The summer of a lifetime
ROTC student spends month in Slovakia, returns to graduate from prestigious Air Assault School
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
Cadet Patrick Linehan woke up at 2 a.m. at Fort Benning, Ga., on the morning of Sunday, July 15, 2012. While most University of New Hampshire students on summer break were either sleeping or still out from the night before, Linehan spent the early hours of the morning doing some obstacle courses, some drill exercises and a two-mile road march as part of the initiative stages of Air Assault School. The school is one of the most competitive, rigorous and prestigious Army training schools in the country.
Linehan began his summer on June 10, after being issued his military-official red passport, when he was put on a plane to Kežmarok, Slovakia.
As the only UNH cadet being sent to Slovakia, Linehan was teamed up with approximately 30 other cadets from around the United States. Linehan was sent through UNH’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and Cultural Understanding and Language Program (CULP).
“I had never left North America,” Linehan said. “I had no idea what to expect, just that it would be very different from the life I was used to back home.”
According to Capt. Benjamin Groen, the officer in charge of CULP at the time Linehan was sent to Slovakia, one of the overall purposes of sending cadets abroad is for them to gain an understanding of life in other parts of the world.
“The overarching goal is for the cadets to have an understanding of other cultures,” Groen said. “Specifically, how our military interacts with other cultures.”
Each year, thousands of cadets from all over the nation vie for the opportunity to go abroad through ROTC. The cadet has to receive permission from his or her commander before applying. Out of the cadets who apply, 40 percent are accepted.
“In order to be accepted, cadets typically need to have very high GPA’s, perfect physical fitness scores, and they need to be well-rounded cadets who participate in a lot of ROTC and extracurricular activities,” Groen said.
Once accepted, cadets are required to write multiple papers and compile presentations on the country to which they are assigned, so they can better understand and prepare for the culture in which they will be immersed.
Linehan’s experience in Slovakia was not the typical college semester abroad. His platoon spent its time in austere parts of the country, visiting destitute villages and doing intense training with the Slovak National Military Cadets, he said.
He spent the first week in Kežmarok with a local priest who took in former drug addicts and prostitutes. The priest ran his own rehabilitation program.
“He was one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met,” Linehan said. “Years ago, he was part of a tragic climbing accident involving two other people. They were all tied together and they fell. The third man tied to him had to cut himself, and he fell to his death. He became strongly religious after, and gave up his life to become a priest.”
Linehan’s platoon travelled with the priest to run-down gypsy villages outside of Kežmarok in order to become assimilated with the culture and to help the villagers. Most of these gypsy settlements in Slovakia have been eradicated, but about 300 of them still remain.
“Their only water was this brown stream that ran through the middle of the village,” Linehan said. “The villagers lived in awful conditions. We gave the children candy and talked with them. Just doing small things like that made their day. It really moved me.”
Linehan then travelled with his platoon to Liptovský Mikuláš where they spent a week doing integrated training with the Slovak national military cadets. He trained with Slovak military weapons, participated in team-building training exercises, and got to know the Slovak soldiers individually, he said.
“We really bonded with them,” Linehan said. “They were hilarious, and they taught us a lot of stuff we didn’t expect to learn.”