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Jordan C. S. Stern ’04

Officer-in-Charge of a Military Information Support Operations Detachment, United States Marine Corps

Prior to my acceptance to Princeton, I was deeply interested in military service and more specifically the United States Marine Corps. The military offered me a chance to expand my horizons of service to the country, develop and refine my leadership potential into tangible leadership abilities, and provide an opportunity to embed myself deeply in the fabric of American culture. Simultaneously, I was enthusiastic about prolonging the inevitable—desk job—for the exhilaration of working with a motivated young generation.

In the fall of 2000, I was a freshman traversing the Princeton campus. Although academically, athletically, and socially Princeton was a perfect fit, I remained unsure of the academic field in which I wanted to concentrate my efforts. Despite lots of page turning in the course guide, I made little progress toward declaring a major. As the summer after my freshman year approached, I put aside the course guide and pursued my interest in the military and the Marine Corps. I headed to Marine Corps Base Quantico in northern Virginia for Officer Candidate School.

Following my initial and shocking exposure to the Marine Corps during the summer of 2001, I returned to Princeton still in search of a major. On a Tuesday morning, not long after returning to campus, my roommate and I watched with horror as 19 hijackers attacked the United States on its own soil. The combination of my recent training with the Marine Corps and the military’s mobilization in the “War on Terror” motivated my interest in geopolitics, military actions, and the reshaping of the geosocial and economic status quo.

A limitless major

I took classes in politics and economics, and one class in the sociology department titled “The Western Way of War.” I was hooked by the latter. I could not get enough of the course, its professor, preceptor, and information. Never in my life was I so compelled to soak up information that I believed had such immediate implications for the future of geopolitics and life as we knew it. It is likely that I was a little carried away, but I was young and had just completed training with the Marine Corps; needless to say, the indoctrination worked.

Because of my positive experience with “The Western Way of War,” I decided that sociology was the major that could adequately address my interests. Sociology is limitless in its application. As long as arguments are statistically measurable, which is often challenging, sociology maintains a universal academic approach to a number of different arenas: politics, the military, economics, social issues, information, infrastructure and physical terrain, and most importantly time (the chronological arrangement of events). Sociology has its classical theories but is not limited by them. Additionally, the professors and preceptors in the sociology department were available and engaging in conversation, discourse, and debate. The sociology department facilitated an academic approach focused on the quickly changing dynamic of the geosocial, geopolitical, and geo-economic environments.

In my independent work in my junior and senior years, my interest in the military and current events inspired me to pursue studies in organizational decision making and the movement of information within organizational and institutional frameworks. I resolved to write a thesis on the effects of military outsourcing and its relationship to geopolitics and the United States Constitution. The sociology department helped me develop and refine my ideas and conclusions through exposure to subject-matter experts and source documents and material.

Battlefield applications

Following graduation and my military commission, I began my service with the Marine Corps. I trained as a pilot and eventually became an aircraft commander, section lead, and instructor pilot of the KC-130J aircraft. I deployed twice to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and flew the KC-130J aircraft to Afghanistan twice in support of surge operations of Operation Enduring Freedom in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

Currently I am the officer-in-charge of a military information support operations (MISO, formerly known as psychological operations) detachment. We are a small unit that provides support to Marine air/ground task force commanders. “[MISO] are planned operations that convey selected information and indicators to foreign target audiences (TAs) to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately, the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals” (Field Manual 3-05.301).

In my current position, I frequently rely on the lessons learned during my Princeton education. Specifically I use my education in sociology to collect and analyze measurable data across various demographics in order to change behavior and shape foreign target audiences in support of U.S. foreign policy objectives. Never has my Princeton degree in sociology had such a direct impact on my job and role with the Marine Corps and the military. Fortunately, I saved many of my notebooks from Princeton, and I apply my class notes and study materials to my current position and ongoing missions. 

I am thankful for the learning opportunities, challenging dialogue and debate, and academic vigilance that Princeton and the sociology department afforded me. Princeton resoundingly shaped my mind, and I will continue to use those lessons as my detachment and I progress in support of U.S. foreign policy objectives.