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Your Life Calling With Jane Pauley

A Soldier's New Mission

Retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata goes back to school to help D.C. students.

In Anthony Tata's new, later-in-life career, he's rarely addressed as "sir" or "General," even though some might consider his current position, as chief operating officer of Washington, D.C.'s public schools, to be a combat deployment.

Until June 1 of last year Tata (pronounced TAY-tuh), was a brigadier general in the U.S. Army. During his 32-year military career, which began as a 17-year-old cadet at West Point, he served as a paratrooper, infantryman, and ranger in hot spots including Bosnia, Panama, Kosovo and, most recently, the front lines of Afghanistan. Today, the 50-year-old "Mr. Tata" (or "Tony," as he prefers to be called) wears a jacket and tie to work instead of a uniform and bronze star. And his frontline duty has been replaced by behind-the-scenes strategizing to coordinate and supply what every effective army—or school system—needs: food for the mess halls (cafeterias), land for bases (schools), and equipment for the troops (teachers and students). 

There are other differences, including that small matter about issuing orders. "As a general, I could snap my fingers and 3,000, 5,000, 10,000 troops would change their uniform," recalls Tata, who now works and lives in D.C. "Here you've got to build consensus."

Tata's decision to leave the military and launch a new career was planned yet unexpected. After his return from a yearlong tour in Afghanistan, where he was the deputy commanding general of a mountain division and combined joint task force, Tata, long an aspiring novelist, was offered a multi-book contract based on a military-action thriller he had written and self-published under the pen name Aiden Rocke. (Tata says he kept a low-profile about his literary pursuits, and specifically the book Rogue Threat, so his hobby wouldn't intrude upon his military duties; he adds that there's no meaning behind his alias, the first part of which was chosen from a 2005 list of popular names for boys.)

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