Capt. Jason "Jay" Cross, chief of operations at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, started his Army career as an enlisted Soldier in 2003 and became an officer through the Green to Gold program. GTG provides eligible, active duty enlisted Soldiers an opportunity to complete a baccalaureate degree or two-year graduate degree and earn a commission as an Army officer.

Cross went to college but ended up with a considerable amount of student loan debt, which led him to enlist. By committing to four years of service, he was only responsible for the interest and the Army paid off the rest. From 2005-2007, he was stationed at USAMRIID, working his way up from specialist to sergeant and earning the title of USAMRIID Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year for 2006.

"I initially served at USAMRIID as a combat medic," Cross recalled. "I was thinking about getting out of the Army when my tour was up. Col. [George] Korch, who was the commander then, encouraged me to consider some of the degree programs that the Army offered. When I started looking into it, and realized they were going to send me back to school for two years and I wouldn't have to work at the same time, I jumped at the chance."

Cross filled out the paperwork, chose a university and met with the professor of military science at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio (the Reserve Officers' Training Corps component of his education was held at Bowling Green University). He received his acceptance about three months later.

From 2007-2009, Cross completed the program and moved on to the basic officer leaders course and medical leaders course. He was stationed at Fort Bliss for six years, and deployed to Iraq for two separate one-year assignments during that time. In August 2016, he was offered the chance to come back to USAMRIID as an officer.

"Fort Detrick is a great place to do this program, because they really encourage you to further your education here," he commented. "At first, I had a difficult time transitioning from Green to Gold. It was hard to go from being an NCO to taking orders from people with less experience than I had. But it's a unique program and each individual will take different things from it."

Here are some words of advice that Cross said he could have used at the beginning:

1) Humble yourself.

"I went from Sgt. Cross to Cadet Cross. My first day at ROTC, I saw some people who were teaching young cadets bad habits. The NCO in me went berserk and wanted to correct every little thing. I had to understand that many of the cadets did not have the background of basic training, Advanced Individual Training, leadership courses, and other schooling. It was incumbent on me to teach, rather than correct. It took a while, but eventually I got it."

2) Seek out others with prior service and make friends.

"You can commiserate about how things are going. Find a sympathetic ear to talk about past experiences and it will help you get through ROTC much more smoothly."

3) Understand that you will not be judged the same as those with non-prior service.

"You will likely be expected to know more and be a better leader from day one. Mistakes will be amplified for you that are relatively minor for new cadets. Whether it is fair or not, you will be held to a much higher standard."

4) Focus on GPA above every other aspect of ROTC.

"When assessing, your ROTC career is broken down into three large chunks: 45 percent is GPA, 15 percent is your junior year Leadership Development and Assessment Course/Army Physical Fitness Test, and 40 percent is ROTC/LDAC grades. Getting a 4.0 GPA starts you off with 45 of 100 points for assessing. Getting a 300 APFT plus a 4.0 GPA starts you off at 60/100. Even if you are middle-of-the-road in ROTC and LDAC, the GPA will set you so far ahead of your peers that you should easily get your branch of choice."

5) Be strategic about branch choice.

"They will ask for your top three, and the Army views it as a success if you get one of your top three branch choices. Pick the ones you really want as number one and number two, and then one other that you would still be happy with that isn't too popular. Certain ones fill up very quickly, but others, like Administration or Signal, are not as highly requested. I would definitely put one of the lesser branches that I would be okay with as number three, to avoid getting a selection that's solely based on the needs of the Army. "

6) Don't be afraid of ADSOs.

"ROTC dangles Additional Duty Service Options as carrots for cadets to get the branch/duty station that they want. If you plan on making it a career, an ADSO is no big deal. If you are planning 'one and done' with the contract, then ADSO's aren't for you. But if you are borderline on the Order of Merit List for branch or duty station, an ADSO can put you over the top. Plus, if you apply for an ADSO and don't need it, then it does not go into effect."

Cross has one final word of advice for prospective GTG applicants: Have fun!

"Many people don't get this opportunity, so enjoy it," he says. "Live the college life. This is an opportunity to hit the reset button and be a college kid again for a couple of years on the Army's dime."

More information on the Army's Green to Gold program is available at the following link:
https://www.goarmy.com/careers-and-jobs/current-and-prior-service/advance-your-career/green-to-gold/green-to-gold-active-duty.html.