Carrying the Flame
Leif Rosenberger brought economic might to a military fight
By Geri Silveira
“Going to CGU was the best decision I ever made in my life—even better than going to Harvard,” said Leif Rosenberger, PhD, International Relations, 1980. “Of course, my wife says marrying her was the best decision I ever made in my life,” he chuckles, “but CGU definitely played an important part in my career.” To say Rosenberger has had an illustrious career is an understatement. Currently, he’s retiring from 33 years in the US government, most recently serving as the chief economist for the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), whose area of responsibility covers 20 countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, he’s exploring new opportunities in the private sector and plans to teach part-time. Rosenberger is also a writer, a former athletic star, and a devoted husband and father.
The son of a minister and a stay-at-home mom, Rosenberger grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He attended high school at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, where he excelled in hockey, soccer, and lacrosse, so much so that he was inducted into the St. Mark’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010. Rosenberger went on to Harvard, where he was a scholar-athlete and graduated with a BA in history in 1972. An elite athlete, Rosenberger played professional hockey until he realized that a career in sports wasn’t going to be his life’s work. But athletics taught him important lessons. “I learned that if you want to be good at something, you have to practice,” said Rosenberger. “And I practiced a lot.” He also discovered that playing team sports helped him to work with other people. “Brilliant people who can’t work well with others don’t go far in government,” he said. “You have to be able to compromise and reach a consensus. It’s teamwork, just like athletics.”
Preparing for his next career, Rosenberger earned an MA degree in history in 1974 from Boston University while working with blind and developmentally disabled children at the Protestant Guild for the Blind during the day. Shortly after, he discovered CGU. “It was a particularly harsh winter in Boston that year, and I was looking for someplace warmer,” he laughed. “Truthfully, I was offered a Merit Scholarship at CGU, and I was a great admirer of Fred Warner Neal, an expert in Soviet relations and chairman of the International Relations Department at CGU at the time.” The more Rosenberger found out about the university, the better he liked it. “I wanted a smaller setting, and I liked the broader scope of the program, which offered classes, like international law, that gave me a broad foundation for a changing world and turned out to be very useful in my career.” Rosenberger blossomed at CGU, received his doctorate in 1980 and initially went to work for the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
During his six-year tenure at the intelligence agencies, Rosenberger was a pioneer in tracking terrorist financing after the bombings in Beirut in 1983. Among other duties, he ran the 24-hour alert center on counterterrorism in the Pentagon.
Eventually Rosenberger went on to a teaching post at the US Army War College in Pennsylvania. He held the General Douglas MacArthur Academic Chair of Research and became a full professor of economics in 1993. “I loved working with and mentoring students back then,” he said. “And I still do. I have a lot to share.”
In 1998, he became the chief economist for United States Pacific Command (PACOM), whose area of responsibility is the Asia-Pacific region. His experience there produced the two-volume “Asia Pacific Economic Update,” which Admiral William J. Fallon, commander of PACOM at the time, made mandatory reading for all new PACOM employees. While in Hawaii, the headquarters for PACOM, he taught International Business at the University of Hawaii where he renewed his love of teaching.
When Admiral Fallon went to CENTCOM in 2007, he took Rosenberger with him. Again, Rosenberger assumed the responsibilities of the chief economist, and developed the “New Silk Road” initiative that would revive the old silk road concept of moving products across Asia by improving Afghanistan’s infrastructure and by finding new customers for their products. S. Frederick Starr, chairman of Johns Hopkins’ Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, praised Rosenberger: “While others were focused solely on military affairs, Rosenberger showed the ways in which economic development could occur simultaneously and support the military effort.”
Rosenberger has won numerous awards, including Federal Employee of the Year twice. But one honor has special meaning to him: the Joint Civilian Service Commendation Medal he received in 2009 from General David H. Petraeus, then commander of CENTCOM. Petraeus wrote: “I presented Leif an award for his excellent analysis of the economic impact of the global financial crisis on the economies of the 20 countries in the CENTCOM AOR (Area of Responsibility), and I shared it widely.”
A prolific author, Rosenberger has a long list of publications dating back to 1983. On the family front, Rosenberger and his wife Regina, a nurse, raised two daughters and a son. The Rosenbergers also have two young granddaughters.
In recent years, Rosenberger has renewed his relationship with CGU. He’s on the dissertation committee of a PhD student, and he’s a self-described “cheerleader” for President Deborah Freund’s practice-based approach to research and education. “I enjoy being involved with the university again,” he remarked. “CGU and my wife are still the best choices I ever made.”