Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Eagan serves country, pursues international interests


After graduating in 2011, Isaac Eagan became an Afghanistan field representative with Spirit of America, a nonprofit organization helps Americans serving abroad assist people in need. The organization responds to needs identified by American military and civilian personnel serving around the world for items, support and expertise that will help local people. He describes one project in a September 2012 online video.

Above: Isaac Eagan sails on an Albanian patrol boat heading out of Sarandë harbor to link up with the U.S. Navy ship Grapple (in the background), the salvage vessel used to clear the port of ships scuttled during Albania’s 1997 civil war. Eagan liaised with the U.S. Defense Department’s attaché and the U.S. Navy in the salvage mission to raise some of the ships and transform them into reefs to encourage scuba diving and tourism.

Below: Eagan also traveled with the U.S. ambassador to Albania (in dark suit) and a representative from a nongovernmental organization to a Roma (gypsy) community. “We visited an utterly squalid slum to raise the Albanian government's awareness of their poverty,” Eagan says. “As in much of Europe, the Roma have access to little or no public services and are unable to have a real voice in their own affairs.”

Eagan listens to U.S. ambassdaor talk to a woman and man.

Having applied his commitment to public service, as well as his organizational and planning talents, to the U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, French high school students and a food service for homeless people, Isaac Eagan now wants to serve the federal government by advancing U.S. interests abroad.

Eagan came to the La Follette School after spending two years with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Milwaukee serving the most severely injured veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by coordinating their medical treatment and expediting their disability compensation. He also served as congressional liaison, linking the department with members of Congress to serve their constituents more effectively, and as joint services records research coordinator, researching historical evidence to corroborate veterans’ claims.

Although he served many people, Eagan returned to school to focus on the more international aspects of the government for the next phase of his career. “I am developing a more analytical and policy-based skill set that builds upon my past experiences and prepare me for future endeavors,” says Eagan, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2003 with a degree in international studies. “It had been a relatively long time since I had been in an academic environment, so I was excited to have the opportunity to fine-tune portions of my brain that had long been dormant.”

Prior to working for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Eagan served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, volunteering twice to deploy to Iraq, in 2003-2004 and 2006-2007. While in Iraq, he participated in assignments that ranged from leading convoy security teams to conducting route reconnaissance missions to working with Civil Affairs units to provide basic necessities such as schools and access to water for Iraqi villages.

The most satisfying endeavor, however, was training the Iraqi Army, he says. “We conducted this mission at the very beginning of the training process in the fall of 2003, so we had a lot of flexibility and autonomy in devising the training curriculum — this was coupled with working with and really getting to know Iraqis to a degree that most soldiers can’t. It was an extremely rewarding experience from both a personal and professional perspective.” 

In between tours in Iraq, Eagan taught English in two high schools in Nice, France; he also worked as the interim food service manager for the Dubuque (Iowa) Rescue Mission. These jobs, while seemingly diametrically opposed, exposed him to working with diverse populations in frequently challenging circumstances and reinforced his commitment to public service. “These jobs, along with my military service, challenged me to think quickly and adapt to frequently changing conditions,” he says. “In situations like these, it’s imperative that you prepare yourself as well as you possibly can and then train yourself to react effectively when things don’t turn out as you expected.”

This mentality has served Eagan well in his return to school to earn a Master of International Public Affairs degree, especially when it came to classes with unfamiliar and challenging material. “I can’t lie — I certainly had some cobwebs in the parts of my brain that dealt with statistics and economics,” he says. Having made it through the first year’s rigorous core classes, Eagan is focusing his studies on the Middle East and America’s relationships in that area. He is also taking Arabic. “During the course of my travels, I have always found it more effective when you attempt to communicate with people in their native tongue instead of automatically assuming that they speak English,” he says. “It immediately conveys a willingness to meet the other person halfway, and this is one of the real keys to brokering trust and cooperation.”

In between his first and second years at La Follette, Eagan interned with the U.S. State Department in Albania. There he gained insight into the ways that America deals with the rest of the world in diplomatic terms. During the 10-week program, Eagan traveled with the Ambassador to various events, created an outreach program to dispel myths about the visa application process, developed programs for a new embassy energy-conservation initiative, and worked with the U.S. and Albanian navies in conducting salvage operations. “This experience really provided me with important insight into how America projects ‘soft power’ internationally through programs like these — it was an extremely valuable summer,” Eagan says.

After he completes his degree this spring, Eagan will spend the summer in a yet-to-be-determined Middle Eastern country doing immersive Arabic study. He plans to eventually put his newly gained knowledge to work for the federal government in Washington, D.C. “For me, it’s always been important to serve this country,” he says. “For as many problems as we admittedly have, it’s pretty remarkable that a country of over 300 million people operates as smoothly as it does. I want to do my own small part to make that trend continue.”

— updated October 9, 2012