Not a CULP trip – 2017 – Guatemala – Cadet Lieber

This one is kind of a long one, but it’s a good one.  So not every Cadet gets to do some cool Army training each summer.  Until a Cadet is contracted they aren’t eligible for things like CULP and Air Assault school.  Cadet Lieber is a three year scholarship winner, so the Summer after his freshman year he still wasn’t contracted.  Along with helping me, as a junior counselor at New York Boy’s State he also did some incredible work in Central America. Here’s his story about his adventure.

Climbing up a steep winding mountain trail, we took turns carrying a wheel chair and getting sips of water to keep us going in the heat of the Guatemalan jungle. As we came out over a vista between the dense walls of vegetation I looked out over the ever expanding green oasis that ebbed and flowed beneath us. I started thinking about how the family we were going to see got to be in the midst of this every single day. Then my thoughts shifted to the mother carrying her son on her back up this trail with his spastic flailing that was surprisingly strong. We kept pushing up until we reached their small home on the top of the mountain. It was a very rugged combination of concrete, tin roofing and whatever scraps were lying around. As we stepped on the porch, there was Carlitos and his mother waiting for us to arrive.

Lieber 1

Darlene, the first patient to receive a made in Guatemala stander, was not expected to be able to stand or walk. Two years after beginning using our stander this is her standing next to her now unnecessary standing frame with her mother and part of our 2017 team.

Rewind a few months and I was a 17 year old high school student who hadn’t been out the U.S. before and certainly didn’t know anything about treating cerebral palsy(CP). One day my engineering teacher gave me a number and told me to call it so I did and Scott Mitchell was on the other end. Scott was a biomedical engineering student at Dartmouth University and had designed something that was about to change thousands of lives. He had designed a pediatric standing frame for a school project aimed towards providing physical therapy to children with debilitating diseases. The primary one in mind was CP, which affects 1 out of every 1,000 kids globally to the point where they are unable to walk or control most of their muscle functions. In developed countries there are lots of amenities and safety nets that help to not only prevent CP, but also treat it when it occurs. Standing frames are the most common physical therapy treatment for CP. These “standers” as we call them are devices that provide support to the patient by some arrangement of straps and a frame that allow the child to stand upright and bear their own weight, a near impossible task for many patients. As simple as this may sound a stander on the market today can cost in the range of $8,000 not to mention the cost of a session with physical therapists that you should have multiple times a week. If a part on one of these standers breaks, they could be rendered useless or at least dangerous until it’s replaced, which could quite well be never in many rural developing countries. Scott’s design had all of this in mind. Our stander was made from universally available hardware store materials, is extremely simple to use and repair and costs only $50 to produce.

Lieber 2

Our 2015 teams visits a patient in their home in rural Guatemala.

In the summer of 2015 I joined Scott on his approximately two month maiden voyage of the non-profit organization called Stand With Me, now the official name of our group aimed at getting these standers out in the world. Our mission was to travel through Central and South America to check on patients who had received standers already and establish a shop that could produce them in country and get them where they needed to go. When we arrived in Xenacoj, Guatemala we stayed in a small compound next to where our shop was to be established. We were piggy backing of Hope Haven and using part of their facility where they had an established shop similar to ours building wheel chairs. I worked with most of the workers there to make the various jigs and parts that were needed to streamline the construction of our standers and it was an incredible experience to get to work with people who were so different from me. I loved talking to them about their different cultures and learning Spanish in a massive trial by fire brought plenty of laughs. Many of them are in wheel chairs themselves and they took no mercy on the gringos during the lunch break wheel chair basketball games. Within a week or two we had what was a mostly finalized shop other than the changes that would come as we refined the process. The worker that we were hiring to be in our shop once we left was named Kevin and we taught him all that we could about our standing frames and how to make him so by the time we finished the shop our first few standing frames had already been made as practice.

The next phase was to get out and check on our patients who had already received standing frames when they were sent down. This is when the trip really began to get personal. No longer was this just another wood working project, we were seeing the faces and hearing the words of the people we were helping. For many of them we traveled hours by car and walked down trails to find their homes situated in their own corner of the world. We were living out of our van for a couple weeks to see as many as we could. Sometimes all their home would be is a series of wood posts or branches supporting a corrugated roof with cloth dividers for rooms and when we walked in the first thing every family did was offer us a drink or meal. This was more than humbling. If these people had nothing, they would still offer it to us because that’s the way their culture is. I learned a lot in every sense of the word by visiting our patients.

Lieber 3

Part of our 2017 team pulling a late night to test design improvements on our standing frame.

One of our patients, Edison, and his family were Mayan and not only did they speak a Mayan dialect rather than Spanish, but they had a totally separate frame of mind than us. They believed that Edison’s ailments were due to witchcraft gone wrong and that prayers and more witchcraft were the only ways to make him better. This was a first for me. I knew these cultures still existed, but interacting with them was unchartered territory for me. After speaking with them for a while they agreed to try our stander since their methods hadn’t been working. We saw a handful more families many of whom praised us as angels who saved them and their child because since using our stander their child started to be able to feed themselves or focus on an object or even walk a little with their mom’s support. I didn’t think I could be anyone’s hero at 17 years old and I still didn’t really feel like I was, but what we were doing was making a world of difference in the lives of our patients and there families.

This past summer I returned to Guatemala and got to see the entire process after two years of functioning. The standers had changed some, the construction process and distribution was being revised and most importantly many of our patients were getting better. We now have over 600 standing frames with patients in 8 countries on 4 continents and have plans to put a shop and distribution center in the western hemisphere in the near future to increase our production. Getting to take part in this was not only emotionally fulfilling, but I was able to learn a lot that I can apply to my role as an army officer. Starting an organization where our primary area of operation is in a foreign country speaking a foreign language and our responsibility includes organizing efforts on the other side of the world taught me a lot about organizational leadership. We spent a lot of time planning and then during our trip changes had to be made and accounted for constantly due to things like cultural differences, different resources being available in U.S. that weren’t there and timing of different phases. Getting this opportunity to go into a real world situation and make a difference from the time that I was 17 to now and knowing that what I and the rest of this team did is going to have impacts on people’s live years from now is extremely fulfilling. I proved to myself that I am capable of creating change and doing good and I think that is going to carry over into not only my Army career, but the rest of my life.

For more info on Stand With Me and our efforts check out www.Standwithme.org!

We expect Cadet Lieber to have more amazing stories after this summer…stay tuned.

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No scholarship…what are my options

So you are an incoming freshman, you either applied for a scholarship and didn’t get an offer or you didn’t apply.  Army ROTC is still something you can do, you can still complete the program and commission, and you may even still be able to receive a scholarship offer.

recruiting table at the Clarkson activities fair

Have I got a deal for you

First a couple caveats…

  • every ROTC Battalion does things a little differently. When you are reading my blog I am usually telling you how we do things at Clarkson, in the Golden Knight Battalion.
  • Each year is different.  Some years we have more scholarships than we do Cadets, and some years we only get a few scholarships.
  • I don’t usually operate on any type of quotas…even when higher says I am supposed to.  I will always try to get the best options for each Cadet.  I’ve found over the years that the outcomes will balance out in the end and most Cadets in my program are fairly happy with where they end up.

So, if you are starting out as a freshman, or even a sophomore in the fall semester the first step is to enroll in the class.  Some programs may consider you for a scholarship, but in my case, unless you have at least committed to enrolling I’m not going to consider you for anything more than enrollment. If I do have the opportunity to provide additional scholarship offers, I’m going to go to my list of incoming students that have asked to be in the class.

One important thing to remember which new Cadets often fail to understand is that without a scholarship you can’t even contract until your sophomore year, so I am in no hurry and can’t really do anything with you other than get you ready/fully qualified, and have you take the steps to be considered for a scholarship.  If you are participating fully, passing your PT tests, take care of your DODMERB, and maintain your GPA then we are on track to give you some options.

We hold a scholarship board each semester.  Appear before a board and you get on the Order of Merit List (OML).  Once you are on that list I will be working to get as many of the Cadets on the list an offer.  At some point higher will tell me there won’t be any more offers and that is when we talk about other options like SMP or non scholarship contracts.

My advice is always not to worry about what you can’t control.  You or I can’t control how much money and how many scholarships will be offered.  You can’t control what the other Cadets will bring to the table.  What you can control is your fitness level, your work ethic in the class room, and your level of motivation and participation. If you want to serve your country as an Army Officer and earn a 4 year degree chances are good we’ll figure out a pretty good way to allow you to do that.  And like everything in the Army, it may not be the same way you thought you were going to do something, but in the end we’ll accomplish the mission.

The waiting is the hardest part

Every year I get two or three incoming freshmen who contact me, saying they are interested in the program and asking questions about the commitment.  Invariably I get an email like this one I got about a week ago.

after a couple days of thinking I am going to put this on hold. After talking with my parents they said I should focus on my school work first for the first semester and If I can add more after to do so. I appreciate you getting back to me and this is something that I’m not putting aside. I read somewhere that the latest you can join is sophomore year. After the first semester I will re-evaluate and see what I can do. Thank You.

I’m not a high pressure salesman. Army ROTC is not for everyone. I usually let the prospect know we’ll be here if they change their mind, and that it’s never too late, but I think it’s time I push back a little on the idea of waiting.

A cautionary tale

The reason I’m going to push back is because of this year’s graduating class.  One of the top Cadets in the the class waited.  He had  an injury he thought would hinder his participation…despite me telling him otherwise.  He waited until the spring semester to contact me again and enroll in the class.  He was interested in one of our scholarships, and once he enrolled it became apparent he was what we were looking for.  Problem was he was a semester behind his peers and he had already missed one scholarship board.  When he finally came to a campus based scholarship board, we were pretty full on scholarships and he finally had to settle for a non scholarship contract when no more money was allocated to his year group.  Because we held out for a scholarship as long as possible he wasn’t contracted until the fall of his junior year, which means he missed out on any optional training opportunities during those years that requires a Cadet be contracted to attend.  Because of that he wasn’t as competitive during the branching process, and although he had his heart set on Infantry branch, he was assigned to the Ordinance Corps.  He will be a great Officer and will have a successful career, but waiting to give Army ROTC a try cost him.

It can’t hurt to try

There is no obligation to try Army ROTC as a freshman.  If you do find out that it takes too much of your time, or if it’s not the right fit, all you have to do is drop the course.  At Clarkson you can drop the course  just about any time during the semester with no penalty.  I would rather have a freshman try the course and drop it after a couple weeks than to have him or her contact me at the beginning of their junior year when it’s usually too late to try to get them on board.

Help, not hinder

Army ROTC is usually a support system you wouldn’t otherwise have.  We operate much like the athletic coaches, monitoring the grades and academic performance of our Cadets.  We emphasize taking advantage of student services and we expect our Cadets (especially our Cadets in the engineering programs) to take advantage of tutors.  We assign each Cadet a mentor.  That mentor is an upperclassmen, usually in the same or a similar major who can help guide the Cadet through the challenges of being a Cadet and student.  Academic success is going to be your number one priority while you are at school and we are going to remind you of that

Cadets studying together

Cadets studying together in the ERC at Clarkson.  When I want to find some Cadets I always know there will be a groups of them in the ERC.

We don’t ask for a lot of time

As a freshman in the Golden Knight Battalion we are going to ask for 6-7 hours a week from you.  An hour of class, two hours of lab, and PT Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  We are going to give you the opportunity to participate more, but if you have other priorities that is fine.  We usually have 10-15 varsity athletes in the program that are balancing school, a sport or sports, and ROTC and most of them do just fine.  We have fraternity and sorority members who are active in Greek life, we have Cadets in student government, and Cadets who work part time.  If you weren’t giving us 6-7 hours a week, those hours would be filled with something else, probably not academically related. Since PT is not mandatory for non contracted Cadets, if you are having trouble managing your time, not attending some PT sessions is an options.  As long as you are working with us, we will help you figure it out.

So, I fully understand incoming student’s (and their parent’s) concerns, but from now on I’m going to share this blog post when I get an email like the one I got last week. Nothing frustrates me more than trying to figure out how to help the latecomers get caught up, and be competitive for what they want.  Hopefully it will convince one or two it’s better to give it a try up front.

 

How and where to start 2017 edition

When I started this blog 7 years ago now (holy crap! 7 years ago!) some of the first posts were about how to start the scholarship process and how to get started in Army ROTC.  Time to bump that info back to the top of the blog and freshen it up a little. The optimal target audience for this information is a high school junior finishing up their junior year.  That student is considering college and has a desire to serve in the military. If you aren’t a high school junior and are interested we should still talk, there are plenty of ways to become an Army Officer. Here’s what I think my optimal audience should do.

Step one – do your research

Visit www.goarmy.com/rotc …poke around on the site.  Understand that Army ROTC is a program that trains college students to serve as Army Officers when they graduate from college. Look at the requirements.  Don’t be afraid to contact an Army ROTC Battalion and talk to an Enrollment Officer if you have questions.

Along with researching ROTC opportunities you’ll also need to figure out where you want to attend college and what you want to study.  You won’t be majoring in Army ROTC.  The internet is a great source of material.  You can use a search engine to develop a list of schools that offer what you want.  Most University websites will give you a good idea what they offer.  You can also usually find information about Army ROTC battalions too.  In our case we have a wealth of information on the Clarkson University website, and on social media platforms like facebook and instagram.

Step two – apply for the scholarship

Watch this video first.

If you follow the link to http://www.goarmy.com/rotc/high-school-students you will find a link to the four-year High School Scholarships and on that page you can start your application.  It is first going to ask you to create a goarmy.com account.  It is very important that once you create this account you return to the ROTC page and log in here.  I publish the various dates for the scholarship process once they are released each year.  Typically the window to apply opens in June before a high school students senior year.  The first board meets in October and the deadline to start the process is in early January.  Watch this blog for the dates.

A WORD OF CAUTION…If you are on the goarmy.com site you will see an apply online button. That is not the button for applying to Army ROTC.  That button takes you to the Army Career Explorer (ACE) which is focused on enlisted options for the most part.

goarmy.com

goarmy.com

Step three – keep in touch/start a dialogue

As you go through the process make sure you are letting people know you are interested in their program.  Whether it is a school or an Army ROTC battalion, we want to hear from you, and we will keep track of our conversations.  In my case I contact interested applicants often and track all correspondences.  Clarkson also does the same and I can cross reference their system and mine to see if an applicant is showing interest. If I hear from you often then you will get my help.  If you don’t respond to my emails I’m guessing you plan to attend another school.

You have to make sure you are providing good contact information.  If you provide an email address make sure it’s one you check often.  With the advent of mobile devices it should not take days to respond to an email.

I also suggest that scanning and emailing is the best way to respond to requests for forms or documents.  On the application website you can scan and upload documents.  There is no reason why someone would put something in an envelope and mail it or fax a document these days.  Scan and upload when possible.

I also recommend you plan some campus visits once you narrow your list.  If you visit a college ask about meeting with someone from the ROTC program.  In my case, I encourage visitors to schedule their visit through the Admissions office, and ask to meet with Army ROTC.  Admissions does the rest.

Step four – Don’t give up

If you go through the high school process and don’t get an offer you can still attend college, enroll in Army ROTC class, and become an Army Officer.  You may have the opportunity to earn a campus based scholarship or take advantage of another program like the Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP).  Not every Cadet is on scholarship.

Board Dates 2017-2018 scholarship boards

Here they are, the dates for this fall/winter’s board dates. If you are applying for a four year high school Army ROTC scholarship that will start in the fall of 2018, that would be a high school senior in the fall of 2017, these are the dates you should pay attention to.

4-year High School Application Opens for SY 18-19 12-Jun-17
1st High School Selection Board Deadline for Documents 17-Sep-17
1st High School Selection Board 2-Oct-17
2nd High School Selection Board Deadline for Documents 7-Jan-18
2nd High School Selection Board 22-Jan-18
4-Year High School Application Deadline for SY 18-19 4-Feb-18
Final HS Selection Board Deadline for Docs — Missing Items 4-Mar-18
Final (3rd) High School Selection Board  19-Mar-18

So, what does all this mean.  Same advice as last year…You should complete your application before the board that makes you the most competitive.  I would recommend you try to get in on one of the first two boards.  Waiting till the deadline and being seen by just one board is never the best course of action.  If you have a strong file you should be shooting to have your file complete by 17 September and reviewed by the first board.

Look at SAT/ACT dates. If you don’t do so well the first time you take those tests again. Your second shot is usually some time shortly after the October board, so you should be shooting for the second board and submitting improved scores if your file isn’t strong. Here’s where you can get some help with those tests, use it.

If you wait until the second or third board your chances are diminished because there will obviously be less allocations available after each board but don’t rush to be on the first board if you aren’t ready.  I would tell you that you shouldn’t wait to be able to do one or two more push ups on the PFT, but if your SAT/ACT is low retake and wait for the next board.

As you go through the process make sure you read about all the components (this blog is a good source of information, if I do say so myself) and stay in touch with at least one of the recruiting officers at one of the schools on your list. Notice I said recruiting Officer, and not recruiter…there is still a difference.

Class of 2017 recap

commissioning class 2017.jpg

As we finish up with this year’s commissioning season I thought it might be valuable to recap what we produced with the MS 17 cohort.  Our mission for this class was 15.  We met our mission…no more, no less.  We were helped in this year group by three Cadets who migrated, or didn’t graduate on time.  All three of them were SMP Cadet, serving in the National Guard or Army Reserves, and all three of them continued to serve in the Guard/Reserves.  Of the 12 Cadets who did graduate on time this Spring –

  • 11 earned their degree at Clarkson and one at St Lawrence
  • 6 will serve on Active Duty, and 6 will serve in the Guard or Reserves
  • The Active Duty Cadets were branched into Ordnance (2), Infantry, Field Artillery, Corps of Engineers, and Aviation.
  • 4 of the 12 Graduates were varsity athletes at some point in their college career.
  • 9 of the 12 graduates were in STEM majors, 7 of them earning Engineering degree

Approximately 40 students were enrolled in this year group at one time or another.  Some tried it for a semester or two and decided it wasn’t for them. Some were asked to leave the program for one reason or another.

What are  the takeaways from this roll up? Each graduating class is different. At Clarkson we are known for producing lots of STEM Cadets.  We also work well with the athletic department. Most years we have a good male to female ratio. Most of our Cadets get their component of choice and most get one of their top choices for branch.  About half our Cadets chose to serve part time when they graduated this year.

As is the case every year…the graduates of the Golden Knight Battalion are well trained, well educated, well prepared and ready to do great things.  Good luck to all of them!

 

Stop the madness…Sending in your decision

I’ve written about contacting Cadet Command a few times in the past (here and here) and obviously old posts don’t get read.  Some of this information is dated, but the basic premise is the same. This may become an annual blog post. I have been contacted and I have seen discussion board posts where an applicant is not sure what their status is and wants to know how they can verify that their acceptance had been received. They invariably go on to say that they have emailed and faxed and mailed their response. In response, here is my advice

Do what Cadet Command asks you to do

Here’s what the letter they sent you says:

Mail this form to the address in the return address block OR fax to (502) 624-1120 OR scan and e-mail to usarmy.knox.usacc.mbx.train2lead@mail.mil

It doesn’t say “AND“, it says “OR“.

 

Scan and email

This is the surest way to make sure your response is received.  You’ll have a document in your sent folder in your email, and you don’t have to wonder if there is paper in the fax machine, or if the letter got delivered 5 days from now.

If you send your response multiple times you are just bogging down the system.  The same people that are opening the mail everyday and scanning the responses are also getting responses off  the fax machine, and checking the email and processing responses.  If they get a paper response they still have to scan and upload that response.  If they get a digital copy of your response in an email you just saved them a step.

Check your application status

There are a couple ways you can verify that your decision was received.  If you check your online application your acceptance letter will eventually get uploaded to your documents, the same way your offer letter was.  If you see it uploaded then Cadet Command has received it. I don’t think your status will change from “offer”, so don’t let that bother you.   The ROO at your school of choice should also be able to see that you accepted the offer. Touching base with him or her will also keep that line of communications open with the ROO and let them know you are excited to be joining their program.

Hope that helps…let’s not bog down the system.