19] Michael Meese: You're exactly right. It's the approach that we had in the social science department, which is where you get really talented people. And then you empower them, educate them, and then let them run. You don't try to control them. You know, you give them the wide latitude. And then see what they can do.

[00:28:37] Michael Meese: And so that you're not limited by the scope or thinking of the leader, but you empower a lot of others. And I've done that by bringing good folks in being able to support their education. We have a very robust educational program here so that we have had people do everything from getting their undergraduate degrees.

[00:28:57] Michael Meese: To getting certified as, uh, [00:29:00] certified financial analysts or certified financial professionals or taking other steps that has helped improve their own knowledge. And then they apply that better to take care of fellow employees. And most importantly, the 85,000 members that we have with all of their backgrounds.

[00:29:20] Lance Dietz: Super interesting. I also wanted to touch on your time advising the VA during the transition team in 16 and 17. We'd love to hear more about that. If you can. 

[00:29:30] Michael Meese: sure what's interesting is again, I was involved in this and, uh, at AFMA, which our whole purpose is taking care of veterans and survivors and caregivers.

[00:29:41] Michael Meese: And then in 2016, president Trump was running for office and the presidential transition act allows each campaign to have a transition team that is funded by the go. All of the individuals like me are volunteers, but they give them office space. They give them computers and that kind of thing. And so [00:30:00] I checked with my boss here at AFMA cuz at that time I was the chief operating officer and he said it was okay for me to work with the transition team to help prepare if the Trump administration got elected to help prepare them to go into.

[00:30:18] Michael Meese: And then when the election was ultimately successful for president Trump to help work with the VA, to make sure that they had the right plans to be able to take over government successfully. What was really important about that was that what I found about veterans affairs is generally it's fairly nonpartisan.

[00:30:37] Michael Meese: Everybody, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat are supportive of veterans at the time, Bob McDonald, class 75, who you've interviewed was the secretary of veterans affairs and could not have been more welcoming for us. And as it turned out, The chief of staff of the department of veterans affairs was Bob Snyder, who was my classmate from the class of 81.

[00:30:59] Michael Meese: Uh, [00:31:00] so we worked very hard to make sure that everybody in the incoming administration knew as much as they could from the VA. And the VA was extremely helpful in trying to facilitate us. Understanding what was happening in the VA. And to give you an idea of the kind of cooperation, I worked with a person from the transition team, from the Hillary Clinton campaign to get their insights.

[00:31:23] Michael Meese: And then subsequently when president Biden was elected in 2020 Meg Cabot. Ran his transition team and talked to me and I briefed her to be able to make sure that the Biden team that was coming in now led by secretary, uh, McDonough, uh, was as prepared as possible. Uh, and now they've hired Ray Jefferson or nominated Ray Jefferson for the post of under secretary for veterans benefits.

[00:31:48] Michael Meese: And hopefully he'll continue this kind of tradition moving into that position in a non-political way to be able to help veterans in any way that they can. And 

[00:31:57] Lance Dietz: alongside what you're doing [00:32:00] with AFMA, you're still teaching right at Georgetown 


[00:32:03] Michael Meese: Yep. I do. Uh, again, you talk about the west point connections, class of 68, Tom MCN.

[00:32:09] Michael Meese: Nower who was a reserve instructor at west point happened to be on my dissertation committee. When I finished my PhD dissertation at Princeton and he was teaching at. Georgetown. And so he asked me to come and teach at Georgetown and I told him I could only do it one semester, one night, a week. So I teach a course called the economics of war, which is a great way to continue to stay in touch with the army.

[00:32:34] Michael Meese: We end up at the school of foreign service in each class. There's. Two or three military officers from either the Naval academy or west point. I don't know if I've had any from the air force academy yet, as well as a bunch of other, really highly talented people that are in the school of foreign service that are then gonna go out and continue to be involved in national security.

[00:32:53] Lance Dietz: Yeah. I would imagine, especially during times now with kind of, kind of the conflict in Ukraine, that [00:33:00] that class is like probably really relevant. I would imagine. 

[00:33:03] Michael Meese: I don't know whether it's the, uh, I'm sure it's the subject matter and not their instructor, but I, uh, managed to always have a waiting list for it.

[00:33:12] Michael Meese: And right now, if you look at the importance of sanctions and how the us is really using economic warfare against. Russia. It is writing whole new lessons on how the economics of war are important. It's the class Lance that I taught you in SS 4 77. And I know you paid great attention to that, but having a new generation involved in it, one of the reasons that continue to teach is just because it keeps your mind active and thinking about all of these issues, which I think is really, I.

[00:33:47] Michael Meese: You've 

[00:33:48] Lance Dietz: alluded a lot to the long gray line west point grads, as well as other academy grads. And as you were going through your military career, as well as your civilian career, I'm curious if there's been any mentors along that [00:34:00] route that have been super influential for 

[00:34:02] Michael Meese: you throughout my whole career.

[00:34:04] Michael Meese: There have been, uh, a lot. As I mentioned, Walt Lincoln, class 72, brought me into this job general. Dan Kaufman was the deputy head of the department of social sciences later. The head of the department of social sciences and later the Dean of the academic board, when many others were cadets, he brought me back to west point and continued to be a great mentor.

[00:34:27] Michael Meese: And then in 2000. Two right as I was dominated to become the professor, uh, and head of the department of social sciences general Petras was a one star and he was over in Bosnia as the assistant chief staff for operations at Bosnia and needed an XO. And as, uh, any of, you know, whenever you. Positions, it's kind of helpful to have a little bit of a break.

[00:34:54] Michael Meese: So I took, uh, kind of my spring semester abroad to go over and work in [00:35:00] Bosnia. Well, after I had committed to do that nine 11 happened. And so I was there January through June of 2002, right after the start of nine 11. And believe it or not, Bosnia was an important front on the war on terrorism. And so we learned a.

[00:35:17] Michael Meese: From him there as a one star when he was the assistant chief staff for operations there. I ended up working with him the following year when he was in mole as the commander of the hundred first and then worked for him and general O Deno. Again, it's sort of how it's all connected back in 2006 and seven, we were doing the surge in Iraq, general O Deno.

[00:35:41] Michael Meese: My forward Devard commander was the three star general Patras was named by president Bush to be the four star. And so. Came over there to help with the economics piece of the campaign plan, because until now the army doesn't really have an economic specialty. And so it was important to be involved in, uh, [00:36:00] that part of it and continue to work with folks like general Petras and general Odo over there, which were great opportunities.

[00:36:08] Michael Meese: I wanna riff 

[00:36:08] Tim Hsia: off what you just said, because you had talked about sanctions now and then the economic policy in Iraq. I remember, uh, while in Iraq, during the tail end of the surge, we used the phrase money as a weapon system. And I'm curious if that's the phrase that you had coined. 

[00:36:25] Michael Meese: Well, , I, I won't attribute it to me.

[00:36:28] Michael Meese: I think if you want to go back to one of the earliest uses of it, however, it was when then the deputy secretary of defense, uh, Paul Wolfowitz came over and visited mole in the summer of 2003, where we used the phrase that money is, am. And it was important because, you know, obviously it was very costly being over there.

[00:36:52] Michael Meese: And we had been able to leverage the commander's emergency response program funds to be able to facilitate operations [00:37:00] there. And secretary Wolfowitz went back to the department of defense and back to Congress. And initially all of the funding for se funding was from the, uh, dollars that Saddam hue had managed to squirrel away.

[00:37:14] Michael Meese: And so we were spending Saddam's Fu money for the benefit of the Iraqi people, which made a lot of sense. And then Congress eventually appropriated money that was able to be used by commanders to be able to influence the battlefield. And as long as you're in influence with artillery and with, uh, tank ground, you might as well be able to influence it.

[00:37:33] Michael Meese: Less expensively with money to be able to shape the battlefield. And again, what we teach is important. You know, military people are not development experts. They need to be there, not for the long term commitment to be able to build a society back, but in the immediate aftermath of warfare, it is helpful for them to be there for reconstruction, humanitarian assistance.

[00:37:59] Michael Meese: And to [00:38:00] get that country back going. 

[00:38:01] Tim Hsia: It's interesting, given how it feels like there's an element of national security se happening in Ukraine. 

[00:38:08] Michael Meese: Uh, I, I think you're right. President Biden talked about 33 billion, but that's evenly divided between economic assistance and military assistance, both of which are gonna be critical for, uh, us national security policy in.

[00:38:24] Tim Hsia: Let's get into our next and third segment, the O P or standing operating procedure in this segment. We're going to talk about the personal routines, habits and words to live by that have been instrumental to your success. What routines or habits did you have in the military west point that you still adhere to?

[00:38:38] Michael Meese: I was reflecting with one of my classmates. Colonel Kirby was the head of the department of, then it was earth space and graphic sciences now geography and environmental engineering department, but he taught us. To use all those snippets of time that you have. So whether this is good or bad, it's influenced me throughout my life to never have [00:39:00] any time that is wasted or not used.

[00:39:02] Michael Meese: Some of the other things are kind of having that strategic perspective west point makes you do a heck of a lot of things. So you have to have the situational awareness of. Who's to your left who's to your right. What's going on. What's important. And then be able to continuously kind of reprioritize what's happening at a moment's notice.

[00:39:23] Michael Meese: And, and that has been helpful for me. 

[00:39:26] Tim Hsia: So it sounds like your day is fully jam packed in terms of meetings, learnings, and just applying your time wisely. 

[00:39:34] Michael Meese: The day is jam packed, but that's because there's lots of things to do. And you want to maximize the effect that you have on it. Part of probably what I think cadets are doing today better than we learned.

[00:39:49] Michael Meese: Was to have the time to be reflective. And so I actually have to discipline myself away from what I learned from west point to ensure that there's enough time to be reflective and think through [00:40:00] all of the, uh, issues that happen to be out there. 

[00:40:04] Tim Hsia: A recent guest. Chris Gaertner mentioned that he probably has around five to six meetings a day.

[00:40:09] Tim Hsia: I'm curious if that sounds about right for you. 

[00:40:12] Michael Meese: Yeah, especially, and it's not gotten better with zoom. Uh, it's gotten easier and that you, you know, don't necessarily leave your desk to be able to do it. It's one of the reasons why, at least I have a standing desk, so occasionally can stand up as you're going to different things, but you can really fill your time with a lot of those meetings.

[00:40:30] Michael Meese: You just gotta make sure that all of those are important and product. 

[00:40:34] Lance Dietz: Sir. I've got one more question for you before we head to the last segment and it's back on the reflection point that you mentioned. I know I fall prey to not carving out enough time for that. I'm curious for you, especially in some of the advisory roles that you've been in and have to be on point like.

[00:40:50] Lance Dietz: Now, are there any routines as it relates to that reflection? Are there any things that you try to read on a daily or weekly basis? Are there any people you try to talk to frequently, [00:41:00] but just reflecting on that, how do you carve out time for that reflection that you alluded to? 

[00:41:05] Michael Meese: Yeah. I mean, I generally am reading a variety of things.

[00:41:08] Michael Meese: I start out the, the day with the wall street journal, which I found to be the most kind of effective and balanced, uh, way to do things and then have various news feeds that I go through. And then just keeping up on the economist or other kinds of, uh, readings. I happen to be on the board of foreign affairs.

[00:41:26] Michael Meese: And so consequently, all the stuff that comes out of council on foreign relations seems to be fairly effective and relying on that as. 

[00:41:34] Lance Dietz: That's great. Our last segment is what we call giving back. And I feel like you are at the tip of the spear on this with AFMA and what that firm and like company has done for veterans and their families.

[00:41:45] Lance Dietz: In terms of advice for those leaving the military today, is there any one or two snippets that you would have for someone transitioning from the military now into the corporate world? 

[00:41:57] Michael Meese: And this is somewhat influenced by the fact that [00:42:00] my son is class of 2012 from west point my son-in-law's class of 2014.

[00:42:06] Michael Meese: My son just got promoted a major state in the army reserves, but transitioned out of active duty. And my son-in-law's a company commander in the 82nd. The first is be realistic and know what you're getting. And recognize all of the things that you have currently in the military. And then how are you gonna replace those as you get out of the military?

[00:42:27] Michael Meese: One of the jobs that I have in AFMA today is that I brief every army general officer Marine Corps, general officer, and Navy Admiral, as they transition out of the service. And as we talk to them, it's remarkable at how much. They don't realize what's happening when they get to the outside in terms of how do you get medical care?

[00:42:50] Michael Meese: What are the other expenses that you're gonna have? Maybe it's my inherently cautious nature. I would encourage you guys are two great examples of folks [00:43:00] that have been wildly successful in the civilian environment, but to look with fully open eyes as to what you're transitioning into. And then as you do transition everything that I've talked to with both the flag officers, as well as junior officers, is it's really important to maintain the relationships with people younger and older in a two-way opportunity that you're.

[00:43:25] Michael Meese: Reaching out to mentors and others, not just to see what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. And maintaining those relationships, going to lunch, having coffee, doing those kinds of things are really important and even more important than we recognize sometimes in the military. And then finally, when I talk to both flag officers and junior officers, it is really important to take care of your own financial independence and security.

[00:43:51] Michael Meese: That's what we focus on here at AFMA. So, you know, when you leave the military, everybody in the army has service members, group, life, insurance, SGL. [00:44:00] I, well, your family still has those needs. And so consequently, it's important to get a replacement for. We happen to have all kinds of life insurance for that from Hama, which is in most cases, much less expensive than what you get from V G I, but whether you get it from V G L I or some other provider, or from AMA it's, uh, important that you think kind of strategically on all of those things that you need to be sure that your family is well taken care of.

[00:44:26] Michael Meese: And then the last thing that I would say, which. It's important to stay in shape. I was the class a for the class of 51 when they came back for their 40th reunion in 1991, and it was really noticeable to see those people that had been in the army for 30 years, versus those people that were in the army for a relatively shorter amount of time.

[00:44:48] Michael Meese: And did not stay in shape over the succeeding 30 or 40 years. And their health is much, much better if you pay attention to all that thing that the master of the sword said to do when you were in [00:45:00] DPE classes, even as much as we hated it, when we were all there, 

[00:45:04] Tim Hsia: I wanna riff off that, which is we commented on this with the McChrystal podcast and that's the military is one of the rare places you get paid to work.

[00:45:14] Tim Hsia: No 

[00:45:14] Michael Meese: exactly. And you gotta build that in. You get paid to work out, you get paid to study, they send you to school, you get paid to read and develop professionally. And all of those skills are not there just because the military likes to do it. It's because it makes it a better force. If you have a smart force, that's reading, that's studying, that's working out and that's doing all those things.

[00:45:40] Michael Meese: It makes. The you more effective and it makes the force overall more effective, 

[00:45:44] Lance Dietz: sir, this has been fantastic on behalf of Tim and myself. We can't thank you enough for carving out some time amongst a very busy schedule running asthma, but it was great to have you as an instructor. And it's great to reconnect here and really looking forward to hopefully have you back on the podcast for [00:46:00] another episode.

[00:46:01] Lance Dietz: But thanks again. Great, 

[00:46:02] Michael Meese: Lance. I'm glad that you and Tim have put this together and look forward to hearing the podcast. Thank you very much. This 

[00:46:11] Narrator: has been a production of the WPA OG broadcast network. Please take a moment to rate and review the show and join us each week for a new episode. Thank