Former USGIF Scholarship winner reflects on decades of service and considers future opportunities in academia
Philip McTigue has worn many hats in his nearly 30-year defense and intelligence career. Among them are marine, police officer, contractor, teammate, leader, instructor, and student. The hat he currently wears is director of federal programs at EagleView Technologies in Rochester, N.Y., where he oversees relationships with government organizations and educates agencies on the advantages of oblique imagery.
McTigue began his career with the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the Persian Gulf War from 1990 to 1991. After returning to the U.S., he spent 10 years with the Rochester Police Department, working night shifts for the tactical unit. Duty called once again in 2001, when McTigue was recruited to a United Nations Special Operations team to provide protection to lawyers and judges conducting war crime trials in Kosovo. He later worked as a security specialist on contract for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Department, State Department, and other federal agencies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and Pakistan.
“I was using maps extensively for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We worked a lot with the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (the predecessor to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency), using imagery of our locations for mission planning,” McTigue said. “I had been exposed to GEOINT and I didn’t even know it.”
McTigue’s life of service earned him awards from federal organizations, foreign governments, and police departments. But his proudest achievement isn’t a formal accolade. Rather, it’s an impromptu act of charity that snowballed into a near-viral aid campaign.
“For 10 years, I’d been making money and supporting my family in war zones,” McTigue said. “I’d been participating in that violent activity for a long time and I’d never really done anything to help the healing. I ran across this orphanage [in Afghanistan] and was moved by it.”
He wrote to his wife, hoping to rustle up hats, mittens, scarves, and soccer balls for the approximately 30 kids and eight widowed women living at the orphanage. Together, they sent an email hoping to collect donations from a few dozen family and friends. They didn’t expect the tidal wave of support that poured in from local schools, Boy Scout troops, Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters, and even a quilting club. In six months, the campaign delivered more than 1,000 pounds of clothes, books, movies, sporting equipment, musical instruments, and more to the orphanage, all personally handed out by McTigue.
“I had no idea it was going to turn into that,” he said. “I was able to make a positive difference in an environment where there weren’t a lot of positives.”
In 2009, McTigue retired from government and accepted his first corporate job growing federal partnerships at Pictometry, an aerial imagery provider that merged with EagleView in 2013. There, he began to learn the GEOINT tradecraft, coupling imagery with sophisticated GIS data and information layers to extract more intelligence.
He described the transition away from direct action operations as “challenging,” but added that returning from overseas heightened his appreciation for his current environment.
“When I’m sitting on the beach on a Friday night with my wife, and we’re just enjoying the sunset, I feel like I have a different understanding of how lucky I am to have that in my life. It’s the small things,” he said.
A New Challenge
In the corporate world, McTigue found himself surrounded by people with one or more specialized graduate degrees—degrees he didn’t possess. He recognized the value in continuing his education and, with encouragement from two former Pictometry executives, returned to school to stay competitive in the commercial sector.
“I was never afraid to charge a machine gun nest, but I was afraid to walk back in the classroom,” he said. “I missed the daily challenges of being overseas, and looked at school as one of those challenges.”
In 2014, McTigue earned his bachelor’s degree in homeland security from American Military University. In 2017, he enrolled full-time at USGIF-accredited Northeastern University to pursue his master’s degree in the same field, which he received in June 2018.
“Receiving the scholarship from USGIF kept me on track financially to complete my degree,” McTigue said. “For a working professional, that award was incredibly helpful.”
McTigue is now “seriously contemplating” a doctorate program but wants to take the next few years off from school to focus on his career and home life. He also expressed interest in someday becoming an adjunct professor in homeland security at a university. The idea is fitting considering his past roles as an educator—with the Rochester Police Department, he was both a field training officer and an academy and firearms instructor; in Kosovo, he served as an instructor of advanced courses for the team’s Close Protection Unit.
“If I ever became an adjunct, I would love to do it at my alma mater. The program at Northeastern is absolutely spectacular and their instructors are phenomenal. That’s also where I would consider pursuing my Ph.D.,” McTigue said.
Images courtesy of Philip McTigue