About Matt

ML (Matt) Cavanaugh, PhD, is a retired US Army Strategist who earned two Bronze Star Medals and a Combat Action Badge for his time in the Iraq War, and most recently served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Kidney Donation Organization, the largest group of living organ donors in the US.

He is a Professor of Practice with the Arizona State University School of Politics & Global Studies (abbreviated CV available here), and is a co-founder of the Modern War Institute at West Point. Matt also has been the youngest recipient of the Army Strategist Association’s professional award – the Order of Saint Gabriel the Archangel (2015), in addition to earning West Point’s faculty-wide Apgar Award for Excellence in Teaching (2014), and was once named the US Army’s Athlete of the Year (2009).

A proud living kidney donor, in 2021 Matt donated at Walter Reed to benefit a stranger in Seattle, kick-starting a chain that helped another 7 recipients (the last a service-person back at Walter Reed). In 2022, just months post-donation, he ran the 4 Deserts ultramarathon Grand Slam—1,000 kilometers self-supported across the world’s worst deserts—winning “The Last Desert” in Antarctica and finished as the series’ fastest American ever. In 2023, Matt ran 12 Boston-qualifying marathons in a single year (averaging 2 hours, 54 minutes, and finishing in the 99th percentile across the entire series). These efforts catalyzed others to save lives through kidney donation.

Matt served as an Associate Fellow with the Royal United Services Institute from 2019 to 2020, on the Wounded Warrior Project’s Advisory Council from 2014 to 2016, was a Term Member with the Council on Foreign Relations from 2014 to 2018, and is a co-founding Member of the Military Writers Guild.

His writing has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Colorado Springs Gazette, and at ForeignPolicy.com (see his “Top Ten” articles).

Matt earned his Master’s in Strategic Studies at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, and his PhD in International Relations under Professors Colin Gray and Beatrice Heuser at the University of Reading (UK).


ML Cavanaugh strategist writer athlete professor speaker
ml cavanaugh writer strategist speaker athlete letter from secretary of defense

A kind word from former Secretary of Defense James Mattis in response to an essay.

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