For some, military dreams face an end
Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 12:04
Facing the anxious cadet in front of her, Sofia Esquivel, the Human Resources Technician for the Norwich University Army Reserve Officer Training (ROTC) department, remembered the tears she had cried just moments ago while on the phone with the cadet’s parent.
“I’m sorry,” she said, gazing brokenheartedly at the bold words “denied” stamped on the file on her desk. “You’ve had this dream your whole life and you can’t achieve it.”
Since 2010, it has been more difficult for potential servicemen to obtain a waiver when they face a disqualification from military service, according to Esquivel. This dream -shattering dilemma leaves students struggling to find a ‘Plan B.’
“I was kind of crushed because that’s all I want,” said Sarah Chapman, a 20-year-old sophomore criminal justice major from Jericho, Vt., who has recently been medically disqualified from service. “I just want to serve. I want to be a career officer. So, to be told that I can’t even enlist or be an officer, it’s kind of like, ‘what do I do now?’”
“I was pretty distraught at first,” said Christopher LaPrath, a 20-year-old sophomore studies of war and peace major from Pittsburgh, Penn., who faced the same situation, He was told he was medically disqualified a week after being informed that he was in good standing to receive an Air Force field training slot.
It’s not just a tightening of waivers that is bringing disappointment to Norwich students. Some cadets intent upon joining the U.S. military are also finding themselves unable to achieve their goal because of a recent reduction in Army military slots allotted to the university,
For students like LaPrath, joining the Armed Forces has been a dream since childhood. “I think my dad kind of fostered that military type spirit,” said LaPrath, who has been pursuing a military track since playing ‘Army’ as a child.
According to Esquivel, potential servicemen and women may be disqualified for a multitude of reasons to include various medical issues and civil convictions, such as a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge or if a student is expelled from the university.
“Basically, if you have more than two civil infractions, they are not going to get approved,” Esquivel said about students seeking a contract. During the application process, even with misdemeanors Esquivel said students must supply an extensive amount of paperwork in order to attempt a waiver. “Right now you are a one-shot.”
However, Esquivel said, contracted personnel are only allowed one civil offense before being disqualified. This does not include felonies, such as rape, which is an automatic disqualification.
“I certainly try to manage their expectations,” Esquivel said about how she is careful to not get students’ hope too high during the waiver process for fear of disappointment. “Even for me, a couple of waivers took me by surprise that they were disqualified, and I would attribute that to the fact that there is a waiver reduction right now.”
Having had no prior hint, LaPrath was shocked that psoriasis (the most common autoimmune disorder in the U.S. according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (www.psoriasis.org), disqualified him from serving in the U.S. Air Force. “I want to serve my country because that’s the type of person that I am, I like to serve and help other people.”
Adhering to the ‘selfless service’ principle of the seven Army Values, LaPrath attributes his desire to join the service to his participation in Junior Reserve Officer Training (JROTC). “We formed a bond (in JROTC),” LaPrath said. “That’s the type of bond you get in the military and I definitely wanted to be a big part of that.”
Chapman has chased her dream of a military career since joining the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in eighth grade and said the familial bond at Norwich helped solidify her desire to serve.
LaPrath noted the important role his family played in supporting his desire to join the military. “My family (is) very supportive of any decision that I make,” LaPrath said, “but they were taken aback by the fact that I couldn’t join.”
“We have medical disqualification (and) disciplinary disqualification,” explained Col. Steve Smith, a professor of military science for the Norwich University Army Department. Both categories of ineligibility can become obstacles to students’ attempts to apply for or obtain a military contract or scholarship.
A parallel issue today, according to Smith, is the “personnel cap” within the services that disqualifies otherwise qualified students from contracting. This cap has been reached throughout NU’s current junior Army class. As a result, no more juniors will be allowed to contract this year. Because 1st Brigade of Cadet Command currently has 16 students over its mission, it is difficult to contract anymore students at this time.
“We have a cap of 77 kids that we are allowed to contract within the Army (ROTC department at NU),” Smith said. “Right now, for example, we have more cadets who are qualified to contract than we are physically able to contract.” “(It is) really frustrating right now because we have a lot of great students who we would love to contract and might not be able to because of medical conditions or civil convictions,” Esquivel said.
According to Esquivel, the waiver process itself has become more difficult with the recent budget and personnel cuts in the Army. “It has become harder,” admitted Esquivel.
In order to seek a waiver from disqualification, the student must meet minimum requirements for important components of the Army’s Student Athlete Leader (SAL) concept, such as their GPA and APFT. However, even meeting the standard is not a guarantee of being accepted at the current time, Esquivel explained. “Just because they meet the minimum requirement is no guarantee that (their) medical waiver or civil conviction waiver is going to get approved,” she said.