Unlikely Graduate

Successful military career takes 1979 R-MWC alumnus to combat zones

Wiseman in full battle gear during his tour in Afghanistan.Colonel Martin Wiseman ’79 in a yearbook photo his senior year and in a military photo for his retirement

When it comes to ice breaker games, Martin Wiseman ’79 has always had an ace up his sleeve. Not many men, much less those with 33 years of experience in the military and military reserves, can say they graduated from a woman’s college.

“They always ask you during training sessions to tell one thing about yourself that is unusual,” said Wiseman, who retired in October as a colonel for the U.S. Air Force. “I tell them I graduated from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. That usually shocks people.”

During the College’s years as a single-sex institution, men were allowed to attend classes and even graduate. In total, seven men graduated from the College with undergraduate degrees. Most of them were sons of faculty members, but Wiseman was an exception—and the last male to graduate before the College went coed in 2007.

“I look back on my years at Randolph-Macon with a great deal of fondness,” said Wiseman, who now lives in Richmond, California. “The education I received there taught me how to think. The liberal arts, especially at a school like Randolph-Macon, help you learn how to analyze problems and help you be really objective in evaluating issues. I’ve been able to use that my whole life.”

Wiseman’s road to R-MWC began during his years at Holy Cross Regional School in Lynchburg. While attending the private school, he learned about R-MWC. After high school, he attended Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina for a year before entering the Army. Once his tour was up, he returned to the United States. “Things turned around for me while I was in the Army, and I really wanted to go to a good school. I wanted to major in history.”

While at home in Lynchburg, Wiseman went to R-MWC to use the school’s undergraduate catalogs to see about applying to state schools. “While I was there, I started talking to a counselor about how I just wanted a good school to study history,” he said. “It turned out Randolph-Macon was perfect for that.”

A special admissions committee admitted Wiseman, and he was allowed to become a resident student. He lived in a house near the gymnasium with several other men who were attending R-MWC as exchange students. Not everyone welcomed the men on campus in those days. “There were people who were very resentful that I was there,” he said. “But there were others who were wonderful to me and who became great friends.”

Living on campus allowed Wiseman to hold several jobs and be involved in campus activities but created a few problems as well. Men were not allowed into the dorms at certain times, and he had to find “creative” solutions to attend study groups. “I had to sneak in sometimes because the study groups were always held in the dorms,” he laughed.

Wiseman was a deejay for the campus radio station and even played on the College’s golf team. “It was an interesting time,” he said. On his graduation day from R-MWC, Wiseman’s mother served as his squire. “I’ve always been proud to have a degree from R-MWC,” he said.

After graduation, Wiseman needed a way to pay for his graduate degree. He was accepted into an Air Force officer training program that paid for his M.B.A. in organizational management from the University of Missouri. He graduated first in his class. “I didn’t have a real desire to go into the military,” he said. “It was a means to an end. My real love of the Air Force grew after I enlisted.”

Colonel Martin Wi seman '79 with U.S. Senators John McCain (2nd from left) and Joe Lieberman (far right).

Wiseman’s military and professional career took off once he finished his first five years on active duty with the Air Force. He entered the Air Force Reserves and went to work as a national bank examiner for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a department of the U.S. Treasury. After being transferred to New York and then Washington, D.C., Wiseman was called up to active duty in 2003 and spent a year working at the Pentagon. In 2004, the U.S. Treasury Department asked Wiseman to go to Iraq for six months to help the Iraqi government establish an internationally compliant banking system. He returned to Iraq in 2006 for another year of service.

His experiences in Iraq were life changing. The conditions and the people he saw and met altered Wiseman’s perspective on life. A mortar once hit 30 yards from his trailer, killing three people.

“Part of it was being in a combat area,” he said. “We were mortared all the time. But the tough part also ended up being the hours and the pressure. We were going seven days a week, and most days we were there 16–18 hours a day.”

Wiseman remembered also how his attitude changed after spending time in another culture. “I had the opportunity to travel and see the world and to do something that really mattered,” he said. “The first time I went to Iraq, I naively thought we were going to save the day. Later, I found myself thinking about how the Iraqi people felt and what they really wanted.”

In 2008, Wiseman received yet another challenge. He was asked to serve as deputy director for political military affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Once again, he experienced the challenges associated with working in a combat zone. “My degree in history helped me understand serving for our country even if I didn’t always agree with national policy,” he said. “There is a sense of integrity, honesty, and the fact that you are really doing something for your country.”

After a year in Afghanistan, Wiseman returned to the Pentagon. He officially retired in October.