Wednesday, March 25, 2015

OCP Commemorates National Medal of Honor Day - A Conversation with Colonel Jack Jacobs (ret.)

A Conversation With a Reluctant American Hero

Wendy A. Lang Director, Operation College Promise

There are times in life when you pause and consider, with almost utter intrigue, as to how exactly you find yourself in the present moment and circumstances. 

Colonel Jack Jacobs (ret.) did not have that luxury on March 9, 1968 when he found himself nearly impossibly pinned down by an entrenched Viet Cong in the hours before he took the actions that earned him the nation’s highest military acknowledgment, the Medal of Honor (MOH). He wasn’t meant to be there at all; his combat duty was finished, or so said his superiors. Subterfuge: that’s how he ended up in this situation…by his own choice.

As I sat across from one of our nation’s most highly decorated combat veterans, my mind continued to wonder as to how I found myself there in the first place.

I was there, of course, to interview Jacobs for his new role as the spokesman for the New York Film Academy’s (NYFA) Veteran Advancement Program. But, we’ll get back to that in a minute.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve met this American “hero” — a word he dismisses entirely and with a discernable measure of embarrassment. As for the “gallant actions” that took place on that March afternoon, his response was simple: “I did what anyone would have done.” An obvious scholar, Jacobs refers to that moment with a paraphrase from the words of a Jewish sage: “If not you, then who. And if not now, then when?” In theory this made sense, but as a civilian his realities that day do not reflect even the grandest abstract that my mind can conjure.

As is often the case, the conversation with Jacobs takes as many twists and turns as the fascinating life he has led. At a lecture that he gave at the New York Film Academy last week, even his recount of the lugubrious circumstances of that March afternoon elicited a chuckle from his audiences — even if perhaps uncomfortably so. Self-deprecating, sarcastic and heartfelt, the dialogue is alluring, chockfull of wisdom and never dull.  We talk family, the country village where we have both called home, and the value of the “Quiet Car” on Amtrak. World peace, as well as daily inconveniences, are all on the table with Jacobs because, well, he’s just that real. 

All of these things crossed my mind as I considered the almost surreal irony of the Statue of Liberty lingering over his right shoulder through the windows of the sun-drenched NYFA studio at Battery Place, where we sat. 

I had met the colonel several years ago at Stockton University as he began his tour of sharing his experiences and wisdom to a younger generation — a part that he clearly revels in and takes with unbridled urgency. As an ambassador of the less than 100 MOH living recipients, he visits schools of every age group to remind students that we all have a responsibility to “protect the Republic,” and not only through military service. As for representing the MOH, there is no question it is a responsibility he assumes with a shared sense of tremendous pride and unwavering humility.

We discussed the Post-9/11 GI Bill and its over 70-year old predecessor, the original Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Mr. Jacobs spoke with passion on how the Post-World War II version of the entitlement transformed American society educationally, socially and economically. Does he agree that the latest version of the Post-911 GI Bill will lead to an equal generational metamorphosis?  “Absolutely,” he replied with conviction.  

As the Director of Operation College Promise (OCP) – a program founded in 2008 by the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities (NJASCU) to assist public colleges and universities, I share Jacob’s passion for the utility of educational benefits as a generation changer. This reality becomes even more apparent as we acknowledge the over 60 percent utilizing the Post-9/11 GI Bill who are first generation learners. Our dialogue turns to the growth of support services and programs available to these learners that dwarf those of Jacob’s peers in the Post-Vietnam era and, frankly, all previous generations of student veterans. And, one of the most avant-garde of these is through the media arts.

We further discussed how the New York Film Academy is building on this philosophy by expanding programming in the entertainment industry for this population of veterans. Currently serving over 200 student veterans, the Academy has transformed part of its mission to maximize the skills that Jacobs categorizes as the most “most capable and creative” segment of our population. It is exciting to witness the NYFA veteran students being educated in the skills of the creative industries that include acting, filmmaking, and screenwriting.  As for how he landed on the set of MSNBC as a military analyst, in his endearing comedic manner, he says simply, “They offered me a ride and a sandwich.” Why does this man not have his own talk show, I wondered nearly aloud.

The interview time has run out by now, likely by twice the allotment. I’m out of questions. Jacobs, loquacious by nature, resumes the dialogue unfettered. The discussion turns to current events, his colleagues at MSNBC, and the time he had to stand on a box to perfect a shot with his much taller colleague. I give him the opening to take a jab at my failed navigation skills that morning that took me 3 miles from Battery Place. He gleefully, and with a disarming glance, takes the bait and we agree that LANDNAV would not have been my forte.
We continue to chat until the next appointment arrives and I reluctantly give up my time with this hero.

 He may not care much for the title, but if not him, then who?

Special Note: The United States Congress has designated March 25th (this Wednesday) of each year as NATIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR DAY, a day dedicated to Medal of Honor recipients.   (Public Law 101-564)  Conceived in the State of Washington, this holiday should be one of our most revered.  Unfortunately all too many Americans are not even aware of its existence.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Smallest State in the Union Makes Big Waves: Rhode Island Becomes the First New England State to Host Operation College Promise

Robyn A. Gilroy 

With many veterans returning home to a sluggish economy, the Post 9/11 GI Bill has been the beacon that allows so many to transition from active military service to meaningful civilian employment. The flip side, as any veteran will tell you, is that the civilian world and the world of military service and veteran entitlement programs generally don’t speak the same language. Since its founding in 2008, Operation College Promise (OCP) has pursued its objective with singe-minded focus: being the bridge between veterans, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and higher education institutions.

August of 2014 Rhode Island became the first New England state to participate in the Certificate for Veterans’ Service Providers (CVSP) Program, designed to assist higher education institutions become familiar with the fine print details of Post 9/11 GI Bill funding and other programs and services to support a military-affiliated student.  It also allows participants to get plugged in to the greater network of professionals dedicated to supporting those veterans and servicemembers who have sacrificed so much for us, here at home.  As these individuals begin their transition to civilian life, they have needs which require a unique skill set, and that is where OCP comes in.

Sister Jane Gerety, Board Chair of the the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island (AICURI) and President of Salve Regina University, addressed CVSP’s participants, saying “Student veterans are increasingly seeking to attend Rhode Island’s eight private colleges and universities, and it is important that our institutions are equipped to educate and support these returning service veterans.” Her sentiment echoes that of U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) in saying, “Our duty to support and honor our veterans extends beyond health care. It is essential that we equip them with the professional development and educational opportunities they need to build and advance their post-military careers.”

In the last six years, OCP has offered this intensive two and a half day training program -  essentially a crash course on the experiences of the militarycollege student population. What the CVSP gets right, among other things, is recognizing the need for higher education institutions to become familiar, and comfortable, with veterans. The CVSP covers a variety of topics, beginning with “Soldier for Life & Military 101: A Primer on Military Culture.” As a civilian married to U.S. Navy veteran, the value of this training topic is definitely not lost on me! In translating military experiences and training courses to higher education terms, one may find themselves in need of a decoder ring. Other modules address the current status of the ever-evolving Post 9/11 GI Bill, as well as connecting colleges and universities to the variety of services available to veterans in their state, so that they might, in turn, connect their student veterans to any and all services available to them. 

Higher education institutions, when effectively wielding this skill set to better meet the needs of their veteran student population, are doing more than just honoring the debt we, as a nation, owe our military servicemembers and veterans. They’re also doing service to their communities, to businesses and to organizations in the public and private sectors, and to the nation at large. Military servicemembers bring to their civilian lives a rich set of values and ethics. By arming these individuals with the knowledge and skills to enter the workforce, their contributions to the nation will not end with their service contract. When student veterans thrive in higher education, everyone benefits.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Operation College Promise brings the thunder to Oklahoma City May 2014

Operation College Promise (OCP) arrived in Oklahoma City on a mission. Its objective—to provide a current and practical overview of the skills and best practices required of college administrators and veteran coordinators in order for Post-9/11 vets to get the most out of the Montgomery GI Bill and find success in their post-secondary advancement.

Billed as one of the most important pieces of legislation in the United States’ history by Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma, Todd Lamb, who provided the opening remarks for the 2 ½ day program, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides veterans with the often difficult to find funding needed to meet the ever-rising cost of higher education. In a state like Oklahoma, where there is an increasing need for skilled and educated labor, the GI Bill is fulfilling that demand, not only for veterans transitioning back to civilian life and seeking career advancement, but providing the state and its burgeoning economy with individuals able to meet the challenges of an increasingly sophisticated and evolving industry.

The Certificate for Veteran’s Service Providers (CVSP) program is a rigorous 2 ½ day training seminar in which administrators and service providers receive a crash-course on military immersion, veteran entitlements and resources that aid in a more efficient allocation of the service providers’ energies by clarifying and unifying best practices amongst professionals in the field. Additionally, for the experienced and newbie administrator alike, it provides a unique opportunity to network with like-minded professionals from across the country in sharing best-practices, information, and resources for the good of veterans finding their way onto college campuses and universities.

The program is designed to shed light on the myriad of obstacles veterans face in their transition from soldier to civilian life. Realizing that a veteran’s health is tantamount to their success in college, this CVSP program had a large focus on care for both the physical and nonphysical scars of war facing our returning warriors.

 The CVSP program featured multiple panels on topics ranging from military culture and immersion, American Council on Education initiatives, Veterans Affairs’ representatives, and Department of Defense speakers, all with the common goal of making the transition for veterans to civilian life more fruitful for themselves and the country by improving the expertise of the professional community that serves them here at home.

For information on bringing a CVSP program to your area contact Wendy Lang at


Thursday, April 17, 2014

OCP Spring 2014 Blog, by Marvin Cadet

The Office of Veteran and Military Resources at Montclair State University has partnered with the Prajjali project and has been providing yoga classes exclusively to student veterans on campus. The Prajjali project is an initiative to get our veterans in touch with the practice of yoga. Among its many benefits, such as increases of energy and awareness, yoga has proven to be successful in helping individuals who may suffer from PTSD. The Prajjali project was established to address the issue of suicide that veterans in our country face. Denise Rodak, Coordinator of Veteran and Military Resources and a yoga practitioner, is always looking for ways to incorporate contemplative practices into her work with veteran and military students.  According to Ms. Rodak, “Yoga is a very accessible practice and I believe it can help students tap into their true potential.” 
Cpt. Benjamin Stoner presented the keynote speech at the NJ Association of Colleges and Employers at Stone Hall University. Cpt. Stoner highlighted some of the findings from Completing the Mission II  such as the survey that suggests the top services provided by universities are proving to be successful among the veteran population on campus. Stoner also talks about on homeless veterans, building communities and the importance of teamwork. The conference went on to identify things that make veterans attractive to potential employers such as:
·         Being able to recognize challenges
·         Soft skills
·         The ability to be lead and be led
·         Work ethic

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Next Generation on Campus

By Wendy Lang, director of Operation College Promise
In November of 2008, Operation College Promise (OCP) was founded by the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities (NJASCU) to answer a call – the needs of returning servicemembers poised to transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The nine-member institutions vowed to prepare their campuses to support these students as they moved toward completion of their college degrees.

It was anticipated that a growing number of veterans would pursue this opportunity in light of the most generous education entitlement package in 55 years. The enactment of the “Post-9/11 Veterans Assistance Act of 2008,” also known as the “Post-9/11GI Bill,” was poised to become another game changer in higher education, one that would prompt many more veteran students to seek a college degree. The struggling economy made the benefit more enticing as a reintegration tool as some two million veterans began the process of returning to civilian life in a grim job market.
In 1944, a very similar policy was unveiled in the wake of an unprecedented number of servicemembers returning from World War II. While there has been limitless scholarly debate on the true implications of this initiative – “The Servicemembers Readjustment Act of 1944” or “The GI Bill” – even some 60 years later, it’s fair to say some similarities exist – similarities that will likely be debated for years to come.
What are they?

To begin, both the 1944 and 2008 versions of the education entitlements far overshadowed and outweighed their predecessors. While the WWII bill seems paltry in 2013 dollars, it was a conceptual shift in emphasis that opened doors to higher education for a different group of learners and they took advantage of this opportunity in droves. Indeed, more than 7 of the 15 million returning veterans attained some type of degree or training. Many, credit this first version of the GI Bill for the establishment of the post-war American middle class and it was this surge in enrollment that contributed to the dramatic growth and evolution of the majority of public institutions here in New Jersey.

Today’s GI Bill (Chapter 33) makes its predecessor, the Montgomery GI bill (Chapter 30), look meager. To contrast them – the current version covers the entire cost of state college or university tuition (with a generous housing allowance), while the former provided about $1300 a month in 2008.

The initial emphasis of the OCP project focused on better dissemination of information regarding benefits and benefit attainment – the lack of which impeded successful reintegration. The nine members of NJASCU joined forces with the objective to lead the charge in assisting these veterans to successfully transition to the higher education milieu.

Expanding opportunities for returning student veterans continues to be the priority of OCP as it celebrates its 5-year anniversary. The enrollment of military-affiliated students on the nine NJASCU campuses continues to flourish, at about 17,000 of the total 108,000 population. Indeed, the increase on traditional campuses over the past 5 years has been dramatic – rising fivefold in the case of one of our institutions.

Also during this time, OCP’s signature professional development training – the Certificate for Veterans’ Service Providers (CVSP) program – has assisted some 500 professionals in 30 states in the establishment of a campus blueprint of best practices to optimize the success of their military-affiliated student body.

Here at OCP, we have been trying to ‘flesh out’ the praise for the GI Bill into actual numbers that prove its value to student veterans – and good news to all Americans. The revision of the November 2011 Pilot Study titled: “Completing the Mission II: A Study of Veteran Students’ Progress Toward Degree Attainment in the Post 9/11 Era” was just released last week.

Our updated report surveyed 741 students on 23 campuses. And, as in the 2011 OCP pilot study, there’s great news to report. Both “success rate” (credits attempted/credits earned) and “persistence rate” (continuing enrollment from spring to fall semesters in the same academic year) continue to be on par or exceed that of the general student population. Given an average GPA of 3.0 among the veteran students surveyed, research would suggest that these students are on the right track toward attaining a degree well within the 6-year national standard.

What are the take-aways from this data?

To begin with, military-affiliated students are assets to colleges and universities as highly-disciplined and motivated learners well aware of the “time-stamp” that the Post-9/11 GI Bill places on their education benefits. Campuses that OCP surveyed have implemented research-based programs and services to assist this population become acclimated to the campus environment and listened to their input on effective support mechanisms.

The result is a group of college learners who are excelling in this academic environment and developing into civilian leaders – leaders who will – as their World War II predecessors did before them – emerge as the next “Greatest Generation.” Their adaptability, discipline and drive are serving them well on the college campus and our colleges and universities are proud to support them “To, Through and Beyond” their next mission – attaining a degree.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Houston Mission Continues Experience, by Christopher Paparis

When I touched down in Houston, after a long day spent at the airport, it was a joy to have those dedicated Mission Continues staffers waiting for myself and a few other TMC fellows to pick us up. They were polite, friendly, and inviting.  

The introductions of the TMC staff were well underway when we arrived at the hotel. Unfortunately, we missed Eric Greiten speak and he was not available for a meet-and-greet for the rest of the week. Jim Robbins was very helpful and he accepted the Operation College Promise challenge coin on behalf of Eric with the promise of giving it to him in a manner befitting its importance.  In return he handed me a challenge coin of The Mission Continues, which made my face light up like a kid on Christmas morning.  Friday night wrapped up with a pleasant introductory dinner and some light networking at the hotel refreshment stand.
Saturday was by far the most important event. It was the event. We had a brief orientation in the morning concerning demolition and clean-up activity at Cristo Rey Jesuit, a small private school  with an intelligent mission:  It seeks to empower high school-age kids that would otherwise lack the resources to be adequately prepared and for college. The school has a unique program that focuses on a four day school week, with the fifth day being spent in an internship with a local company that provides the youth access to skills that may not be available in the public school. The additional specialness of this program is that it greatly subsidizes the cost of the education for the student, as they effectively pay their own tuition through the work-study program.

The work was simple but strenuous. We laughed, we didn’t cry, no one complained, someone almost put a nail through their hand, and we laughed some more. The focus on teamwork and fun was ever-present. Conversations flowed easily and freely between the fellows and staffers.  The sense of camaraderie was always there, it just needed an opportunity to be expressed. Here it was. The Mission Continues’ orientation had a reformative affect, rather than a transformative one. It uncovered and bolstered the sense of duty and commitment we possessed as soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. It invigorated our resolve to serve. We saw ourselves reflected in the ambition and selflessness of one another and it gave concreteness to our decision not only to join The Mission Continues, but also our dedication to mission of the programs we chose to participate with in our home states.

Sunday allowed us a small opportunity to speak with other fellows and pass along our elevator-speeches. A particular fellow was interested in acting as a liaison between the higher-tier colleges and veterans. This was particularly interesting because it was a small point of discussion at the OCP retreat, in which we toyed with the idea of making private schools more accessible to the veteran-student.  In summation, I love Texas; I can’t wait to go back. The Mission Continues lived up to my expectations of espirit-de-corps and further innervated my desire to start working with Operation CollegePromise.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Accepting the Challenge - My Mission Continues Orietation By Brian Harriett

The Mission Continues Orientation – St Louis
Charlie Class 2013

Day One (Friday, 19 July):  Traveling to St Louis for a scorching, but rewarding orientation for the Mission Continues (MC) Fellowship.  It’s going to be a hot one, and we’re getting special permission to wear shorts and hats for our service project at an inner city elementary school.  18 folks from the northeast sector (out of 82 total), but I’m the only one flying in from Philly – go figure.  Let’s get it on! BH

Day Two (Saturday, 20 July):  Arrived ok, met some ‘fellow’ fellows in the St Louis airport while waiting for the bus – more folks than I thought have been out about 8 to 10 years and felt the same yearning to come back to the veteran thing that I do.  Picked up and whisked to the Sheraton (nice) where we had several mixers and made lots of new acquaintances, both upstairs and down in the lobby bar.  Lots of folks with stories to tell - felt very much at home.  Got to chat up some folks about Operation College Promise (OCP) and how we were able to link up with Texas A&M to reach out to more veterans about their educational benefits.  As a side benefit, a number of the ‘fellows’ gave me their information on colleges they were working with – Ohio State, etc.  We’re merging the professionals who have completed OCP’s Certificate for Veterans’ Service Providers training with the A&M Military Friendly Listserv.  Details are in this link, check it out:

“Working Hard” as the MC core values state.  Everyone was fired up for the service project at the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club.  Had nearly 400 volunteers from Boeing, Fox Sports Midwest and even the STL Cardinals mascot!  Went great, although I got paint on my desert boots – hope it cleans up...  Had a great BBQ dinner at Boeing!  Was tired, but they had a great museum including a mockup of the Gemini space capsule – too small for me to fit in… BH

Day Three (Sunday, 21 July):  Very excited, after meeting many alumni of the program who told us their individual stories, (the MC headquarters is in St Louis so we the opportunity to meet the staff and see their digs).  The first ever Mark Weber Legacy award was presented to a deserving past fellow.  The award was named after Lt Col Weber, who mentored the MC fellows, even as he was given six months to live with stage four cancer.  His oldest son Matthew spoke with us and presented the award – not a dry eye in the house but very motivating. Even more pumped up to get back to Trenton and start at OCP.  Headed out soon to Busch Stadium to catch the Cardinal/Padres game – best part, getting to take our MC oath on the field before the game! It was very cool to take some pics on the field (see my tweets at #brianharriett or #missioncontinues). BH

Days Ahead (Wednesday, 24 July):  Started today at OCP.  What a great group!  Got to regale them will stories from St Louis – what a motivating experience, I highly recommend it to everyone.  Time to hit the road and begin the challenge!  BH