November 2023 Alum of the Month: Peter J. Beshar ’80

When Veterans Day originated as Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, Hotchkiss already had reason to pay tribute to its veterans. In 1917, a group of undergraduates from Yale, including Artemus Gates, Class of 1914 (who would later become under secretary of the Navy), enlisted in the Navy Reserve Flying Corps. Douglas Campbell, Class of 1913, joined the Army, subsequently becoming America's first Flying Ace. Many other alumni followed in their footsteps.

For the past 20 years, the Hotchkiss Veterans Club has recognized service. “The Veterans Club honors those members of the Hotchkiss community—including alumni—who have served their country in military or related service. It is the club's mission to promote the idea of service to one's country, whether it be to the United States or any other country represented within the student, faculty, or staff population,” said Veterans Club heads Liam Burke ’24, Devon Christian ’24, and Ella Johnson ’25. They noted that the club focuses special attention on three days: 9/11, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day.

We offer the following alumni profile as a tribute to all who have served and those who support them.

Hotchkiss Alum of the Month November 2023 Peter J. Beshar

Peter J. Beshar ’80, general counsel of the U.S. Department of the Air Force and the Space Force, deep underground in a Launch Control Center with members of the 90th Missile Wing on F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sarah Post)

Peter J. Beshar ’80 is the general counsel of the U.S. Department of the Air Force, which includes the U.S. Space Force. Serving in various roles over the past three decades, Beshar has developed a profound respect for those serving in the military. In 2019, Beshar and his wife, Sarah, established the Beshar Scholars Military Service Award at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

He relished his time in Lakeville. “From the moment that I set foot on campus, Hotchkiss felt like a field of dreams. I grew up in New York City in the 1970s, so soccer in Central Park was an adventure and ice time at a rink was virtually nonexistent. Suddenly, there were perfectly manicured fields, an indoor and outdoor rink, and—most important—all of these great kids to play with.”

Integral to Beshar’s Hotchkiss experience are the friendships he made. “Forged at such a formative stage of our lives, these remain an enduring gift that Hotchkiss has given all of us. Though we are now scattered across the country, we remain close and have tried to support each other through all of the vagaries of life.”

After he graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. from Yale University in 1984 and cum laude with a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1989, Beshar entered the field of national security in 1992. “War was raging in the Balkans, and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance was tapped by the then-secretary general of the United Nations to try to stop the war in Bosnia and Croatia. I had the incredible privilege of serving as Secretary Vance’s special assistant. Our small team was based at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. We met with heads of state from across Europe and the Middle East as well as with the warring factions—individuals like Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic who would later both be tried for war crimes in the Hague. Though we did not succeed in our mission, I came away with a profound respect for the military and an abiding interest in our national security.”

Beshar spent a year as an assistant attorney general of New York State before becoming a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, noting that careers are far from linear. “In 2004, Marsh McLennan was reeling from a regulatory crisis. Out of the blue, I was offered the opportunity to serve as general counsel. In my gut, it just felt like the right move. Over the course of the next 17 years, under the awesome leadership of our long-time CEO, Dan Glaser, we engineered one of the great turnarounds in recent corporate history.”

In late 2021, Beshar had the opportunity to return to public service when he was nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as the general counsel of the U.S. Department of the Air Force. After being confirmed by the Senate in March 2022, Beshar started at the Pentagon a few days later. “As I testified at my confirmation hearing, I consider the opportunity to serve as the general counsel of the Department of the Air Force to be the honor of my life, particularly at this defining moment for the world.”

In this role as the chief legal officer and ethics official, his duties include oversight and guidance to 2,600 civilian and military lawyers and 500,000 active duty and civilian members.

He has placed much of his focus on two issues: nuclear modernization and space. “The Department of the Air Force is responsible for two thirds of the ‘nuclear triad’—land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, and strategic bombers. Given the threats posed by China and Russia, it is critical to strategic deterrence that our country modernizes weapon systems that were built half a century ago. I have been awed by the professionalism and commitment of our missileers and maintainers who stand watch day and night to keep us all safe.”

Shifting to space, Beshar said he recently traveled with the U.S. Space Force’s chief of space operations to a remote base 900 miles from the North Pole. They inspected the upgraded early warning radar and satellite control network and participated in a moving ceremony to rename the base. “Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. With the Danish foreign minister, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark and the foreign minister of Greenland all in attendance, the U.S. renamed its base from Thule to a local Greenlandic name—Pituffik—to recognize the contributions and also the sacrifices made by indigenous Greenlanders.”

Beshar’s respect and admiration for the members of our Armed Forces has grown over the years. A decade after working with Secretary Vance, Beshar attended the National Security Seminar at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA. The Army invites 100 civilians annually to join senior members of the military as they complete a nine-month course in strategy, leadership, and military history. Beshar was assigned to an Air Force colonel, who said at the outset, “‘I’ve got your six.’ I had never heard the expression before, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. He was sitting directly behind me at six o’clock; he had my back. I thought that was a wonderful metaphor for the way that those of us in the civilian world should think about the brave men and women who serve in uniform and defend our country.

“Under the banner of ‘We’ve Got Your Six,’ we then launched a series of programs at John Jay to support military students and veterans—fellowships at large companies, scholarships, and simply recognition. Within a few years, John Jay was voted the No. 3 Most Military Friendly University in the entire country.”

Beshar drives past the Lincoln Memorial each morning on his way to work. “I head into the River Entrance of the Pentagon and walk past portraits of the giants who served before us. That is the way to start your day!”

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