From dropout to doctor, thanks to Army mentor
January 16, 2009
Since opening its doors in August, the Army Preparatory School has helped more than 700 new
Soldiers receive their GED before entering Basic Combat Training. It has a success rate of 99.3 percent.
Long before the school formally started helping Soldiers achieve their high school equivalency, leaders throughout Army history had helped individual Soldiers reach that same goal.
One of those Soldiers was Tom Connelly. Today, he is a surgeon specializing in treating skin cancer. But in 1966, Connelly was a 10th-grade dropout when he entered the Army. After he completed BCT, he was sent to Vietnam where his commanding officer pushed him to finish his education.
"He must have recognized something in me at the time, because he had me taking GED courses while I was in Vietnam," Connelly said. "I did well, passed and got my GED."
For Connelly, it was a turning point.
"I was really going nowhere," he admitted. "The Army not only provided me with the opportunity to get a GED, it also helped restore my self-confidence and made me realize what possibilities were out there. It helped me come up with the idea that maybe I wasn't so stupid after all. Maybe, I was just bored, or maybe it was the failure of leadership at home."
After he left the service in 1969, Connelly enrolled at Rutgers University where he graduated with honors. He was then accepted to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed his medical training at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
"I am probably one of the only doctors in the U.S. that is a high school drop out," Connelly said. "If it wasn't for the Army I don't think I would be where I am today."
Since he began his practice of skin cancer surgery in Stuart, Fla., Connelly has treated more than 60,000 cases of skin cancer. He has also published more than 20 peer-reviewed medical papers including a major study of 334 cases basal cell cancer of the head and neck.
Connelly said he owes everything to the Army for taking somebody in their youth, who was going nowhere and restoring confidence, letting him know what his possibilities were in life.
"I don't think most high school students drop out because of their inability to get passing grades," he said. "I think there are other things involved -- the upbringing, the home situation -- I think the incorrigibility that comes from the angriness of youth has something to do with it. It took the Army to get that under control for me."
The restoration of his self-confidence that Connelly credits the Army for is something the commander of the APS said he sees in the Soldiers who pass through his doors.
"We have the Soldiers fill out a survey when they complete the course and we have had an overwhelming positive response," said Capt. Brian Gaddis. "Soldiers make comments such as 'APS has helped me overcome past mistakes and will allow me to make something of myself,' and 'APS has allowed me to obtain my life long dream of being a Soldier.'"