Thursday, March 1, 2007

Profile: Nathan Minami, SDM ’07—a soldier’s journey to MIT

By Patty Eames, SDM-LFM communications assistant, and Lois Slavin, ESD communications director

Nathan Minami’s career has taken him to 23 countries on five continents, but the Army major says he came to SDM because it teaches what the US Army and the world at large need—people who understand systems thinking and can manage and lead in complex situations.

Nate Minami, far right, conferring with fellow soldiers in Iraq

If one had to use a single word to describe Minami, it would have to be "patriotic." While his commitment to the American people shows in his words and actions, it is best exemplified by his career in the US armed forces.

During high school, perhaps because his father served in Vietnam and his grandfather in WWII, Minami applied and was accepted to the US Military Academy at West Point. There he enrolled in the first of three higher education programs supported by the Army—earning a BS in Arabic and French language with a focus on systems engineering. Later, Minami graduated with an MA in national security studies with a Middle East concentration from American Military University.

Minami has spent 14 years in the military, but he said his deployment in Iraq as infantry company commander for the 25th Infantry Division led to his biggest accomplishments. He and his troops assisted with reconstruction projects, governance and training soldiers in the Iraqi army—in addition to participating in combat operations. "I deployed to Iraq with 146 soldiers and brought 146 soldiers home," he said, humbly acknowledging that he had help from many others. "Not one died and not one had to be medically evacuated."

At SDM, Minami says he has benefited most from his system dynamics classes, which have taught him how to understand and manage the complexity of different socio-technical systems.

"A single soldier and his equipment can be seen as a complex system," Minami said. "He must be prepared to quickly assess a situation and determine how to communicate effectively with a wide range of stakeholders, from fellow soldiers, to officers, to Iraqi citizens, in environments that are often hostile and deadly. Deepening my understanding of complex systems will help me better serve my troops and my country. I also believe it’s something all of us everywhere could use in order to learn to work together peacefully and effectively in many different endeavors."

Minami praises SDM for its emphasis on group assignments and collective learning. "Everything is teamwork in the military, and SDM is all about teamwork. I will be returning to service in June 2007 with a better understanding of how to incorporate a variety of diverse perspectives for the collective good of the whole. I am very grateful to be part of the SDM community."

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