James O’Flaherty, US Marine Corps

Interview with James O’Flaherty, US Marine Corps

Name: James O’Flaherty

Military Branch & Rank: US Marine Corps, Captain

Dates of Service: 2009 – 2015

Date of Interview: August 20, 2019

Interviewer: Michael D. Brown

Audio Producer: Laura Bang

Length of Interview: 1 hour 15 minutes

Transcribed by: Nicholas Coscarelli

Edited and annotated by: Meg Piorko

Audio URL: https://veteransvoices.library.villanova.edu/james-oflaherty-us-marine-corps/


MICHAEL BROWN (INTRO): Thank you for joining us today. My name is Michael Brown, and we are here today at Villanova University recording another installment of the Voices of Villanova’s Veterans.

BROWN: Good afternoon. Today is August 20th of 2019. We are here for another segment of the Voices of Villanova’s Veterans, and I am joined by James O’Flaherty, who is a United States Marine Corps veteran, and a Villanovan. And today we will discuss his story from start to finish, and everywhere in between. And we are happy to have James with us today. And so welcome, James. Are you ready to begin this journey?

JAMES O’FLAHERTY: I am. I came ready, so let’s do it.

BROWN: Alright. So, talk to me a little bit about when you’re born, where you’re born, and what your childhood was like.

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah, so I’m a Southern boy. I was born in Charlotte and got a family in North Carolina and Virginia area. So, you know, kind of bounced around in the South, and sort of found my roots in Richmond, and went to high school there, and went to college there. And I was like the kid that went away to college and got homesick and came back. And so, I ended up at Virginia Commonwealth University in – and when was that – 2010. Or excuse me, 2005. And I started there and decided to get a degree in criminal justice. And at the time, I was going to graduate 2009, which, you know, was not the best economic times for the country. So, I realized very quickly that my criminal justice degree wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. And so, there had to be some sort of recession-proof alternative. And I don’t know how I got acquainted with this person, but there’s always that one person that like has the big impact on you to join the military. And I think it might have been a class that I took with a friend of mine. His name is Ben Reeks. He actually just got promoted to Major. And so, I’m kind of showing my age a little bit there. But regardless, he sort of influenced me to join the Marine Corps. And it wasn’t a situation where I like I knew I was going to be a Marine from day one. And honestly, it just was because the housing market just crashed the economy. And you know, as a young kid growing up in the south, I was not averse of blowing stuff up and breaking stuff. So, there was only one organization that I saw that could, you know, sort of fit that for me. And it was the Marine Corps.

BROWN: So, you’re, this is, you’re getting through college. And you’re talking about joining the Marine Corps, post-degree, not through an ROTC program?


BROWN: So, you’re thinking direct commission. And what is that process like for those lay listeners out there who have never gone through a military commissioning process?

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah. And so, you’ve got the enlisted Marines, and then you’ve got the officers and this, what I’m describing actually is applicable to both. So, if you’re prior enlisted, let’s say if you, you know, join the reserves, you can still go to college while you’re in the reserves, right? And so, the program that I used to get a commission is available to both enlisted and people that are not prior service, right? So, it’s called the platoon leaders’ course. And at the time, they were hurting for lieutenants. So, they were setting up as many different, it’s called PLC,[1] they were setting up as many different PLC programs as they could, just like back-to-back, just to get as many folks as you can. So, I joined, it was the summer before my fifth year of undergrad. So, it’s 2009. I went to officer candidate school. And so, that was 10 weeks in Quantico. And it was summertime. So, you can probably assume what the weather was like there. I think that God has an agreement with the Marine Corps that it’s going to be 10 degrees hotter on base and 99 percent humidity during the summer.

BROWN: Absolutely.

O’FLAHERTY: And then it’s going to be 33 degrees and raining during the winter every day on Marine Corps bases. So, you know, it’s good training.

BROWN: Indeed.

O’FLAHERTY: [laughs] But so, did that and then came back and knocked out my last year of college and then got a commission.

BROWN: So, what is PLC? What is officer candidate school? Like, is it, you know, we’ve talked to some veterans before who’ve gone the Parris Island droughts.


BROWN: We’ve talked to some who’ve gone, you know, Naval ROTC here on campus.


BROWN: You know, what is it? How intense is it? Is it more classroom? Is it more doing, you know, parade rest, getting smoked? You know, what is, you know, give me a typical day in the life of PLC.

O’FLAHERTY: Sure. And of course, I’m biased to the platoon leaders course, but you know, all the acronyms aside, it’s officer candidate school. And the Marine Corps is the only branch of service from what I understand that uses enlisted staff and CO[2] drill instructors from Parris Island and San Diego to come and train the officers. And if you’ve ever been around the Marine Corps experience at all and seen the culture, Marine drill instructors don’t necessarily like officers that much. And so, you can probably understand the intensity of the training. And it’s, out of the branches of service, I’m convinced without a shadow of a doubt that is the toughest, because the agreement there is that, you know, staff sergeant such and such or gunnery sergeant such and such is supposed to follow you in combat. And he’s responsible for training you. So, in order for him to follow you in combat, you better be on your A game. You better have everything squared away. And you better be the best because you have Marine lives in your charge. And these drill instructors are not going to allow you to set foot in front of a Marine unless you meet their requirements. And so, that off the bat contributes to an incredibly tight knit culture in the long run.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: Because when you’re a drill instructor, you’re only there for a few years, you know, and you take the recruits through training. You know, you get them online, you know, and you take them through 13 weeks of hell. And then you go to officer candidate school. If you’re one of the best drill instructors, they send you over to OCS to train the officer candidates. And then you can them in the fleet later on. And I’ll give you an example. I was in Afghanistan in 2013. And I was in the chow hall, minding my own business, you know, it was probably the bull first lieutenant, like the senior first lieutenant there. And I heard this like, “Hey,” and it was like something clicked in my head. I went right back, and I was like, “Oh my God, he’s right behind me.” And I turned around. He had a big smile on his face. He wasn’t in drill instructor mode. But I saw him again in Afghanistan. I mean, like, the Marine Corps is such a small world that you have those types of interactions. So, the fact that the Marine Corps has to do a lot more than, you know, it’s disproportional, I think, because when I was in the Marine Corps, I had 7 percent of the budget, but 11 percent of the missions, you know? And so, you stretch thin, and that type of that type of hard work mentality brings you closer together.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: You know, and so it’s a really good dynamic, from what I experience, between the enlisted and the officers, but that officer candidate school itself, it starts the whole experience off right. Because the enlisted Marines that had to go through Parris Island and San Diego got trained by the same drill instructors that train the officers. And so, as an enlisted Marine, you’re looking at an officer in one of two different ways. You either say, “Oh, that guy’s kind of like hoity, toity, like, yeah, you can, you know, he gets paid a lot, blah, blah, blah,” or you look at him like, “Wow, we were trained by the same snake eaters out there that are just savage guys and that put us through the same kind of like hard atmosphere.” And so, you earn a little bit of respect from the enlisted core when you go through something like that. I think that that was by design.

BROWN: Sure. No, I think I think you’re right. So, this is what you said, 10 weeks at Quantico?


BROWN: You get your commission and then you finish school, you said?

O’FLAHERTY: Well, you get your commission – it’s kind of a gray area there. So, you could go to officer candidate school the summer before your final year of college.

BROWN: Okay.

O’FLAHERTY: And then when you graduate officer candidate school, you’re sort of in in limbo, where you’ve technically completed your training, but you haven’t gotten your degree.

BROWN: Right.

O’FLAHERTY: Both of those are required for a commission. So, until you get your degree, you are not, if you’re not prior service, you are not a Marine. You are just a graduate of officer candidate school.

BROWN: Right.

O’FLAHERTY: And then once you graduate and get your undergraduate degree, then you’re eligible to be commissioned as a second lieutenant. And so, and that’s, you know, if you’re still in the reserves, you go back to being Lance Corporal such and such that, you know, one week in a month, he goes and does God’s work, right? And then comes back to class on Monday. And so, until he graduates and gets his degree, he’ll still be a Lance Corporal or Corporal. And then he’ll become a second lieutenant.

BROWN: Okay.

O’FLAHERTY: So, that’s how they set that up. And then there’s a mandatory school that happens after officer candidate school. That’s the real test.

BROWN: Okay.

O’FLAHERTY: And that’s called the basic school. It’s not to be confused with basic training, but the Marine Corps names things very poorly.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: [laughs] But the basic school is a six-month school that if you’re a pilot, or if you’re going to be a pilot, excuse me, if you’re a jag officer, staff judge advocate, whatever. Regardless of your job, you have to go through that six-month school, because where every Marine is a rifleman, every Marine officer is expected to be a rifle platoon commander. So, that’s where you learn how to be a rifle platoon commander. And it’s just, it’s a very, very, very hard school. And it’s not one of those things where it’s like OCS, where they, you know, you could, you could get kicked out, like, because they could, they could kick you out of officer candidate school. But at, at TBS, you’re a lieutenant, you’re now a Marine, you know, like, you get treated like a Marine. And you have both enlisted Marines and officers that train. So, as a company, you’ll, you’ll pick up together as a company. So, 300 lieutenants will split off into five to six platoons. And you’ll each have a platoon commander, who’s a captain. And this captain has already completed one three-year fleet tour. And so, he’s got his combat experience. And you’ve got like, we were looking at guys that were Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that were just stacked. I mean, when they put on their service uniform, their resume is pretty hefty.

BROWN: Right. Right.

O’FLAHERTY: And so, we’re looking at these guys like, “Wow, this is awesome.” You know, and they put you through a lot. And it, the TBS in the Marine Corps to, to the enlisted Marines and to the officers, it’s the right of passage. You know, and it’s like, “Wow, this guy went through TBS. Okay, like he’s good to go.”

BROWN: So, what are you learning? What is the, you know, when you say everyone’s a platoon commander, what does that, you know, what does that mean?

O’FLAHERTY: So, in short, and in, you know, kind of like gets me a little motivated to say it, they literally say, “You will become a tactical expert in the application of violence.” And so, they teach you every weapon system, organic to a Marine rifle company, and or excuse me, a Marine rifle platoon. And then they’ll teach you other more advanced weaponry, organic to the company. So, for example, they start you off in like, you know, fire team and squad levels, which is like the fire team is your four-man team squad is your 13-to-15-man team. And then your platoon is upwards, you know, 40 to 50 Marines. So, they start you off small, get you used to operating in a fire team environment, then they move into the squad environment, then they move into the platoon environment all over the course of six months. And you do different live fire exercises, you know, at different levels. So, one of the final things that we did was we did a live fire. It was a, I can’t remember what the term is, but basically, we had a stationary position, and then we had Marines that were moving towards the gunfire.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: And so, it was extremely risky, you know, and so, it’s tough to do that. If you’re going to do it live fire, but we did it like that because you have to train how you fight. And so, these types of intense, really like very precise, scenarios that they put you through teaches you how to respect the weapons that you’re employing, and how to actually know how to employ them in a way that can defeat the enemy. Because there’s nothing at TBS, they teach you other than how to lead Marines, and how to win battles. And everything else is just window dressing. It’s apple pies and baseball. Like, it doesn’t contribute to the mission.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: So, they put you in leadership. They teach you how to operate in the field. You’ll go out to the field for, you know, a week at a time, and you do like all different types of like land navigation, you learn how to call for fire, like for artillery folks. You learn how to do like movement to contact, which is like picking a fight with the enemy, you know, and then you learn different weapons systems and, and how to best employ them in a tactical environment. And you’re being taught by people who, not too long ago, were employing these exact skills against the enemy in combat. So, there’s a very real sense to that. And during the time in 2010/2011, when I was going through TBS, there was a war, you know, and you knew you were going to use this. So, you better pay attention.

BROWN: Sure. So, it’s real hands-on training. You’re not sitting in the classroom, death by PowerPoint. I’m sure there’s some of that. But –

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah, there was.

BROWN: – it’s mostly that you’re learning systems; you’re learning skills; you’re learning tactical awareness, all those things, to make you a better commander, in the field, for real Marines.

O’FLAHERTY: Right. Right.

BROWN: So, you’re there for six months. So, at this point, your time in the Marine Corps is a lot of learning, right? You know, and you’re probably ready to start doing it. It’s basically you’re like the football team here on campus. They’re hitting themselves. They’re ready to hit the opponents. So, I’m sure that the same mentality is probably going through your brain as well. So, what’s next for you after those six months? Where do you get assigned? What’s your job in the Marine Corps, et cetera?

O’FLAHERTY: Well, at TBS, you compete for your job. And so, based on the needs of the Marine Corps and your performance at TBS, they’ll assign you a job. And so, you create a list of your preferences top to bottom.

BROWN: How many choices do you get?

O’FLAHERTY: It was 32, 35, something like that.

BROWN: So, you get to say of those 32, this is one. This is my top one. This is my bottom one.

O’FLAHERTY: Exactly. And there’s actually one very important day where your platoon commander, the captain that I mentioned earlier, comes and you all go out and, you know, you grab a keg, and you put it out on the park bench. And then he rattles off your name and the job that you’ll have for the rest of your Marine Corps career. So, you know, for some people, they need the beer and some people, they want the beer. You know what I mean? [laughs]So, I got my number one choice, though. I wanted to be an artilleryman because I was a nerdy math guy my entire life and I wanted to use that to blow stuff up. And so, it was a perfect match. And unfortunately, as much as I wanted to step foot in front of Marines and lead them in combat, I still had another school to go to. So, I had to go out to an Army school because the Marine Corps does not have their own field artillery school. So, we kind of like hitched our wagon with the Army and sort of train with them.

BROWN: Had to learn from the varsity team.

O’FLAHERTY: Right, right. [laughs] Yeah. But we, you know, we had our own platoon, and we were taught by Marine instructors. So, they try to kind of like portion it off. But then of course we had some cross pollination of terminology there. But that was five months in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, which if you’ve ever been out to beautiful Fort Sill, Oklahoma –

BROWN: It’s beautiful.

O’FLAHERTY: — it’s quite an experience, I’ll tell you. But that was just an incredible experience because we learned all of the mathematical calculations that go into gunnery, like, you know, lobbing a 95-pound projectile a few miles down range and making sure you put it on the enemy’s head instead of hitting a friendly force, right? And then they also taught you one thing that I was particularly interested in, which was fire support. And it’s just basically had a call in any type of indirect fire. There are courses at Fort Sill that they will take you through to control aircraft as well. And if you’ve ever had the blessing of being able to see an aircraft, be it a fixed wing or rotary wing come in and, and save your butt, it’s quite a relieving experience, you know. And so, being someone who could do those things, and make indirect fires come, and save friendly forces, that seemed really, really interesting and fun to me. So, you know, I did get to be, they call them “fort observers.” If, you know, like the general term, I think the Army uses that as well.

BROWN: Yeah.

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah. So, I definitely got to do that later on after I graduated Fort Sill. And then, but I had orders to Camp Lejeune, and I checked into 3rd Battalion 10th Marines in January of 2012, I believe. And then the funniest thing, I was checking out, I’ll never forget it. I was with my buddy Cameron Barker. We both came from Fort Sill and we were like, green and ready to go, right? And the battalion XO,[3] Major …[4] walked up to us and he said, “Are you two Lieutenant Barker and Lieutenant O’Flaherty?” And we were like, “Yes, sir.” And he said, “I don’t care what anybody tells you, you two are going to Afghanistan. So don’t check any battery here. Don’t check into any unit. You’re with me.” And we’re like, “Okay, got it.” And so, we didn’t really know what to do because we were showing up. We’re still in our service alphas. I mean, we’re an hour into checking in. We’re like the admin guy, like, “Hey, I’m here.” And then the XO walks in and says, yeah, you’re going to combat. Like, don’t do anything.

BROWN: What were your thoughts at that point? Were you like, “Where’s the door? Let’s go.” Or were you, you know, saying, “Hey, pump those brakes?”

O’FLAHERTY: No, it was, we, we wanted to deploy. I mean, just like you said, you train for so long to do one thing. And the only thing that you want to do is that, you’ve been trained.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: And so, when we found out we were going to Afghanistan, I, if, if I could lift my arms like high enough in my service uniform, I’d have done a back flip. Because, I mean, as Marines, the only thing that you want to do is just, again, fight battles, just go out there and just do whatever you can to get the mission accomplished and, you know, build relationships with your Marines.

BROWN: Sure. Walking around in the parade field is not what you want, I know, I hear you. So, that’s great. You say you’re excited, you’re going. So, then what does that process look like as far as you’re there for an hour or two? Now you’re on your way to Afghanistan. You get your orders. You’re assigned to a company, I’m assuming, at that point.

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah. So, they actually kind of put together, they threw together a few teams. So you can sort of, you can equate it to like a, like a re-con team when it just in like, just in like, like organization, like they’re smaller teams, just definitely the re-con bubbles, they have some other skill sets that are a little bit more advanced than, you know, when we’re working up for our 2012 deployment. But we got to do a lot of really, really cool and unique training. So, we had, I think it was four or five teams, you know, 14, 15 squad level teams, right? And each team was led by either a more senior captain or a major. And then each team had two to three lieutenants. Well, my team, I was the only lieutenant. So, I had to do the job of two lieutenants during this workup. And so, when you get told that you’re going to deploy, you have to do a training workup to prepare for that specific deployment.

BROWN: Correct.

O’FLAHERTY: And that that workup could span different timeframes, depending on the complexity of the deployment. So, ours was, I think, six months, I want to say, and which is normal for a workup. And then you go, and you deploy for seven or so months. And so, we did our workup, aboard Camp Lejeune, and we got to know the Marines and just develop that kind of implicit communication that’s going to be crucial when you’re in country. And then we took off. And so, we left, I can’t remember when we left, but it was like, it was in the spring of 2012. We went and we went down range. And then I’ll never forget it. I’d never experienced jet lag like I did when we flew into Bagram Airfield. And it took us almost a week to acclimate. And they kept us on Bagram just to incubate us to the circadian rhythm, you know. And so, yeah, we went down range and we were in.

BROWN: What’s the terrain? Like, where were you going? Were you going to a forward operating base? Were you part of a larger stroke? You know, what was, where were you headed? And what was the terrain like?

O’FLAHERTY: We were on a fort operating base. And so, it was just southwest of Kabul. So, we were in pretty mountainous terrain.

BROWN: Okay.

O’FLAHERTY: And when you think of Afghanistan, you just think desert, but in actuality,there are two very different terrains. So down south, that’s your desert. That’s what people think. But towards the north of Afghanistan, it’s pretty mountainous, you know, and it’s pretty rocky. I mean, it looks like if you’ve ever flown into Denver, you just see that wall of mountains. That’s what it looks like almost, you know, except Denver’s awesome and Kabul sucks.

BROWN: Yeah, sure.

O’FLAHERTY: So, we went there and then we went to our little operating base. It was probably—

BROWN: And what was it called?

O’FLAHERTY: Camp Julian.

BROWN: Okay.

O’FLAHERTY: And I think the size of it was, I don’t know, it’s probably as big as this building that we’re in. [laughs] Maybe a little bigger, but pretty small. And we were relieving another unit that was done with their rotation. And so, we just kind of covered down on all the gear that they had. So, you know, they, they had weapons, they had trucks, they had, you know, they built, the CVs had built us little plywood huts to live in, you know, they tried to make the best of like some facilities that they could, you know. But they did their best to build it up. So, it’s not like we’re sleeping on the ground. So that was nice. And we were out there to partner with an Afghan unit where we would be mentors and advisors. So, this was during the age of, you know, the small teams that would go and function as advisors then, and special operations forces still do that to this day. And so, we’re partnered up with these Afghans and the craziest thing I think ever, that ever happened to me like not in any type of like, you know, crazy environment was the guy that I was coming in. So, there was a lieutenant that I was coming into to replace. And he hands me this notebook that’s like this big, or as a binder rather, it was a big binder. And he said, “Alright, you’re the new EOD guy.” And EOD stands for explosive ordinance disposal. And I’m an artilleryman. I am not trained in EOD, right? You have to go to school for nine months. And they only let like gunnery sergeants do that kind of stuff, right? It’s just, it’s insane. And he just hands me the book and says, “Yeah, you, you got to do it.”

BROWN: Good luck.

O’FLAHERTY: And I’m like looking around, and my boss, Major Sadowski, he retired as lieutenant colonel. One of the best mentors I ever had. He looked at me and he’s like, “What are you looking at me for? You better start studying.” [laughs] So, I trained the Afghans on, as best I could, on explosive ordinance disposal. And I’m like, “Guys, get your bomb suits on.” Like, “Let’s go out, man. Let’s do it!” But thankfully, the Air Force gave me one of their special operations dudes that sort of partnered up with me and I, you know, kind of like worked with them. But there were a few different, a few different like kinetic opportunities that we had where the guys that we were training got to employ their skills, if you know what I mean. So, they survived, they were fine. I think one guy got shot in the leg, you know, but he just was like shook it off. Kind of like Forrest Gump, like something bit me, you know, and he just kept on going. So, the Afghans that we worked with were just awesome. I mean, they were hard chargers and, you know, of course, my biases and stereotypes that go into thinking about the, you know, the people in Afghanistan, it’s just all enemy focused. But they’re good people there, you know, and the team that we were partnered up with, we got to know them very well, of course, an interpreter, but they were just lights out. They were great, great guys. And, you know, they employed their training in their own way. But we were with them, you know, and they were impressive to work with and to see them do what they were trained to do, you know.

BROWN: Talk to me about the climate. Is it hot? Cold? Is it like Camp Lejeune? Is it like upstate New York? And then on top of that, what are you eating? What’s your daily intake of food? What is that like?

O’FLAHERTY: Well, a lot of times, we were in a somewhat urban environment. So, you know, Kabul is like, it doesn’t look like any city, you can’t really compare it to anything, you know, but there are little markets and stuff like that, and like, kind of think about like jingle trucks running around. And so, our interpreter was a local to Kabul. And sometimes, we’d send him out with 20 bucks, cash, American. And just said, we said, “Get as much food as you can for the team.” And he would come back with grocery bags on both arms, barely able to hold his arms up, like try to walk over to us, to our little compound. And I was like, “How did you get all this food?” And he said, “20 dollars goes a long way in Kabul.” And I said, alright, fine. So, we ate. It was amazing. The food that he was able to procure for us was really good, because he asked them to kind of like cook it a little bit longer, because the water is not exactly clean. So, the best way to make sure that you don’t get sick is to overcook the food.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: And so, we would have lamb kebabs, like bread. The bread was, I’ve never had anything like it. You know, New York City has nothing on Afghan bread, as weird as that sounds. But it was, so we had that occasionally, you know, MREs[5] were, you know, you’re, you got five boxes, MREs in the back, because you don’t know how long your mission’s going to be. And then sometimes when we were on Camp Julian, actually, you know, I’d say more often than not, we were able to, there was a chow hall there. So, we were able to use that. And, you know, you can get your like can of peas and –

BROWN: Standard stuff.

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah. Exactly. You know, and so they had like the little TV that was tuned into Armed Forces Network that, you know, only had like, it wasn’t like ESPN. So, you know, we’re watching highlights of the same like croquet match. [laughs] Like, “What is this?” But yeah, it was good because we were a small team; we were small groups. So, we got to know each other. And, you know, the operating environment, the climate itself was not as harsh as I anticipated, because I think being a little bit further north, and like kind of at the base of the Hindu Kush, like some of that cooler air, I guess sort of made its way into Kabul. But the thing that, and you know, forgive me for sounding a little graphic, but the thing about Kabul that was so bad was the pollution. And it wasn’t like factories. It was like people burning excrement.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: You know, and so like we’re breathing that in. And when you fly in a Kabul, you can, you see the layer of smog, but it’s not the kind of smog you would think. And so, the air quality was very, very poor. But the temperatures weren’t that bad. I mean, it was cold at night. And it was like when the sun came up, the temperature shot up. But I mean, it wasn’t as extreme as what I experienced in 2013. But, yeah, I mean, that was. We came home, I think just before the holidays in 2012. You know, we got to do everything that we wanted to do, and hoped to do. And, you know, got to experience some really, really unique things that we both expected and did not expect.

BROWN: Sure. Did you learn any of the language?

O’FLAHERTY: A little bit. I can say “hello” and “excuse me.” And I think I’m still able to order a choppy kebab.

BROWN: And do you go looking for any of that food now that you’re back in the States?


BROWN: You’ve sworn off it?

O’FLAHERTY: Well, I’m not going to shy away from it, but it’s one of those things where, you know, it’s like it had its time and we could just leave that one on the shelf. [laughs]

BROWN: Alright. So, you’re coming back to the Lejeune now at this point after your seven months in country. And what’s next for you?

O’FLAHERTY: So, wow, what, that’s a great question.

BROWN: Are you getting promoted?

O’FLAHERTY: Oh, so I got promoted in country. So, I’m coming back as a first lieutenant with an Afghanistan deployment under my belt. So, that was awesome.

BROWN: Adding to your resume.

O’FLAHERTY: Right. And so, when I got to, I went to a firing battery. So, that was the next step for me. And so, I went to Fox battery, second battalion, 12 Marines, which was attached to my battalion, third battalion, 10th Marines. So, it’s still in Lejeune, still in the same building. Just like, we just had this like redheaded stepchild that was attached to us. And that was the battery that I went to. Captain Nick Whitefield was my battery commander. And he was the one who helped me adjust to the personalities of leadership that aren’t what I had experienced before. So, he was very quiet, and didn’t really correct very much unless he had to. And he had a command presence about him that was kind of, I was kind of jealous, you know, it was like envious. Like, I kind of want this, you know? But I asked him one day, I just said, “Hey, sir, do you have any feedback? Like, I’m a lieutenant, like I got some experience, I need to know,” like, because my old boss in Afghanistan gave me feedback all the time, because guess what? I was being a lieutenant all the time, you know, like getting us lost and all that stuff. [laughs] So, I was getting pretty frequent feedback, you know, but I went from that to nothing. And he said, “If you’re doing something wrong, I’ll tell you.” And that was it. And I kind of just backed away slowly. But those are two completely different leadership styles. And I really, that’s the one thing I learned about him the most is that, you know, just because you’re not hearing feedback doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: But I was a platoon commander there. So, I ran the FDC, which is the fire direction center. So, anytime an observer calls in artillery, they have to compute data to send to the individual howitzers. And the fire direction center is the thing that calculates that. And we operate out of the back of a Humvee like this big high back kind of like crazy-looking Humvee with all this electronic stuff in it. And like we set up our own little area and whatever. So, I ran that, and we just trained and trained and trained and, you know, just had a great time learning the firing battery. And what I liked about and what I didn’t like about it. And it just kind of like reinforced the fact that I wanted to be a fort observer. And that’s all I wanted to do. And, you know, I wanted to be out there with the grunts and be responsible for any ordinance that is not a direct fire weapon to include, you know, anything up to like a satellite, you know. I’m like, sure, yeah, I could strike a satellite, you know, like that kind of stuff. Like, so I was storied by that. And during some conversations that I had with Major Sadowski on my first deployment, I told him what I wanted out of out of my time. And I said, “Sir, this is not a 20-year thing for me. And I want to make the most of it.” He said, okay, well, he called me up about two and a half months after I got back. And I was at the battery working for Nick Whitefield, you know, loving life. Major Sadowski calls me up and he had become, he had some role at the regiment level, which is a colonel level unit, right? So, it’s like one echelon up from my battalion. And he’s working for the regimental commander. And he’s the one who’s putting personnel in for like, slotting them for deployments. And he calls me up one night. I’ll never forget this phone call that I got. It was like late at night on a Tuesday or something like that. And he calls me up. And he said, “Hey, I have a few opportunities. Do you want to go back to Afghanistan?” And before he even finished his sentence, I said yes. And he explained the role, the role sounded insane. But I was in, you know, and so I got to join up with an infantry unit.

BROWN: Now you’re talking.

FLAHERTY: And yeah, now I’m all right, like, I’m going with the with the big dogs now. So, I checked into the Second Marines. And it was Colonel Dan Sullivan was the regimental commander, and he was going with us to Afghanistan. And he was going to take over for a regimental combat team. And he was bringing his key players with him. The role that I was supposed to fill was, it’s called information operations, which is a nebulous, again, the Marine Corps is not good at naming things. But it’s the equivalent of the Army psychological operations.

BROWN: Sure.

FLAHERTY: So, you’re doing like, you’re shaping the battle space and you’re doing deception stuff. And you’re, you know, kind of like sneaking around with like some Intel bubbas and, you know, just kind of like figuring it out, right? And so, I was the regimental psych-ops guy, right? And I had a fire support background. So, they enhanced my fire support training to include being able to control anything that was delivered from the air. So, that was really, really awesome. And I was able to kind of do a little bit of everything there, right? So, I was kind of like a jack of all trades and master of all trades, you know, and we deployed. I can’t remember. So, sorry, I can’t remember when we. It was around the same time that I deployed the year before.

BROWN: So just the next year, 2013?

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah, exactly, 2013. And so, we went there and now we’re in the south, you know, so we’re in the Second Marine regiment, and we’re here to take over and, you know, kick butt and chew bubblegum, right?

BROWN: And you’re fresh out of bubblegum.

O’FLAHERTY: That’s right. That’s right. So, that setup was what you would think an Afghanistan deployment was like. And I remember walking off the, I think it was an Osprey, or no, it was a 46, 47, one of those. I walked off the bird and it was like somebody had a hair dryer right in my face. It was so hot. And we were drinking like, we were drinking water so much that it was like, I think I probably went through a case of water by myself in a day and a half. And the problem was that you don’t know that you’re dehydrated because the sweat evaporates so fast that it doesn’t have any time to condense on your body. Because like when you’re at the gym nowadays, you’re like, “Oh, I’m sweaty. I should probably drink water or whatever.” When you’re in that environment, it is not like your body just does something completely different where you have to make sure that you’re consciously just pounding water.

BROWN: Sure. So, what’s the temperature?

O’FLAHERTY: It hit 110 before 10 a.m. And that wasn’t even the hottest part of the day.

BROWN: Sure. Like you said, it’s like someone’s got a hair dryer to your face.

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah. It was bad.

BROWN: There’s not a lot of shade trees.

O’FLAHERTY: No, no, you’re correct. The great thing about this deployment for me though, was that I had one other Marine, and I was pairing up with guys that were already out in the battle space. So, like dudes with no fingerprints, you know, like those kind of guys like, you know. I’m thinking about like men in black, you know what I mean? It’s just like secret squirrel kind of dudes running around like I got to work with them. You know, so like imagine how excited, you know, young lieutenant and his corporal is like, we’re like ready to rock and roll. We got all these cool gadgets and all like all those kinds of like high-speed tablets and things on our weapons and stuff like that. Like, let’s do it guys. And, you know, we were tasked with like shaping the battle space. Basically what we were trying to do was make it so that any target that we had would do would basically slip up, you know, like do something to make them walk out of that building so that we don’t have to level that building where we can just, you know, we got Cody, the predator drone overhead and we can just like let a hellfire off the rail and take out one guy instead of10.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: So, like that’s what, you know, if you’re familiar with Army psych-ops, like that’s a part of their job, you know, and then they also do messaging and stuff like that. So, there was a friendly component to what we were doing, which was really interesting actually, you know, it wasn’t kinetic in itself, but it was interesting to see how, you know, the way that we communicate has second and third order effects. You know, like if you have a bad experience with a local, then they might not be around to stop an insurgent from letting off a RPG coming at your base, right? So like, it was the hearts and minds approach that we had. And then, you know, we also had the more kinetic side that we worked. And thankfully, there was an ANGLICO[6] team. So, the Marine Corps has air-enabled gun fire liaison company. And that’s the, these guys are, you know, J-TACs there. So, joint terminal attack controllers. They’re, you know, fire observers. They’re like, you know, they have infantry backgrounds. They’re just like, they’re a Swiss army knife.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: And so, they were co-located with us. And so, we had all different types of capability. We had a tank platoon with us. We had the high MARS system, which is high-mobility artillery rocket system. It’s basically a truck with a bunch of rockets on the back of it. It’s just like [makes launching sounds]. So, we had all these different kinds of like big high speed, just crazy.

BROWN: At your fingertips, right?

O’FLAHERTY: And we all had our own little capability. So, like, you know, I was the deception dude or the, the pysch-ops guy or whatever it is, right? And then I’m also a fires guy. So, like, you know, if we need to talk to any type of like supporting, you know, battery that’s out there or whatever it is, like, I’m calling in that kind of ordinance, you know, if the ANGLICO guys are out doing something else, right? And our job, our mission, was to keep route red, which was the main vein, open and free of any type of enemy interference, because what was happening to the north of us was they were deconstructing all the outposts. And they were basically like, taking convoys from there, like the Marines and all the gear and like moving it back to Camp Leatherneck, which was 52 clicks south of us. And so, we were sitting there, guarding the only way to get home.

BROWN: And was the enemy constantly trying to block that?

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah. They had their own ways of doing it.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: But at the end of the day, they were unsuccessful. And we had different times where – I’m trying to make sure that I don’t kind of like breach any type of confidentiality. But at the end of the day, we employed all of the capabilities at our disposal to ensure that the convoys that were coming from the north to go down south to Camp Leatherneck, that they were free of any type of enemy activity.

BROWN: So, your deployments at this point were two wildly different experiences?


BROWN: Which one did you prefer?

O’FLAHERTY: This second one, for sure.

BROWN: A little more autonomy to be, you know, you. As opposed to there, it’s more of a proscribed, you’re going to be doing X, Y, and Z.

O’FLAHERTY: I think the way you can kind of compare it in the business world is like, you know, you’re working for big four, and you’re learning all the stuff that you need to learn, important things, but things don’t really move as quickly, right? It’s not as exciting. You know, that was 2012. And in 2013 is, okay, I just started my own business, and I’m just going to rely on my Villanova MBA to go out there and do God’s work, and just we’re going to figure it out, right? [laughs]

BROWN: Right, right.

O’FLAHERTY: And so, that that’s kind of the difference there. And I think the thing that made it so incredible was how remote and decentralized we were, because people just trusted you to get the job done. And there are lives on the line because in my line of work, like if I have a civilian that runs out when I’ve got a Harrier coming in, and gets in the blast radius, I’ve caused an international incident. It’s going to go up the chain and, you know, little James is going to have to answer for it. On the flip side of that, if we’re trying to get the enemy to do something, and they don’t end up doing it, and the only option that we have left is to wipe a building off the off the grid, then other people that don’t have to go bye-bye end up, you know, perishing along with that, because, you know, a laser guided bomb off of a Harrier does not care who’s inside that building, you know. And so, to isolate the enemy, and to get them to do what you want without them knowing it was crucial to our success, because we don’t want the locals to be angry at us, you know, they know who the bad guys are, and they’re not going to tell us, you know, they don’t want them, they’re not going to rat them out or whatever. But if we find them, hey, we found them, and now, you know, their community is a little bit safer.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: So, I would prefer the 2013 one more, and one of those incredible things that I don’t think I’ll ever forget as long as I live was at night. It was really, really quiet. Nothing ever happened at night, because they were scared of us, because we own the night. Like all of the devices that we have were meant to function just as well as at night as they did during the day, and they didn’t have any of it. So, they knew not to mess with us at night. And so it was like a kind of like you’re in the eye of the storm, you know, and you look up and there’s no ambient light. So, when you look up, you can see every single star that’s available. And I could see it’s like it’s almost like I could see arms of the galaxy, right, like bands of stars. And it was incredible. And if you if you just stood there for 10 minutes, you there wouldn’t be a 10 minute period where you wouldn’t see just like shooting stars. And it’s, it’s exactly what Hollywood tries to make any type of movie where you’re like, “I’m in LA and I see these beautiful sky.” No, it doesn’t happen. You know, but like you go out in the middle of Afghanistan, you’re going to see some of the most beautiful skies like at night that you could possibly imagine. And it was like for just a moment there, there wasn’t a war going on. And there wasn’t anybody shooting at you. It’s just you and God just hanging out. You know?

BROWN: Nice little respite from going for fire. Do you want to go back someday and revisit those stars, or are you good?

O’FLAHERTY: I think I would I’d like to revisit that, but maybe in a different country, you know, but like I’ve got my bar that I could compare it to. I might go to Iceland or something like that. You know, unfortunately, the Marine Corps doesn’t fight wars in in the Caribbean or in Iceland or anything like that, where you can.

BROWN: The weather’s too nice.

O’FLAHERTY: Beautiful thing. Yeah. You know.

BROWN: So, you’re there is that another seven month deployment, typical Marine deployment for seven months?

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah. So, for a for a couple different reasons, I went home early.

BROWN: Okay.

O’FLAHERTY: And we had some advanced party[7] folks that went back and I had an unexpected visit to the medical facility. And so, I kind of decided that it’s probably time to, you know, I wasn’t all there. [laughs]

BROWN: Sure, to find your way back home. And then so you’re back at Lejeune, back to your old company, or are you getting assigned to a new spot? Like what’s next?

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah. So, the thing that happened after that, you know, those times in your life where you think something is just like, “Yeah, I got to do this. This is going to suck.” And you just don’t have a good attitude about it. But you do it because you’re responsible for it.

BROWN: Most Mondays. Yeah.

O’FLAHERTY: [laughs]Yeah. So, that’s what happened next. And it was something that would change my life forever. And I had no idea what was coming. And I got home, and I was one of probably a dozen Marines that returned. And so, I’m still with the Second Marines. I’m a headquarters, headquarters company, Second Marine Regiment. And you know, they’ve got a first battalion, second battalion, third battalion within them. They also had a fourth battalion within them. And that battalion was Second Battalion, Ninth Marines. And they were basically rolled up to the Second Marine Regiment. So, I went over to 2-9. And I went to the Echo Company. And so, 2-9 is actually the same battalion that Kyle Carpenter[8] was a member of when he earned the Medal of Honor. And so, 2-9 has a pretty good reputation and good history. So, I show up there. And I’m at this point, I’m like, you know, I’ve been selected for promotion to captain. And I’m the senior lieutenant, I’m the bull lieutenant, if you will, of 2-9. And at this point, I’ve got two deployments under my belt. And my resume is speaking for itself in the infantry community, which is a big honor. You know, the artillery community, we’re kind of like laid back, they call it “bro-tillery,” just because, you know, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll figure it out.” But like, the infantry community will respect you as much as you respect yourself. And I learned so much from 2-9. And due to a couple different circumstances, the company commander actually got relieved while I was at Echo Company. And a close friend that I developed was the XO of the company. And he fleet it up to be the company commander and he was a lieutenant. And so, he asked me, an artillery officer by trade, to be his XO of the infantry company, which according to what we’ve already discussed at TBS, you’re trained to be a rifle platoon commander. So, you are an infantryman by heart. So, if you, even if you’re not an infantryman by trade, I could. That’s why the battalion commander was so open to me being the XO. And that, combined with the fact that I was the senior lieutenant in the battalion. And so, I became the executive officer of Echo 2-9. And I made some of the closest friends that I could have imagined. And going into 2-9, I was like, “Oh, man, like, I don’t want to do it.” Like, “I want to go back to the bros,” you know, “I don’t want to go stay in the infantry,” like whatever. But it was, it was an awesome experience. And my best friend to this day, I mean, we talked just the other day, his name is Corbin Pierce. He was the XO of the weapons company. And he and I trained together, we fought together. And we just did everything that, you know, marine rifle companies, like sister companies would do in live fire environments, right? And the guy is just like, he’s just an awesome guy. I can’t say enough about him. And he’s now the –he and I, like, you know, we worked together for a long time, but I got out – and he’s now the commanding officer of the force re-con company on the west coast. So, he’s a snake eater. And so, that experience with 2-9 was unbelievable. I mean, we got to, we got to go out in the desert and blow stuff up and just have a great time. You know, and they went off to Japan later on, and they did a part of the unit deployment program. So, it’s like you partner up with different forces in Korea and I think, I don’t know, like Thailand or something, but I did not go on that deployment with them. And that was like their last deployment because they rolled up colors. The Marine Corps disbanded 2-9 because the war was ending. So, they didn’t need as many battalions.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: But the people that I met at 2-9 were just incredible. You know, and that was the crowning experience for me. You know, and just like, we call it the LPA, the lieutenant protection agency, where it’s like the lieutenant underground. So, all the lieutenants in the battalion kind of like get together for beers on the weekends and stuff like that. And that network was so tight. And I’d never experienced anything like that before. And so, like for that reason alone, it made it worth it. You know, and then we got to do a bunch of other really cool things together. And it was awesome. And I’ve got them tattooed on my arm, you know? So, that’s how much they mean to me.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: But after that, I went back to my unit. So, I went back to the 10th Marines. And at this point, I’m a captain, and I am ready for the next step. And it was kind of interesting timing because I was attached to, like right after I got back to 10th Marines, I was attached immediately to the second light armor reconnaissance battalion. And those guys are just, they’re mounted. And they’ve got some really crazy vehicles. And you know, they really do some cool, like, you know, snooping in, you know, just like, they put a lot of rounds downrange. They are, you know, just grunts by heart. And just working with them, it was a really unique experience, you know, and we got to go out and like do some, some really wacky training – like some stuff that I’d never see before – because each community you enter in the Marine Corps, if it’s a combat arms related thing, like, you know, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to like a grunt unit, or if you’re going over to a recon unit, like you’re gonna do something you’ve never done before. And you’re going to learn something incredible, you know? And so, I got to do that. And at that point, we were, I think we were out on a training cycle. I think we were at Fort Bragg. And so, every year, the Commandant hosts the Commandant’s career level education board. And so, captains that are eligible are automatically considered to basically be sent to what they call career level school. And career level school is different for each different job, MOS.

BROWN: Right.

O’FLAHERTY: And so, I was selected to go to career level school on the Commandant’s career level education board, which I didn’t know, but it was a big deal. And it was like, I don’t know, getting a scholarship that’s really competitive or something. And I’ll never forget the guy that – I can’t remember his name –but he walked up and he’s like, “You got selected for this, for the C club.” I’m like, “No, I didn’t.” He was a major. I was a captain. And I’m like, smarting off to this guy, because I was like mad that he was messing with me.

BROWN: Right.

O’FLAHERTY: And he’s like, “No, you really did.” I said, “Listen, the message isn’t out, sir.” Like, you know, “the gig is up,” like it didn’t work. And he’s like, “Come here, get over here right now, Captain.” And I’m like, okay, right, like, he’s serious. And he showed me the list. And sure enough, I got picked for the career level education board. And the problem was that this was never a career.

BROWN: Right.

O’FLAHERTY: And so, I did the one thing that you can do whenever that happens. And I denied orders. And so, I had to write a letter to the Commandant General and tell him that I was not going to report to my captain’s career course. And the appendix to that letter was my resignation. And so, you can’t do anything. Like, if you deny orders, you know, that’s you’re out. And you have to know that going into it. And so, that’s what I did. And I told my battery commander, I just said, “Look, sir, it’s not a career for me. And I would hate to take a slot,” like a seat, “in that course instead of a Marine who wants it, and who wants to be part of that.”

BROWN: Right. Like a career Marine.

O’FLAHERTY: Right. And because they selected a list of alternates, like pull one of those alternates, throw them in there, let him stay in because I’m not. And so, I tried to get out as quickly as I could, but the regiment, I had made a bunch of friends, some of the senior Marines that were there, they were close to me. I looked up to them. And Major Mark McCarrel, who was the operations officer for the regiment, came up to me and he said, “Look, I know you’re resigning your commission. I need your help.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “I need you to sit on the Gunnery Sergeant promotion board in Quantico for two and a half months.” And I said, “Are you kidding?” And he said, “No, I need you to delay your resignation and represent the division on this board.” And I said, “The division? Like, the two-star general level command?” He said yeah. So, I was the Second Marine regiment representative in Quantico for the Gunnery Sergeant promotion board. So, we sifted through the list of eligible staff sergeants to be promoted. We selected them. And I picked FY 17’s Gunnery Sergeant with, of course, there were a bunch of other guys.

BROWN: Right.

O’FLAHERTY: And then after that, I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I think it was around like June timeframe –

BROWN: June of what year?

O’FLAHERTY: 2015. I didn’t really know what was going to do. And, you know, you got like five or six moments in your life where it completely changes everything.

BROWN: Yeah, absolutely.

O’FLAHERTY: Well, it came as soon as I got back. I was doing what every self-respecting young Marine captain would be doing in the morning and checking my email. And I saw an email that was like forwarded down the chain of command. And I can’t remember what the title was, but I saw it was forwarded down. And I just like to see the list of recipients that it went through, without really caring what the message email entailed, you know, because I was a young, little motivator, right? And I went, I scrolled down, and I almost deleted the email, by the way. And I scrolled down to the bottom. And I read the content and it was a solicitation for a young combat arms captain who’s getting out in the next six months, who would be able to relocate to Berwyn, Pennsylvania. And for those of us listening here, that is about two miles away from Villanova. And so, I was looking at it and I said, okay, I don’t know what to do about this. So, I emailed my buddy over at the regiment and I said, “Hey, man, like, this kind of looks a little interesting. What do you think?” And he said, “I can put you in touch. It’s a retired two-star Marine general who is serving as an advisor for this company. And he’s looking to fill a new role because the company’s growing and they’re creating a new role.” And he’s trying to fill it with a company grade officer who has operational experience and who has done all these things and can move. And I said, “Okay, well, I fit every single one of these boxes.” And he said, “I know, I was actually kind of thinking of you when I saw this come down.” And I got connected. His name is Major General Doug O’Dell. He’s retired. But he and I connected, and I drove from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina up to Berwyn, Pennsylvania. And I interviewed and well, I met Doug the night before and we spent an evening charging the glasses and figuring out who we really were, you know?

BROWN: Yeah, sure.

O’FLAHERTY: And the next day I had the interviews and, you know, we went through iterations and et cetera, but got the job and went on terminal leave July 26th, 2015. I rented a U-Haul, got a two-axle trailer, like flat trailer to put my car on. And I literally drove everything I owned up to Berwyn, Pennsylvania. I had bought a house in Phoenixville and moved into my house. And then right after that, as I was moving in. Again, I am 72 hours out of being off active duty.

BROWN: Correct. Fresh.

O’FLAHERTY: I am far from Marines. Far away.

BROWN: Yeah.

O’FLAHERTY: I drove all through the night. So, I better be far away. Doors open in my house and I got the U-Haul backed up, and I’m taking a little break and I’m having myself a whiskey drink. And I hear from, my front door is open, still I hear from inside my home, in the foyer of my townhouse. I hear somebody yell, “Ooh Ra,” which is our little dumb battle cry that Marines have. And I was thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” And I said, “are you Marine?” I’m not even looking down the stairs. I’m just yelling in my house at this point. He said, “yeah.” I said, “you want some whiskey?” [laughs] He said, “yeah.” Turns out, I moved in across the street from a Marine Major in the reserves. I was like, “I can’t get away from people.” [laughs] Turns out to be one of my best friends to this day. And I started working and the intention the entire time after I got now. Because I knew I had the GI Bill, and I knew I was ready to get an education, which was what I needed to get an MBA. And I had spent X amount of years in the Marine Corps while all of my peers who had graduated and moved on had some business experience, where I had none. So, I had to close that gap. That was a strategy. And I started researching, looking around, finding different MBA programs that I wanted to look into. And Delgo Del asked me to consider Villanova.

BROWN: Why is that?

O’FLAHERTY: Because he mentioned how prestigious, and how much brand strength, and just how good Villanova was. And I didn’t realize it at the time, but he had an ulterior motive because he said, “You should talk to someone who teaches in the program. His name is Al Pazika and I’ll connect you over email. Have the conversation, see if you want to apply to Villanova.” I said, “Fine, perfect. Let’s do it.” I connect with Al. We talked about the program. He said, “Yeah, you should apply,” and I was interested. I’m hearing him talk about it. I’m like, it’s building up reasons why and I should do it rather than why I should. So, confirmation bias is taking hold. And then I realized afterwards that Al Pazika is Doug Odell’s son-in-law. And so, I’m thinking, “You kind of, you pulled the wool over my eyes here.” But I wasn’t mad about it because I got into the Executive MBA program. And so, I enrolled there, and I started in the fall of 2016. And so, I’m a year out from, you know, being off active duty, right? And I started this program and the people that I met in the program, and the things that I learned in the program, like I took account of it when I graduated. I did not recognize the person that started the program when I graduated. It was that much of a transformation.

BROWN: In what ways?

O’FLAHERTY: Professional, just business acumen. My behavior, like I was aggressive, I was uptight, and I was tense. And Villanova helped me calm down.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: And I also met people that were experts in certain different fields. So, it helped me learn like, what do I want to do? You know, and how do I want to approach this business world? And the coursework that we had, it was challenging. It was exactly what I needed. I needed something to sink my teeth into. And I needed to be able to learn something and like, you know, there’s an element of exclusivity with what I was doing with the Executive MBA program. And it’s under the Villanova banner. So, you’ve got plenty of brand strength. The people that you’re with are helping you with your transformation. And it’s simple that you will not be the same person after you graduate. And it’s different, I would say, with other MBA programs, you know, and I’m at Penn now on my second masters, and I see Wharton kids going through their Wharton MBA. And I would take a Villanova MBA guy over that any day, you know, because it’s just it’s a different culture. It’s a different mentality. And it’s a different like reverence for the world.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: You know, like you don’t go in there with inflated expectations. You go in there not knowing what to expect. And Villanova capitalizes on that sort of like captive audience that you would have, you know, that I don’t think a lot of other institutions really do. Because Villanova has, we had a small cohort. It’s not a huge 100 plus person MBA program. We graduated 19 people, which was low. I mean, there, I don’t know what happened to get the number so low, but we knew each other.

BROWN: Yeah, there’s some benefit there.

O’FLAHERTY: Yeah. And I still keep in touch with them. And they will help you get through your program just as much as the professors will. And I think in grad school, the big difference between undergrad and grad school is that you learn just as much from your peers as you do from your professors when you’re in grad school.

BROWN: Sure.

O’FLAHERTY: And that was alive and well at Villanova. Whereas in undergrad, you just try to retain the information long enough to where you can just regurgitate it on the test and then forget it.

BROWN: Right and move onto your next class.

O’FLAHERTY: Right. And then like the institution says, “Thank you, that’ll be $100,000,” you know? [laughs]

BROWN: So, you’re at Penn, you’re getting your second master’s degree.


BROWN: So, what’s the future hold for young Captain O’Flaherty?

O’FLAHERTY: Well, that’s a great question. So, I’m studying behavioral science right now at Penn. And I’m set to graduate this coming December. So, it’s thesis season if you will. I’m writing my capstone on – it’s super specific and nerdy – actually, I’m sick of saying it over and over. [laughs] But I’m writing my thesis, and then after that, like it could be like entrepreneurship, like operating my own business. It could be going to work for a consulting firm. I actually just got an internship right before I came here. I just accepted an offer for an internship at a consulting firm. So, I’m going to test that out and see what happens there. And if I like it, you know, might want to go into business for myself. But I’m confident enough because of my Villanova experience that I can’t fail. I can start a business. I’m not going to fail. It’s just not going to happen. You know, everything that Villanova taught me contributed to a mindset of really exploring what you could do if you knew you couldn’t fail. And so, the future is not being married, and not having any kids, and trying to go out and build something beautiful, you know? Using behavioral science, using leadership experience in the Marine Corps, writing articles, doing whatever I’ve got to do to build the James O’Flaherty brand, you know?

BROWN: I like it.


BROWN: I think it’s a good goal to have. Well, I thank you for being here today. I think your story was very interesting. You know, you talked about your entrance into the Marine Corps is, you know, a little bit different from the traditional routes. Either through, you know, the Naval Academy or some ROTC, or going to Parris Island as a boot. You know, yours was a little bit different. But during your time there, I think you really acted as a sponge while you were in the Marine Corps. And even here at Villanova, you soaked up as much information. You were the Swiss Army knife, if you will. You could be an FO, but you could be a grunt too. Or psych-ops, you know, that’s, I think, a credit to yourself and who you are as a human being.

O’FLAHERTY: Thank you.

BROWN: So, I thank you for coming out here and sharing your story. I think others will be inspired to hear your story and motivated, as a good Marine should be. And is there anything you’d like to add as we part ways?

O’FLAHERTY: No, I mean, I think it’s great what you’re doing personally, because this can’t happen enough. If not just for the veteran community. I mean, there are stereotypes and biases that go into post-9/11 veterans that, you know, are quite unfounded. And I think that what you’re doing is, you’re shining light on what it really means to be, at least in the post 9/11 veteran world, one of those people. And I think that what you’re doing is incredible in the sense that it’s selfless. Like, we’ve gotten acquainted in the last couple months. And I think that, you know, there need to be more people like you because I really admire what you’re doing. So, I just thank you for having me here and allowing me to tell my story – although I don’t think it’s that special, but you know, we all think about that about ourselves. I think that you’re, again, you’re killing it. You’re knocking it out of the park. So, best of luck to you.

BROWN: You joined the Marine Corps in a time of war, and most people didn’t. So, that’s, if nothing else, that’s a credit to yourself.

O’FLAHERTY: Thank you.

BROWN: It’s something to be proud of.

O’FLAHERTY: I appreciate that.

BROWN: And I appreciate you coming in. And until next time, we’ll see you later for more voices of the Villanova’s Veterans.

BROWN (OUTRO): That concludes this installment of the Voices of Villanova’s Veterans, a joint project of the Villanova University Office of Veterans and Military Service Members, and Falvey Memorial Library’s Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement departments. Thank you for listening. For more information and to listen to more interviews, please visit us online at veteransvoices.library.villanova.edu.

[1] PLC: Platoon Leaders’ Course.

[2] CO: Commanding Officer.

[3] XO: Executive Officer.

[4] Unknown phrase. Best guess: Ghahi.

[5] MREs: Meals Ready-to-Eat.

[6] ANGLICO: The Air Naval Gunfire Liasion Company (ANGLICO) is a unique team within Marine Special Forces. The airborne unit provides fire support along with the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF). The two special forces work closely together to plan, coordinate, and conduct joint exercises against the enemy.

[7] Advance party is a small group of soldiers who go ahead of the main body of troops to prepare the way for their arrival, or any group that does the same thing or arrives ahead of the main body.

[8] William Kyle Carpenter is a medically retired United States Marine who received the United States’ highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2010. Carpenter is the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient.

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