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Pentagon to Professorship

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From a young age, Political Science Professor Brian Houghton said he experienced the effects of terrorism firsthand. Those experiences triggered his desire to pursue a career in counter terrorism, a field in which he spent over 20 years. Houghton’s father was in the military, which brought teenaged Houghton and his family to live in Germany. During this time the radical left-wing terrorist group, the Red Army Faction, was just beginning raids through Germany. Houghton personally witnessed several Red Army Faction attacks while living there, and again when he returned to serve a full-time mission for the church. From that point, “I knew I was going to work in the field of counter terrorism. I was going to play a role in stopping these acts,” said Houghton.Reed Segura, a junior political science major from California, said, “Some professors speak of theories that others have tested. But with Dr. H., many of the theories he teaches his students have been explored and tested by himself in a setting outside academia. It’s fascinating when you learn from someone who has experienced, rather than philosophized. It gives validity to what they have to say.” Upon finishing his degree at BYU in international relations, he pursued a master’s degree from The G.W. University in International Affairs. Houghton sought out G. W. University because it had the most professors who specialized in political violence and terrorism. At the time, the field of counter terrorism was fairly new, and there was no emphasis for those wanting to study it, so Houghton and his professors created one. After completing his degree, Houghton worked as a research associate at the S.A.L.C. as a defense contractor. Houghton said, “My job was to work on futuristic war games for the Pentagon. It was a great job.” While there, Houghton predicted through his research how large U.S. forces would fight smaller insurgencies, which is what we see today. “That is something I am really proud of,” said Houghton. “We got it right. It was in the ‘90s before Iraq or 9/11 and we were able to predict how these wars would be fought. I was then able to work with other intelligence agencies in supporting policy changes to combat these smaller groups that the U.S. would be fighting.” He continued, “A lot of the things I see today are suggestions I brought up or talked about 20 years ago. It just takes the military a long time to make changes.”Houghton worked in numerous capacities during the last 20 years, including director of Research on the Oklahoma bombing site, co-founder of the Terrorism Research Center, and others. He still continues to travel the globe to give trainings for local law enforcement and military who are fighting terrorism in their home countries for the U.S. State Department. Houghton confessed that after 9/11, the rigors of travel were wearing on him. One day, “A friend told me of a one-year visiting professor job at BYUH and I took it. I had every intention of going back to the State Department, but after one year, I was hooked,” he said. “Working with the students here is addictive. That is why I stayed. There is just a good group of really talented young people.”Kamille Foster, freshman in political science from Idaho, said, “I think it’s awesome how he uses his real world experiences to teach us. He has firsthand knowledge of most of the things he teaches. It’s not like he reads what he teaches us. He’s done what he teaches us.”Houghton attributes his success to the extra things he did while he was in school and offers students some advice for a successful career: “You have to do something to differentiate yourselves. Do a meaningful internship; get a good job while you’re here. Join a club, start your own non-profit, just do things that will make you unique.”He continued, “Everyone will graduate from here with a degree, but what are you doing to make yourself special? Follow your passions. Get all the education you need for your desired field, then show how you are applying your education in the real world.” Houghton currently teaches an anti-terrorism class on campus and uses many of the same slides and techniques in his class as he does for his trainings with the State Department. Uploaded Feb. 19, 2015.
Writer: Trenton McCullough