On Tuesday Greenwich High School social studies teacher Frank Kovac organized a Veteran’s Day virtual discussion with a panel of three GHS graduates who chose to serve in the military.
The discussion was led by students Fiona Busch, Wyatt Radzin, and Hadley Rosenberg.
Panelists included Lieutenant Commander James Waters who was a US Navy Seal Officer who went on to serve in the Bush administration’s White House Office of Management and Budget, and today works for an investment company based in Stamford.
US Army Captain Matthew Carstensen has extensive operational experience in high readiness parachute units, served in Afghanistan, and also worked with the tactical integration with US, NATO and border European combat forces.
Major Timothy Rose is a veteran of the US Army Special Forces and was a special Agent with the FBI. He works in real estate today and is involved with a non profit that fights human trafficking.
GHS students asked each veteran what initially interested them in military service.
Captain Carstensen said he and Major Rose were seniors at GHS when the 9-11 terrorists attacks on the US took place.
“To be frank, when I was in the GHS stadium, rotating my tassels to say I graduated, the Army was not in my calculus,” Carstensen said, adding that he enrolled at UConn, but had a change of heart and decided to join the Army.
“I thought I would do it for five years, but 17 years later, I’m still here.”
Lt Commander Waters said when he was in high school he was focused on academics and athletics. He was already out of college and in the working world the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place and he decided to become a Navy Seal.
“Coming from a town like Greenwich, where we’re doing okay, it’s important for us to raise our hand and serve as well,” Waters said.
Major Rose, who graduated GHS in 2002, said he hadn’t planned to join the military, though he recalled the precise moment he was walking up from the theater department to the student center when he learned about the terrorist attacks on 9-11.
Rose said he had expected to play baseball, attend Springfield College in Massachusetts, become a coach, and possibly return to Greenwich and become a teacher. Instead, he said a year later, in college, after injuring himself playing baseball, his plans derailed.
“Someone was going to ROTC and I tagged along, and fell into the meritocracy where if you work hard you get rewarded,” he recalled.
Carstensen said he enlisted in the Army, which is uncommon in Greenwich.
“Unlike the other two gentlemen, I took an odd path,” he recalled. “I wasn’t much of an athlete. I wasn’t much of a student. I was kind of a loser. I realized at University of Connecticut that I really didn’t have much of a drive and wasn’t doing much in my life.”
“To have that much introspection was probably beneficial,” he said. “Thankfully the military is set up in a way to find the things you’re not good at, emphasize how you can be better, and help you progress.”
Carstensen said he had been to Afghanistan twice, Iraq once, and gone to training exercises on six continents, each of which presented unique hardships.
Waters said he is often asked whether he would repeat his military service.
“Knowing everything I know now, I would do it again,” he said, adding that doing something to help the country provides a sense of purpose.
“I feel all my experiences, both positive and negative, helped shape my character,” he said. “I got a chance to be part of some incredible teams and learn the importance of adaptability.”
“Everybody thinks the military is like it is in the movies,” Waters continued. “You’ve got all the latest gadgets, the best technology and best equipment. That is definitely not the case. …You still have a job to do….You have to find a way.”
Rose said that at 16, or 17 years old, he would not have envisioned a future in the military. But, he said, “Life is full of so many trials, both in and out of the military. You learn about your character through the military.”
Waters said it’s important to research opportunities in military service in advance, and seek advice from a variety of perspectives.
“I don’t know any mother who is super supportive of her son or daughter going into the military,” he said.
“I am not the type to give a sell job,” he added. “It’s not the right path for everybody. I’d love to see more people consider it, especially from a town like Greenwich.”
Carstensen, who noted that the US has not had a conscription military since the 1970s, said there is a common misconception that the military is “a monolithic killing machine.”
“That’s not really fitting,” he said. “The military is a government entity that serves the Constitution. The three of us, as officers, have all given oaths. We don’t give an oath to a president or Congress. It’s to the Constitution.”
Rose said that toward the end of his military career, he was involved in human intelligence for the FBI, recruiting spies and sources.
Today, he works in real estate, and is involved with a non profit that fights human trafficking. He is still in the Individual Ready Reserve where he takes jobs for the Reserve and the Guards as they come up that match with his skill set.
Waters said he left active duty 8 years ago, and stepped out of the Navy Reserves two years ago. He said he earned an MBA and today works for a local investment company that focuses on investing in aerospace and defense companies – particularly those aligned with national security strategy.
“We’re doing a lot of work in terms of understanding the defense budget, the various political uncertainties we’re all tracking today, and understanding where does the military need to spend money to meets the threats going forward,” he said.
After the panel discussion Mr. Kovac said any student with follow up questions could ask their teachers to contact him and he would direct them to the appropriate contact.