Paula G. Thornhill

Photo of Paula Thornhill
Adjunct Political Scientist
Off Site Office


D.Phil. in history, Oxford University; M.S. in strategic studies, National War College; M.A. in history, Stanford University; B.S. in history, United States Air Force Academy

Media Resources

This researcher is available for interviews.

To arrange an interview, contact the RAND Office of Media Relations at (310) 451-6913, or email

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Paula Thornhill is an adjunct political scientist at the RAND Corporation. She retired from the U.S. Air Force as a brigadier general in 2009. Her last assignment was as the commandant of the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (2006-09). Just prior to her time as commandant, Thornhill served as the principal director for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In addition, she has taught at the Air Force Academy and been assigned to the Air Staff, the Joint Staff, U.S. Strategic Command, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Thornhill served as the dean of Faculty and Academic Programs at the National War College and as special assistant to the 15th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard B. Myers, USAF. She is an adjunct professor in the Strategic Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Thornhill has a B.S. in history from the U.S. Air Force Academy, an M.S. in strategic studies from the National War College, an M.A. in history from Stanford University, and a D.Phil. in history from Oxford University. 

Selected Publications

Paula G. Thornhill, Demystifying the American Military: Institutions, Evolution, and Challenges Since 1789, Naval Institute Press, 2019 (forthcoming)

Paula G. Thornhill, The Crisis Within: America's Military and the Struggle Between the Overseas and Guardian Paradigms, RAND (RR-1420), 2016

Paula G. Thornhill, "Over Not Through": The Search for a Strong, Unified Culture for America's Airmen, RAND (OP-386), 2012

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: Federal News Radio

Commentary: The Chronicle of Higher Education; CNN; Defense News; Defense One; U.S. News & World Report; War on the Rocks


  • U.S. Marines hold military drills during Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations in Washington, D.C., July 4, 2019, photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    Americans Have Faith in the Military, but They Don't Understand It

    The U.S. military is a central element of America's power and history. It dominates discretionary spending and remains the country's most trusted institution. However, it is peripheral to the daily life of most citizens.

    Sep 13, 2019 The National Interest

  • Admiral Michelle Howard visiting Fort Leavenworth

    To Produce Strategists, Focus on Staffing Senior Leaders

    To reinvigorate graduate-level professional military education, the military could carve out a unique educational niche by focusing on intense, quality staff officer education that is more relevant to understanding the demands placed on top defense leaders.

    Jul 20, 2018 War on the Rocks

  • A C-130J Super Hercules aircraft flies over a formation of Airmen during a ceremony to remember veterans of World War II on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Picauville, France, June 6, 2014

    The Chairman the Pentagon Needs

    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford says that to fight and win 21st century wars, the department should find a way to globally integrate below the secretary of defense. To do so, the chairman's role would have to expand to allow him to advise the secretary on the allocation and transfer of forces for transregional, multi-functional, and multi-domain operations.

    Jan 5, 2018 War on the Rocks

  • An MQ-9 Reaper on the flightline at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan

    Do 'Guardian Forces' Belong in the Military?

    More and more national security workers in and out of uniform never get close to combat. They address cyber threats, operate satellite constellations, and control drones. It's time to rethink their place in the system.

    Mar 10, 2016 Defense One

  • A young girl touches the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC

    Honor Veterans Day by Learning Veterans' Stories

    Veterans Day is a time to reflect, but it's also a time to help veterans find their voices, so Americans can collectively find their voice as a nation.

    Nov 11, 2015 U.S. News & World Report

  • U.S. Army Forces Command hosts academic dialogue with strategic studies Ph.D. candidates

    Political Scientists and the Military

    For civilian academics interested in bridging the political science–military gap, five recommendations to acquire basic information about the military could encourage improved interaction, better policy-relevant scholarship, and an enhanced policy process.

    Aug 10, 2015 War on the Rocks

  • Capt. Chuck Marks, commanding officer of Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, listens to Martin Gallivan, associate professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, talk about the artifacts his team of students uncovered during the excavation of a Powhatan Indian village, a field study being conducted under a cooperative agreement between the Navy and the college

    A Funny Thing Happened When These Military Officers and Academics Got Together

    If senior military officers and academics find themselves divided, is there a way to build respect and trust earlier in their careers? A tabletop exercise suggested that the best way to bridge the civilian-military divide is not via large conferences or formal papers. Instead, it can be done by building trust, one person at a time, over time.

    Apr 6, 2015 Defense One

  • U.S Marine with many medals

    Mending the Marriage Between Colleges and the Military

    Without a concerted effort to change military executive education, military services will continue a misguided effort to buy academic credibility, and some elite universities will continue selling their names. Most importantly, the Untied States will miss an opportunity to hone the critical thinking of its next generation of military leaders.

    Aug 18, 2014 The Chronicle of Higher Education

  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Airmen from the 90th Missile Wing to learn about the ICBM mission and the people who operate, maintain, secure, and support the Minuteman III weapon system

    America's New Missile Gap

    With the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military refocused on the non-nuclear realm. In most cases, military professionals moved seamlessly into this realm, but the land-based missileers lacked the option to shift their focus.

    Feb 25, 2014 Defense News

  • preflight checks inside an F-35A Lightning II

    Innovation and America's 21st Century Air Force

    Lost in the US defense budget debates are deeper issues about the relationship between the military and American society. In many ways, these issues are especially stark for the Air Force. Can the US Air Force improve this connection?

    Nov 26, 2013 Defense News

  • History Shows Danger of Arbitrary Defense Cuts

    As America embarks on a tough strategic journey in the aftermath of Iraq, and contends with an ailing economy, it is wise to be mindful of the difference between hope and fact, writes Paula G. Thornhill.

    Nov 23, 2011 CNN