Teachers are known for a lot of things. They are held in high regard for working in a selfless profession, often for low wages. They impart wisdom and are associated with peaceful childhood memories, so the idea of a teacher being a key component in keeping the country safe from enemy attacks might sound like some sort of Indiana Jones spinoff. In the case of education alumnus Mike Leech (’75, ’77) though, it is what he has done every day for nearly 40 years.
Leech is an intelligence officer at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. A civilian servant, he works with the Army’s material development team providing support and threat assessment for new programs.
“What I’m doing is helping soldiers make the United States safer in one form or another,” Leech said. “I’m working to give soldiers tools to help them do their job better.”
This career path may seem like an odd fit for someone with education degrees, but Leech’s well-rounded background makes him a valuable team member. He is responsible for effectively communicating intelligence information to both engineers and policy makers.
“One of the things you have to be good at when you are in the intelligence world is being able to teach people,” he said. “Basically it’s developing a story based on facts and then delivering it in a form that will come across to the people you’re briefing. A lot of the things I learned in Kirksville carried over.”
Leech joined Truman’s ROTC program when he was working on his master’s degree. Having served in the Army for four years, he is an ideal liaison between soldiers on the ground and those developing new programs.
“The reason I decided to go into ROTC in graduate school was because I felt I owed something to the country. I owed something back,” he said. “It’s the feeling of the need to do something a little more than just living and working.”
Leech comes from a long line of veterans and can trace back his relatives’ service to the Civil War.
“That’s always been a tradition in my family,” he said. “None of us ever retired from it, but we were there and we all did our time.”
Despite going to college to become a teacher, Leech knew once his active duty ended he wanted to work in the security sector for the government. After his service, he returned to his hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa, and sent out more than 300 resumes. By 1985 he was a military analyst at the Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala. All totaled, he served 31 years there in various intelligence capacities. Much of his time was spent working on the Patriot missile program and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system.
“I worked in missile systems to defend the U.S. by shooting down the bad guys’ missiles,” Leech said. “I have spent most of my life working to defend the United States.”
During his time in Huntsville, Leech’s day could have entailed anything from conducting research in his office to working with prototypes in the field.
“We were taking good ideas and putting them into a useful form and taking them out to soldiers and letting them experiment with them,” he said. “It was a lot of fun and a lot of new things to do – always something interesting.”
In a few years, Leech will have reached 40 years of service, and he plans to retire to a profession that is a little less stressful than having to assess the threat capability of the country’s enemies. He would like to finally get into the classroom and teach at the high school or junior college level.
“Maybe I can still do something worthwhile. I think that’s why I got into teaching to start with – because I wanted to do something worthwhile with my life,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to pass on some of this knowledge.”