2016-11-23 / Front Page

Flynn ‘Is an All-American Boy’

By Olga Enger


Growing up just steps away from the beach on Tuckerman Avenue, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was always happiest in the water. He broke records competing at the Boys and Girls Club swim team, surfed year-round, and played water polo in college. Pictured above is Flynn checking out the swells at Easton’s Beach this past summer. Growing up just steps away from the beach on Tuckerman Avenue, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was always happiest in the water. He broke records competing at the Boys and Girls Club swim team, surfed year-round, and played water polo in college. Pictured above is Flynn checking out the swells at Easton’s Beach this past summer. A Middletown native described by his friends and family as “intense, competitive and athletic” has been named a senior aide to President-elect Donald Trump.

After serving as an adviser for the presidential campaign, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a lifelong Democrat, accepted the position of national security adviser last week. The role, which does not require Senate confirmation, was created at the start of the Cold War in 1947 to advise the president on foreign intelligence matters. Flynn was one of the highest-ranking national security officials to support Trump and emerged as a leading possibility for vice president before Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was selected for the position.


Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn receiving a medal from David Petraeus, the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. 
(Photos courtesy ofthe Flynn family) Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn receiving a medal from David Petraeus, the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. (Photos courtesy ofthe Flynn family) Growing up in an Irish Catholic family of nine siblings, Flynn came of age as a strong-minded athlete who spent his time between football practice and surfing when he wasn’t studying.

“It wasn’t that he was brilliant at school. He worked hard at whatever he did,” said his older brother Bill. The children credit their mother, Helen, for emphasizing education and fine-tuning key skills such as communication and writing.

He isn’t the only general raised under the Flynn roof.

His brother, Maj. Gen. Charles Flynn, is the deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific in Fort Shafter, Hawaii. Four of his siblings are still in Rhode Island: Bill, Clare, Jack and Mary. Other siblings are Joey, Barbara and the oldest child, “Lennie,” who passed away when she was 21. Both parents are now deceased.

Flynn, who will be 58 in December, has never been afraid to ruffle feathers, but national media has misrepresented his character, said his family.

“In the papers he appears strident. But if you know him personally, he’s not that way at all. He’s always open to listening to everyone,” said his brother Bill. “Some people are calling him a racist because of his comments about Muslims. But what he’s saying is there is an ideology that needs to be stopped. The terrorists are hiding behind religion.”

In 2010, Flynn authored a controversial report that claimed the U.S. intelligence community is not studying relevant information required to fight foreign enemies. Although then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates labeled the analysis a “candid self-assessment,” his conclusion did not sit well with many in the Obama administration.

Last year, Flynn raised eyebrows after he gave a paid talk at a gala dinner in Moscow sponsored by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He may be best known for what the Los Angeles Times described as a “fiery” speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, where he said the nation was “tired of Obama’s empty speeches and his misguided rhetoric.”

Can he handle the pushback? Those who know him best say, absolutely.

“Look, he’s faced real bullets,” said his brother Bill. “These are paper bullets. I don’t think any of this stuff really bothers him. I know he is a really intelligent guy, an American, and an inclusive person.”

“Being in the public light, he’s going to be put in a lot of tough situations,” said retired Col. Thomas Heaney, who first met his lifelong friend in Little League. “We have two distinct political parties in our system, which have taken opposite approaches to solving the same problem, so there will be tension. But I think Mike will handle it very well. He’s always had a calm demeanor about him.”

To escape politics, Flynn still lives in Middletown when he isn’t traveling.

“Mike is passionate about the ocean. He loves to swim and is a great surfer,” said Heaney.

When Flynn was a young boy, his father retired from the military as an Army master sergeant and bought their grandmother’s one-bedroom house on Tuckerman Avenue.

“At that time, there were seven kids. So our parents added a living room, two bedrooms, and two more kids,” Bill laughed.

In addition to the nine siblings, neighborhood kids were always in and out of the house.

“We hosted basketball games in our driveway. If someone called ‘jungle rules,’ that meant there were no rules and all hell would break loose,” recalled his brother Jack.

The future general grew up swimming, playing baseball and football, and working as a lifeguard at Second Beach. Before Flynn was 10, he set a longstanding state record for the 50-yard backstroke during a swim meet at the Boys and Girls Club in Newport.

“I think the foundation of our success started in sports,” said Heaney. “Our coaches taught us that playing and working together takes a lot of hard work. Our teams were very successful.”

In 1976, Flynn was named All- Division after the Middletown High School football team soared through the season undefeated and took home the Division B state championship.

“He’s the all-American boy story,” said Heaney, who was the quarterback.

“You could tell by the way Mike carried himself that he was going to go far,” reflected Flynn’s ninth grade football coach, Barry Clark. “He was a leader on the field, and he’s even more of a leader now.”

Growing up, the boys on the team were inseparable.

“There were always six gallons of milk in the refrigerator at the Flynn house,” laughed former Middletown Councilor Rocky Kempenaar, who played football with the young Flynn since their Pop Warner days. “If you left food on the table, it wouldn’t be there when you got back. If there was an empty bed, you grabbed it.”

Many Middletown families remember the Flynn children from their paper routes.

“Dad would give one kid five papers on one street, give another kid five papers for another street, and we would run off,” said Jack. “Before the sun came up, we would be done and having a soda at the gas station.”

After Flynn graduated in 1981, he joined ROTC and worked his way up the military ranks. He went on to serve as the top intelligence officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s top aide in Afghanistan.

After 33 years in the military, Flynn retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 2014. He had clashed with the Obama administration, warning the United States was no safer from terrorism than before the Sept. 11 attacks. He pointed to intelligence that advised against toppling Syrian President Assad and arming Syrian rebels.

However, his childhood friends knew he was not hanging up his hat for good.

“I went down to the retirement party, and I could see in his eyes that he wasn’t done,” said Kempenaar. “He was too young; he wasn’t ready to leave.”

“We are a close-knit group of about eight guys. Most of us went to his retirement party,” said Heaney. “We could see he still had the desire to serve. In his mind, he wasn’t done.”

Several years ago, Peter Fagan, who was on Flynn’s newspaper route, was watching hurricane swells come in. When Flynn walked up with his surfboard, Fagan asked how long he planned to stay in the military.

Flynn’s response stuck with him: “I have a lot of unfinished business to take care of. I have a lot of friends over there. I want to finish the job.”

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