By Bo Joyner , Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command
/ Published March 23, 2011
Citizen Airman/Apr 2011 -- Oriana Mastro is not your typical second lieutenant. While it's true that all entry-level officers in Air Force Reserve Command are well educated, it would be hard to find another butter bar who can match Lieutenant Mastro's record of academic achievement.
Currently a doctoral candidate in the politics department at Princeton University, the Chicago native received a master of arts degree with an emphasis in politics from Princeton in 2009. She did her undergraduate work at Stanford University, where she majored in East Asian studies with a minor in economics and political science. Her cumulative grade-point average at Stanford was 3.808 on a 4.0 scale.
In addition to working on her Ph.D., the young lieutenant is a visiting scholar at the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at the Elliott School, George Washington University, and a next-generation national security leader at the Center for New American Security in Washington, D.C. Her studies have led her all over the world. She has spent time in 27 different countries and taken part in intensive study programs in China, France, Costa Rica and Italy.
Her work in the classroom and in the field have earned Lieutenant Mastro the reputation as a nationally recognized expert on Northeast Asia, military operations and strategy, and war termination. She can tell you all about China's defense philosophy and posture. ... and she can do it in English, Mandarin or Italian.
As if pursuing a Ph.D. and working for national security think-tanks in the nation's capital weren't enough, the scholar accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve in May of last year to help her satisfy the deep desire she has to give something back to her country.
"Because of my areas of study, I have had the chance to talk with a number of military leaders over the years," she said. "And one of those people, (retired Lt.) General Dan Leaf, became a mentor of mine and told me I ought to think about joining the military."
General Leaf retired in 2008 as the deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii.
"I've always had the desire to serve, but I never even knew anyone in the military growing up, and there wasn't an ROTC program at Stanford, so it's something I had never really considered," Lieutenant Mastro said. "To be honest, I thought I was too old to join; but when I found out that wasn't the case, I decided to look into it. I had so many questions. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to travel to China anymore, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to publish if I joined the military. ... and those things are extremely important to me."
With all of her questions answered, Lieutenant Mastro decided the Air Force Reserve was the right fit for her. Calling it "one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life," she accepted her commission in May and headed off to Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
A distinguished graduate and recipient of the USAA Leadership Award, Lieutenant Mastro served in several key leadership roles at OTS, including wing commander for Basic Officer Training Class 10-05.
"OTS was a real eye-opener," she said. "Having spent so long in the academic world where I call my teachers and advisers by their first names, I wasn't used to the whole 'sir' or 'ma'am' thing. And even though I've been all over the world, I had never been to the southern part of our country. It took a little getting used to, but it was a great experience. It definitely taught me how to be a better leader."
Currently an individual mobilization augmentee assigned to the chief of staff of the Air Force's Strategic Studies Group, Lieutenant Mastro is responsible for providing an analytical focus on U.S. policy in Northeast Asia with an emphasis on China. The SSG serves as a catalyst for strategic initiatives and directly supports the chief of staff and Air Force leaders with independent, critical assessment of proposed strategic actions. It also acts as a focal point for interaction with joint, interagency and research communities around Washington.
The only Reservist and lowest-ranking member of the SSG, Lieutenant Mastro produces reports that are routinely used by the Air Force chief of staff and other senior leaders.
"Lieutenant Mastro is the perfect fit for the chief's Strategic Studies Group," said Col. David Fahrenkrug, director of the SSG. "She provides both an academic and professional perspective on national security. Her willingness to serve her country as an Airman and a scholar is having a profound impact on the decisions of our senior leaders."
"I think working on the SSG is the ideal position for me. It's a great example of how the Air Force uses people to the best of their abilities," the lieutenant said, adding that the IMA program provides the flexibility she needs to fulfill her military requirements while keeping up with her busy academic and civilian careers.
As a Reservist, Lieutenant Mastro has caught the attention of some of the Air Force's most senior leaders. In her civilian capacity, she is becoming well known among government officials on Capitol Hill.
In January, she was asked to testify before the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission on China's active defense strategy and its regional impact. The commission was established in 2000 to monitor, investigate and submit to Congress an annual report on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People's Republic of China, and to provide recommendations to Congress for legislative and administrative action.
"It was definitely an honor to be asked to testify before the congressional committee," Lieutenant Mastro said. "The committee members had read my report very carefully and were ready with a number of thoughtful questions and comments. I hope I provided the committee with some helpful information, and I look forward to testifying again someday."
Next up for Lieutenant Mastro, the Reservist, is a trip to technical school at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, in May. The school will last about 6 1/2 months. While learning more about military intelligence at tech school, Lieutenant Mastro will have to put her Ph.D. studies on hold.
"Princeton has been very accommodating with my leave for OTS and tech school," Lieutenant Mastro said. "It's a very military-friendly school. My advisers -- Tom Christensen, Aaron Friedberg and Jake Shapiro -- have been very supportive of my Reserve career, but they haven't let up on me despite all my new responsibilities."
Next up for Oriana Mastro, the scholar, is a trip to China and Vietnam for research. While there, she hopes to have the opportunity to work more on her doctoral dissertation. Once she is finished with her dissertation, Lieutenant Mastro isn't exactly sure what the future holds. She has the desire to teach as well as continue her work with national security research organizations in Washington. No matter which direction Lieutenant Mastro's life takes, she definitely sees the Air Force Reserve in her future.
"I can see myself being an Air Force Reservist for a long time," she said. "I love having the opportunity to serve, and the Reserve has given me the perfect opportunity to do just that."