Revolutionary outlook

Combat pilot earns history doctorate by connecting dots between modern War on Terror and America’s fight for independence

Ryan Menath

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Menath will graduate from UND on Saturday, with a Doctor of Arts degree in history. He earned the degree while serving full-time as an officer at Grand Forks Air Force Base. He requested to be stationed in Grand Forks after an a fellow officer recommended the D.A. program offered by the UND’s history department. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Ryan Menath was piloting his KC-10 tanker over Afghanistan a few years ago, and he was thinking about war.

The Revolutionary War.

“I was reading a book about the American Revolution in my spare time,” said Lt. Col. Menath, a U.S. Air Force combat pilot who has been stationed all over the world. “I thought that if you remove the dates and names, the Revolutionary War strategy is eerily similar to the Afghan strategy – only the U.S. are the British. I hoped that Air Force leadership knows this – but it needed to be reinvigorated.”

That kicked off an academic career for Menath, who will earn his Doctor of Arts in history next Saturday at UND Commencement.

Menath earned the degree while serving full-time in the Air Force. He requested to be stationed in Grand Forks after an officer recommended the D.A. program offered by the UND history department.

Menath is set to walk across the graduation stage on Saturday, during UND’s graduate degree ceremony set for 9 a.m. at the Alerus Center.

Ryan Menath

After receiving his master’s degree, Menath began teaching at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. But, after a while, he decided that he wanted his doctorate, too, and transferred to the Grand Forks Air Force Base to earn his degree at UND. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Military mindset

“This was a great experience,” said Menath. “The faculty are amazing to work with. I came in with a specific military mindset. The faculty took that and showed me the civilian environment, and exposed me to new authors and scholars that formed a more holistic picture. I don’t think I could get that anywhere else.”

Menath focused his research and teaching at UND on military history.

“A question that Ryan wanted to answer involved how he could use history, specifically the Revolutionary War, to teach cadets about the human elements, especially decisions, that warfare has always involved,” said Ty Reese, professor of history and Menath’s advisor. “He created a unique class based around gaming and forcing students to make on the spot tactical, operational and strategic decisions in the context of the Revolutionary War.”

Menath’s work has also resulted in an award for the best military history paper at the Northern Great Plains History conference, and second place in the 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) contest on campus.

“The Air Force largely focuses on history in the post-flight era,” Menath said. “There is an idea that technology fixes everything. But warfare is a uniquely human problem. Technology is a good tool, but it’s not the end-all and be-all of air power. It’s about human decision-making. If we use the tools in the wrong way or technology fails us due to weather, terrain or equipment, or even communication, things can go wrong. I wanted to focus on that and show cadets that decision making is part of warfare.”

“The Revolutionary War era removes air power,” Menath said. “The Revolution is one of the most simplistic military strategies compared to later wars. It was just George Washington.”

“I’ve loved it here,” said Menath. “Where to start? I like the community, the university, the history department. Classes were rewardingly challenging, stressful enough to make me do my best work but not overwhelming. This was the perfect learning experience.”

The biggest challenge was not having a set schedule, said Menath.

“I’ve always had a rigid schedule, and it was a struggle at first with long-term deadlines,” he said. “I’d never experienced that.”

Ryan Menath, Chris Nelson and Ian Foerester

Menath (left) took second place for his research pitch at the this year’s 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) contest, in which he summed up his research on parallels between the Revolutionary War and today’s continuing War on Terror. Here he’s pictured with UND Associate Dean of Graduate Studies Chris Nelson (center) and 3MT winner, Ian Foerster. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Cadet to professor

Menath, who said he always wanted to fly, was admitted to U.S. Air Force Academy in 1997.

“I have always wanted to serve – and fly – in a way that no one else gets to do,” said Menath. “I wanted to do formation flying, low level flying, air refueling – unique flying.”

He was commissioned in 2001 – just a few months before 9/11.

And he was deployed six times to fly combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’ve had some hairy moments,” he said. “It’s hard to be away from family.”

That, along with his study of warfare, spurred him to earn a master’s degree in history, and he began teaching at the Academy. But he wanted his doctorate, and transferred to the Grand Forks Air Force Base to earn his degree at UND.

“My wife knew more people here than I did when we came here,” Menath said. “She’s a pilot too, and was the officer in charge of the Air Force Academy flying team. She had met members of the UND flying team all over the country.”

After he graduates, Menath has been assigned to return to the Academy to teach history.

And he’ll carry fond memories of UND and Grand Forks.

“The community is amazing,” said Menath. “This is the best place we’ve been stationed. Everyone is focused on teamwork. Everyone was helpful and wanted to help make me a better professor.”

UND commencement lowdown

UND provides a live video stream of commencement on our webpage to allow family and friends to participate in commencement, even if they cannot attend in person.

We recommend that you set your device or computer to full screen format. If your screen is grey, please refresh it. The feed is iOS and Android compatible.

Three programs will be Webcast on Saturday, May 12, 2018:

  • Graduate Degree Ceremony, 9 a.m. (CDT)
  • “Celebrate Achievement,” 12:30 p.m. (CDT)
  • Undergraduate Degree Ceremony 1:30 p.m. (CDT)

“Celebrate Achievement” features live interviews with students, a concert by the UND Wind Ensemble and videos about the University of North Dakota.

The video streams will start shortly before each program. Video of the UND campus will appear on the stream until each program begins. The programs will also be streamed on UND’s Facebook page using Facebook Live and on YouTube.

If you have trouble seeing the video, please contact tech support at http://techsupport.und.edu and chat with a representative or call 701-777-2222 (press 0 or remain on the line).

If you are unable to view the commencement ceremony live, an archive video will be available by Wednesday, May 16. The videos for each program are downloadable through the following links: