MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- “Your war-fighting days are over.” Those were the words that shattered my future and plans within the special operations community; and as I faced this reality, I thought back to the events leading up to this moment.
In the summer of 2010, my vehicle hit a pressure plate improvised explosive device during a mounted patrol in Uruzgan, Afghanistan. My driver and I were airlifted for follow-on treatment for our injuries. I completed my treatment, recovered, and returned to the fight with even more motivation to conduct patrols than I had before I started the tour.
By the time I finished that stint, I was more than ready to attend Special Forces Assessment and Selection, but the Army had other plans. Instead, I was given orders to teach at Airborne School. Having already served with the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command as a drill sergeant, I found myself instructing at the 1/507th Parachute Infantry Regiment as a ‘Black Hat,’ teaching men and women from every military branch the basic fundamentals of airborne operations. I suppose the opportunity gave my body the chance to heal up and continue to rehabilitate -- which I took full advantage of.
In the fall of 2012, I finally attended SFAS. I did better than I expected, but I remember feeling my knee worsen on the final foot march at the end of the course. I finished the event -- running on sheer adrenaline, which drowned out the pain. My knee quickly filling with fluid, I could only thank the man who emplaced that pressure plate IED for his gifts that continued to haunt my life.
Two weeks later, I was having another knee surgery -- this time, in Columbus, Georgia. Once again, I healed up and worked with my physical therapists until I felt strong, but it was premature. Regardless of my knee and other recurring medical issues, I extended my contract and moved to Fort Bragg to attend Special Forces Medical Sergeant training. I felt mentally ready; and I was physically ready, or so I thought, but it didn’t take long for things to worsen again.
“You need to start thinking about other options,” the Chief of Orthopedic Surgery at Fort Bragg said. With that news, I felt like the last nine years of my career had just exploded in front of me. The truth is that we all think we have a plan for getting out until we’re forced to put it into action. The unknown … it’s a horrible feeling.
As the medical board process kicked off, I remember getting a business card from my Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer. The business card was from the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Care Coalition, and I was told to give them a call. Of course, I put it in the growing pile of countless other pamphlets and papers that had recently been given to me, and thought no more about it.
Despite my lack of motivation, and with time, I called the number. Within a matter of days, I found myself sitting with a Care Coalition advocate in an office at USASOC Headquarters. “Where do you want to go next?” he asked. “I want to stay in the community,” I replied.
Weeks later, I packed up and moved to Tampa, Florida. There was an internship opportunity through Operation Warfighter available at Headquarters, USSOCOM, while my medical board continued its course. I took advantage of the opportunity and began networking for a potential job. While waiting in that familiar medical board limbo, I upgraded my security clearance and attended courses with Joint Special Operations University.
One of the first courses I enrolled in was the Special Operations Forces Interagency Collaboration Course, where I began to understand how all of the different agencies meshed together with SOF as a whole. I didn’t even know what JSOU was, that it existed, or what it offered before coming to Tampa.
Having settled at USSOCOM, my supervisor and I were discussing college options one day when he decided to introduce me to Katie Carson, the JSOU education advisor, to view my academic options.
Special operators might be pleasantly surprised to know that a lot of the training they receive actually counts toward a degree. Having served in both SOF and the conventional Army, I was initially apprehensive about how many credits I would receive from different schools. With my transcripts in hand, Carson went to work. After calling the traditional schools I was interested in attending, Carson found that the schools were not recognizing the majority of college credits I already had … only offering about 30 hours of transfer credit for almost 10 years of active federal service … 24 semester hours of which I had earned with an online college.
It turns out; there are some better options available.
JSOU offers a course for E-6 service members called The Joint Fundamentals Course, or CEP-1. This course provides up to 15 semester hours of transfer credit at the end of 8-weeks, and E-7 service members have the same opportunity with The Enterprise Management Course.
Carson continued her research, and after another consult, I found myself enrolled with Norwich University, with 81 semester hours of transfer credit working toward a USSOCOM specifically designed degree: a Bachelor of Science in Strategic Studies and Defense Analysis. I had earned 15 of those credit hours with the CEP-1 course, and it was completely manageable.
The fact is, after serving on countless rotations overseas and conducting the rigorous training we do, who really wants to sit in a classroom for three or four years? You don’t have to … that’s the point.
For those who of you who want to get a degree knocked out and have it under your belt in a timely manner, JSOU has several alternatives you’re probably not aware of. These programs are great, and I encourage SOF members to look into them. Here’s what I’ve learned: start considering long-term options with education sooner rather than later, (I can’t tell you how many operators I know that have 15 years in and begin to start thinking about college at that point in their careers).
With the degree programs available at JSOU, you should be able to knock out a course here and there. Sometimes, you may find you’re much closer to a degree than you originally thought you were. This is an attainable goal with reputable and accredited educational institutions that work well with the SOF community to fit our OPTEMPO needs. You can’t knock out a course because of a deployment? … Not an issue. You need to take a term off because of a SOF school? … Not an issue. The schools that partner with JSOU work with the SOF community and these programs are designed specifically for us.
To date, I have transitioned out of the USSOCOM community and am actively pursuing a career within the interagency channels. I never would have had this opportunity had I not enrolled with JSOU and learned about these tailor-designed programs. Here I was planning on sitting in a classroom for at least three years to finish my degree. I ask that you consider the JSOU enrollment programs and take the time to educate yourself on the opportunities waiting for you; they’re yours for the taking but you have to be proactive and pursue them.