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History Major, Intelligence Officer, Teacher

Clair Wiles

As a naval intelligence officer in Iraq in 2006, Clair Wiles applied the skills she learned as a history major to discern patterns and understand cultures. The result? “Hundreds of lives saved.”

I graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in History in 1998. Wanting to dive headlong into the profession, I completed an Honors thesis in the Department of History. That simple commitment transformed my senior year into a seemingly never ending treasure hunt through historical journals, publishing records and religious history. I sifted through thousands of documents and in the end was able to bring order to the chaos and deliver a coherent argument. These skills served me well as I became a high school history teacher, determined to help students understand the cause and effect cycles of history.

In 2006 I was recalled to active duty as a Navy intelligence officer in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was stationed at Camp Victory in Baghdad where I served on the briefing team for the Corps and Theater commanders. Our daily battlefield updates were a seeming blur of attacks and at one point I felt like I was doomed to spend a year just reporting how many people were killed in action every day. After a particularly brutal day, I assembled my team and asked them to bring order to the chaos of reporting — to find patterns, to predict attacks, to understand the religious and tribal culture of each area of operations and produce a daily brief that we could share with convoys to prevent attacks. The result? Hundreds of lives saved. Yes, the skills I learned from the University of Oregon History Department literally saved lives.