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Andrew Exum speaks to the Chattanooga Rotary Club at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

Chattanooga native Andrew Exum's resume was already impressive. He's a respected foreign policy scholar, the author of a book on the war on terror and a frequent contributor to some of the nation's most impressive media outlets.

And just this month, Exum began working for the Pentagon as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy.

He oversees a staff of some 30 civilian and military officials and serves as the secretary of defense's primary adviser on Middle Eastern issues.

The job is daunting, Exum said, but an exciting challenge.

"I thought the first week would be like drinking from a fire hose," he said. "But I think it's going to be a constant experience."

Exum said the Department of Defense has four priorities in the region: maintaining the free flow of commerce in the Persian Gulf, protecting and supporting allies like Israel and Jordan, countering terrorism -- especially violent organizations like ISIS -- and keeping the area free of weapons of mass destruction.

"That's obviously a lot to chew on," he said.

Exum is a graduate of McCallie School, where Assistant Headmaster Kenny Sholl said his drive was clear then.

"I'm really not surprised," he said. "Andrew has always been aspirational, confident. When he was a student here, you could see that he was gritty, resilient and determined."

During his time at McCallie, Exum was always interested in being part of something bigger than himself, even if he wasn't the best at it, Sholl said. One day at football practice, Sholl, who was a coach, asked Exum why he was playing. He wasn't the best guy on the team, but he was giving it his all.

"He said, 'Because I need to be out here with these guys,'" Sholl said. "It's always about others. He's a good fellow. The country got a good one there."

Exum graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he attended on an ROTC scholarship, then went on to earn a master's degree in Middle Eastern studies from the American University of Beirut. He has a doctoral degree from the department of war studies at King's College London.

He served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and has penned multiple articles on foreign policy for national and international media outlets. In 2004, he released his book, "This Man's Army: A Soldier's Story from the Front Lines of the War on Terror." He also contributed to "Beyond bin Laden: American and the Future of Terror," an ebook edited by Jon Meacham with contributions from various analysts and experts.

Exum served as a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and was working as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group before his appointment to the defense department.

He's the son of Roy Exum, retired executive vice president and sports editor at the Chattanooga News-Free Press, and Anne Exum, the director of communications at Girls Preparatory School.

Exum said he hopes to return to Chattanooga one day.

"It's jobs like this and opportunities like this that keep me in Washington, D.C.," he said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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