Green to Gold program shines at Fort Drum
August 26, 2010
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Soldiers at Fort Drum who want a college degree and a commission as an Army officer are stationed at an ideal location to be considering the Army's Green to Gold program.
Fort Drum is the only Army post with a full-time, active-duty Green to Gold adviser. The position, currently filled by Capt. Ryan Hunt of 2nd Reserve Officers' Training Corps Brigade, was created as part of an Army pilot program launched last year under the 2nd ROTC Brigade, which commands 41 university-based ROTCs, or battalions, throughout the Northeast.
There are more than 250 ROTC battalions at U.S. schools and campuses worldwide.
So far this year, 18 Fort Drum Soldiers have been accepted into one of the Green to Gold programs; five of those Soldiers received the coveted Hip Pocket scholarship, which is granted by discretion of the division's commanding general.
A Soldier from 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Polk, La., also received a Hip Pocket scholarship this year.
"Cadet Command was nice enough to go ahead and give us that extra allocation for Fort Polk," Hunt said. "Back a few years ago, there used to be a lot of money for scholarships. Nowadays, funding is a little tighter ... so it's extremely competitive."
Hunt also advises Soldiers outside the Northeast on Green to Gold options by using social networking sites, such as Facebook.
Before the pilot program, he said ROTC representatives from Syracuse University, and later Clarkson University, helped interested Soldiers at Fort Drum participate in Green to Gold.
"Historically speaking, Fort Drum, in general, has only produced two contracts a year, going back over the last 10 years," Hunt said.
In addition to Hip Pocket scholarships that go to a handful of fortunate recipients each year, Soldiers who want to apply to the Green to Gold program choose among three other possibilities: the Green to Gold scholarship option, the Green to Gold active-duty option and the Green to Gold nonscholarship option.
The first one is the most competitive. The Army issued only 25 full scholarships this year. They range from two to four years long.
The second one is the two-year, nonscholarship active-duty option, which also is highly competitive. Soldiers remain on active-duty and make permanent-change-of-station moves to a university as full-time ROTC cadets.
This year, 150 active-duty options were granted Armywide - four of them to Fort Drum Soldiers.
The last and most widely used Green to Gold program is the two-year, nonscholarship option. To qualify, Soldiers must be able to finish their degree within 24 months.
"For the nonscholarship (option), they contract with either the National Guard or the Reserves as a simultaneous membership program cadet, meaning they are actually doing Green to Gold with the university, but they also drill with a National Guard or Reserve unit as a cadet," Hunt explained. "They get all the benefits of either being a Guardsman or a Reservist, including tuition assistance, and as veterans, TRICARE Reserve Select, which is critical because a lot of them have Families."
Hunt said Green to Gold participants, whether scholarship or nonscholarship, are honorably discharged from the Army and return later as second lieutenants with new obligations.
To get into the Green to Gold program, Hunt said enlisted Soldiers must have leadership potential - usually identified by their chain of command.
"I felt like I had hit a lottery jackpot," said Cadet Peter Dakurah, formerly of 710th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, who made it into the active-duty option this year. "From the day I made the decision to go Green to Gold, I understood that I was in for a heated competition. Nevertheless, I had no doubt in my mind that I was in to compete and to win."
Dakurah is pursuing a graduate degree in health administration at the State University of New York Institute of Technology.
Hunt said Green to Gold candidates from Fort Drum bring 10th Mountain Division (LI) experience to ROTC cadets fresh out of high school.
"What you typically see is a Green to Gold cadet acting as a mentor to upperclassmen and seniors getting ready to receive their commission and go off," he said.
Second Lt. Branden Irvine was a young man just out of high school with no Army experience other than what he had heard from his father at the time he entered ROTC at State University of New York - Brockport.
He said Green to Gold cadets at Brockport were a tremendous help.
"A lot of those (Green to Gold) guys came to the program, and not only did they have stories of what they had done, but we'd just drill them with general questions about the Army and it was stuff they could tell you," said Irvine, who now works with Hunt as a Green to Gold adviser on Fort Drum. "Especially when it comes to (questions) about deploying, because that is something that everyone is thinking about."
While attending college, cadets frequently take part in physical training, leadership labs and field exercises. Although their full-time focus is on a chosen field of study, they also take classes required by the military science department of that school, such as military ethics.
Sgt. Courtney Gillespie, 10th Sustainment Brigade Troops Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade, initiated her packet for the Hip Pocket scholarship while deployed to Iraq last year. She returned in October and heard she was selected in March.
"That was the most appreciative day of my life," Gillespie said. "I couldn't believe it had happened."
This fall, Gillespie begins classes at the University of Cincinnati, where she plans to study sociology and hopes to one day become a part of the Medical Service Corps.
"The Army has afforded me so many options, and I'd like to give back as much as I can," she said. "Becoming an officer in the Army is the best way I can see myself giving back."