Alumni Spotlight: Dagvin Anderson ’88
In his senior yearbook sketch, Dagvin Anderson ’88 wrote that in the 6th grade he made “the most important decision of my life” to leave his friends in Ypsilanti and attend Greenhills, an Ann Arbor school he had never heard of before. As a senior, he expressed no regrets about graduating from Greenhills, but he still wondered if it was the right choice. Today, as a two-star major general in the U.S. Air Force, and the joint commander of US Special Operations Command Africa, he has “absolutely zero doubt that Greenhills was the right place for me.”
A former Greenhills baseball and basketball player, Anderson recalls the profound impact of former coaches Luke Jansen ’81, Bill Allyson, and Pete Pullen ’82 who, with their own passions for athletics, pushed him hard and let him know when he made a mistake, but also celebrated with him when his moves were right on and made all the difference for the team. He also cites many Greenhills faculty members (Alyce Depree, Bruce Zellers, Harlan Underhill, Francis Broadway, Martha and Tom Friedlander, Jean Diekoff, and more) who were passionate about their subjects and challenged him in ways that left him with a love of literature, science, and the arts.
“Greenhills gave me a holistic education that helped shape my understanding of the world and my role in it,” Anderson said. “I value that to this day.”
With two older brothers in the Army, Anderson knew as a young boy that he wanted to serve in the military. Having to complete an independent senior project at Greenhills gave him a reason to learn to fly airplanes, something he had long wondered about. While he didn’t have time to obtain a full pilot’s license, his faculty adviser, Lorne Forstner, encouraged him to design the flight project with a goal he could (and did) achieve in the time allotted: flying solo. After graduating from Greenhills in 1988, Anderson accepted a full Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship to study electrical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. Upon completion of his studies there, he entered the U.S. Air Force as an officer.
For the next several years, Anderson was based in Texas, Montana, and Florida, enhancing his skills as an officer and learning to fly multiple types of military aircraft. He’s flown three different types of aircraft in active combat missions. In 1999, Anderson was named an Olmsted Scholar, an honor awarded to very few highly qualified, active duty junior officers to pursue language studies and overseas graduate-level education on the premise that great leaders require broad education. In addition to learning Czech at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. and studying international relations at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic as part of the Olmsted program, Anderson’s post-collegiate studies also include specialized training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Ala. and an M.A. in International Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University. In 2010, he was also a Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.
During his time in the Czech Republic, the 9/11 attacks took place. In the wake of that disaster, Anderson had the opportunity to fly tactical aircraft in Afghanistan and Iraq. Special Operations has been his focus ever since, including assignments of increasing responsibility in Florida, New Mexico, Virginia, South Korea, Hawaii, and Germany, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters in Stuttgart.
Anderson’s oldest daughter was ready for middle school when they were living in Albuquerque and he wanted to send her to a school as much like Greenhills as they could find. They attended an open house at Bosque School, an independent school in the area. After the tour and presentations, he introduced himself to the head of school and shared that Bosque reminded him of his alma mater, Greenhills. “Ah, Greenhills! Fayroian, right?” Anderson was pleasantly surprised that the head of Bosque not only knew of Greenhills, but also Head of School Peter Fayroian. The Andersons enrolled their daughter for the next year and it was a great experience. Unfortunately, his next assignment required a relocation and a new school, but he said Greenhills continues to set the standard that other schools for his daughters to measure up against.
The examples set for Anderson by his coaches and teachers at Greenhills—to believe in yourself and pursue your interests with passion—are still with him today. He is certainly passionate about his work and says he derives his energy from it. As the commander of special operations in Africa, he said he is grateful for the unique opportunities he has to coordinate with high-ranking military and diplomatic leaders on how to best impact the defense, diplomacy, and development of our African partners. He has seen firsthand that “American values can transcend borders” and, by our very presence, Americans still bring a sense of hope to many for a better life. “I love my job and I believe in what I do.”