Alumni Spotlight: Air Force Deputy Commandant Michael Goldman

“If you would’ve asked me at JMU if I would ever join the military, I would’ve laughed,” Michael Goldman, Class of 1991, said.  

Michael Goldman is now the Deputy Commandant in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG), as well as a Military Law Adjunct Professor at the University Of Alabama School Of Law.

“I love teaching. I like to see the light bulb come on, and I get to see them grow,” Goldman said.

However, Goldman didn’t always know that he wanted his career in the military.

“It never crossed my mind, but it turned out to be something that I love,” Goldman said.

Upon graduation from his second graduate school, Goldman joined the Air Force in January of 1996 and started out as a Staff Attorney and worked his way up to his current position at the Judge Advocate General’s School in Montgomery, Alabama. In a previous assignment, Goldman served as a faculty member at the school.

“We hire law school grads, bring them to the school, and train them to be an Air Force Lawyer,” Goldman said.

Goldman performs a variety of tasks at the school, from running staff meetings and supervising faculty to budgeting and overseeing the 54 courses that the school holds each year.

However, in May, Goldman will begin his ninth assignment. He is moving to San Antonio, Texas to run the Office of Airman’s Council to represent Air Force members.

“For my whole career, I’ve represented the organization, so now I get to switch sides to represent the individuals,” Goldman said.

So how did Goldman, a man who would have laughed at the idea, end up joining the military?

“It was a chance encounter,” Goldman said.

Goldman’s perspective changed upon a conversation he had with a Navy lawyer while at Georgetown University, the second graduate school he attended.

“He told me about his job, and it sounded interesting. You get a lot of experience and clients right away,” Goldman said. “I went home that night and told my wife.”

Though Goldman’s family did not have experience in the military, his wife’s family did, and they came from an Air Force background.

Now approaching his ninth assignment, Goldman has found much success in the Air Force, driven by his foundation at JMU, as well as his graduate work at Gonzaga University and Georgetown University.

JMU Experience

Goldman majored in English and minored in German and Asian Studies as an undergrad at JMU.

“I loved the professors in the English department. They were always so nice to me,” Goldman said.

Goldman also stayed involved in clubs and organizations while a JMU student. He participated in the German Club and the International English Honors Society Sigma Tau Delta, and he was also involved in intramural sports, including basketball and wallyball.

In addition, Goldman worked two on-campus jobs, the first in Gibbons D-Hall’s dish room, and the second in the English department as a Student Assistant. In the latter, he performed tasks such as making photo copies and grading quizzes.

“I was fortunate to be able to sit around and talk with [the English professors and] work with them,” Goldman said.

When asked what experiences prepared him for his current role, Goldman replied, “More than anything, it was my English major.”

“I feel that being an English major was wonderful prep for law school,” Goldman said. “Being a lawyer is all about reading, analyzing, writing, and some speaking, though it’s secondary. That’s what being an English major is.”

Goldman also spent one semester abroad at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, though not a part of JMU’s study abroad program, and took English classes that counted towards his major.

“The schoolwork was more challenging than I ever expected,” Goldman said.

Goldman explained that his friends who participated in study abroad through JMU were able to travel more so than he did, as well as have class with and learn from the Faculty Member in Residence from JMU.

“[My friends] were familiar with the style of learning and what would be expected,” Goldman said.

“If you go with JMU, you have a built in group of friends.”

Goldman’s studies kept him at the university, as adjusting to the curriculum proved difficult for him.

“The Scottish educational system is completely different from ours,” Goldman said. “There was a period of adjustment for me and the professor.”

“I wanted to be independent and do things on my own,” Goldman said. “If I could go back, I would have done it through JMU.”

For the past couple of years, Goldman has represented JMU at college fairs, as a volunteer for JMU’s Admissions Office.

“I get to share something that has been very meaningful in my life,” Goldman said.

Goldman’s willingness to give back to JMU demonstrates his fondness for his alma mater.

Graduate School Experience

Upon graduation from JMU, Goldman completed two graduate degrees, the first from Gonzaga University of Law in Spokane, Washington, in which he earned his Juris Doctor degree.

“I [applied] all on my own. I didn’t think about going to career services to go and talk to pre-law advisers,” Goldman said. “That is not the best way to do it.”

Even though he did not seek help when applying, Goldman had a positive graduate school experience.

“I enjoyed law school,” Goldman said.

Goldman graduated from Gonzaga University in 1994, and then he attended Georgetown University’s Law Center in the District of Columbia to receive his Master of Laws degree with an International Law specialization in 1995.

“I liked traveling, studying languages and cultures, and those interests guided me to international law,” Goldman said.

However, when applying to his second graduate school, Goldman did receive help.

“I had a professor at Gonzaga that had earned a second law degree,” Goldman said. “He helped me apply. This time, I had a lot of guidance.”

While Goldman’s first graduate experience reminded him much of JMU with its relaxed environment, friendly faculty and students, and close-knit environment, Georgetown University proved to be intense.

“Georgetown was a harder school to get into. A lot of [my peers] had gone to Ivy League schools, and I sensed that in class when they asked questions,” Goldman said. “I knew I was really going to have to apply myself to keep up with them.”

Goldman stresses to his current students, as well as JMU students considering graduate school, the importance of understanding a school’s culture before attending.

“One thing I tell them is to find a school to fit your personality,” Goldman said. “If you’re happy, I do believe that you will do better as a student.”

With his knowledge of a variety university’s cultures, Goldman praises the atmosphere at JMU.

“I look back and I could easily tell you my favorite school was JMU. Those four years were some of the best years of my life,” Goldman said. “I wouldn’t trade my experience at JMU for anything.”

Advice for JMU Students

In speaking with Goldman, you would never know that he is an introvert, though he professes that this was not always the case.

“When I was at JMU, people often told me that I was the shiest person they ever met in their life,” Goldman said. “I was even shy in law school. I didn’t become comfortable in public speaking until the Air Force. It forced me to come out of my shell.”

Though he did conquer his fear of public speaking, Goldman wishes he would have done so earlier in life.

“If I had done [public speaking] at JMU and addressed and overcome [my fear of it], I would’ve been more involved in law school,” Goldman said. “I let fear hold me back.”

Goldman encourages JMU students to tackle their fears, including public speaking, now, instead of waiting to acquire these skills on-the-job in the working world.

“Don’t hide. Make yourself uncomfortable while you’re in college. Put yourself under stress and challenge yourself,” Goldman said. “Your classmates are as nervous as you are, so they want you to do well.”

“I found out when I got into the JAG core that teaching and giving speeches, I was actually good at it. I had been afraid for no reason,” Goldman said.

In addition, Goldman advises that students participate outside of the classroom as well, as employers look for those experiences when hiring recent graduates.

“When we’re looking to hire, we look for someone with internships, work experience, and extracurriculars that relate to what we’re looking for, like the mock trial team, debate club, or anything like that, versus someone who is more one dimensional.” Goldman said. “That experience is huge. It goes well beyond the grades.”

Last, but not least, Goldman recommends for students to enjoy their time at JMU, as the time goes by fast.

“[JMU has] a beautiful campus with nice people, so soak it up. You won’t regret it later,” Goldman said.

Congratulations on your many successes, Michael! JMU wishes you the best, and good luck in Texas!


Morgan Vega Gomez, Recruiting Assistant
Employer Relations and Recruiting Services, Career & Academic Planning


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