Fletcher Features

Excelling Under Pressure in the Air and in the Classroom: Chris Wrenn (F12)

Chris Wrenn (F12) has worked in four war zones. He flew a B-52 bomber over Iraq in 1991 and a B-1 bomber over Afghanistan in the mid-2000s. In the 1990s, Wrenn served during the drug war at a classified location and was a United Nations military observer in the occupied northern African territory of Western Sahara.

Yet none of those experiences stressed him out the way earning his PhD in international relations from The Fletcher School did. “I felt less pressure when I was being shot at by a surface-to-air missile than I felt during that program,” he says.

Wrenn, a colonel in the United States Air Force, began the pursuit of his doctorate in September 2009 as a 48-year-old intent on not wasting time or taxpayer dollars. To meet the demanding expectations of the military, which had given him three years to earn his degree, he created a rigorous schedule. He worked 12-hour days Monday through Friday, eight hours on Saturday and six hours every other Sunday. On Christmas, he would put in six hours, in between spending time with his wife and five children. This workload allowed him to complete the program in two years, ten months and three weeks.

“What I painfully went through while pursuing a PhD at a world-class institution was a process that stretched me to the limits of my mental and physical abilities,” says Wrenn, who completed the program last July. “What it left me with is not just a better understanding of my mental and physical endurance but also the capacity to think critically and produce under pressure.”

Recognizing this ability, the Air Force assigned him to a position at the Pentagon as the deputy director of the Asia-Pacific cell in the Air Force. Wrenn’s team works with other departments of the military to move forces toward the Asia-Pacific region as it winds down its operations in the Middle East. He draws on his Fletcher education to identify problems succinctly, develop alternative courses of action and make informed policy recommendations.

“I’ve come to hate war,” Wrenn says. “I can bring the knowledge that came from The Fletcher School, look at a challenge in the Pacific and help deter warfare so we don’t have to fight.”

--Dan Eisner
(Reprinted from Fletcher News)