A Diploma to Serve

Features Uncategorized
by Sarah Feinberg, Ellie Jolly, and Feiya Wang, Features Editor, Features Reporters
graphic by Emily Cheng

After several months of intensive training for the National Guard, ‘17 North graduate Gregory Mitelman is now a senior studying mechanical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and finishing his sixth year as a National Guard.

“It’s done me good. I’ve met very interesting people, and I have access to a sphere of jobs that can be difficult to get into if you don’t have prior exposure,” he said. “I have almost no debts for four years of college and haven’t had to work outside of the army.”

As one of many Newton high school graduates who joined the armed forces before attending college, Mitelman said that his experience in the National Guard equipped him with specialized skills that will set a strong foundation for his future career in engineering.

“I do night vision goggles and satellite receivers, which is really cool. We learn to take it apart, identify the issues, fix it and learn how the manuals are set up,” he said. “For people in the artillery route, it was more of sleeping in bays and running around outside, while I was sitting inside working at my table with my tools, so it differs greatly depending on what you do.”

‘20 South graduate Kate Taylor also took a non-traditional route. Rather than attending a traditional university as she intended, Taylor enrolled in Virginia Military Institute. She said that schools and families should have more conversations about post secondary education options.

“Students can have this sense of right and wrong in terms of what [they] want to pursue. We need to be reminded that there isn’t a right answer to what you do after [high school],” she said. “These large and difficult conversations are important to start to make sure students don’t feel pressured to attend college just because it’s what everyone else is doing.”

College and career counselor Kathleen Sabet said that despite the pandemic preventing military recruiters from coming into the building to speak to students, she has found additional ways to inform students about military careers. 

“As a counselor, I want to be sure that students know all their options, so I have conversations with them about the military,” she said.

Senior Bob Taylor, Kate’s brother, said that after realizing the conventional path of going directly to college was not best for him, he began pursuing his interest in the Marines.

“It’s going to give me more time before going to college to learn about myself a little bit better in terms of what I want to do in school,” he said. “I’m not too much of a fan of office jobs, but everything military related interests me.” 

As the military offers a wide range of branches, including the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy and Space Force, it can be difficult to choose which path to pursue. Financial advisor James Cote, a former Marine and Vietnam War veteran, helps students and their families navigate the process.

“It depends on where the child wants to go, but you can generally pick the service based on their personality,” he said. “If you don’t want to do combat, there are a lot of fields you could be in and there’s no way you would ever be in the field. Your skills are needed, so there’s a lot of occupations, and it’s a world for everybody.”

While the recruitment process can be overwhelming, head of guidance Dan Rubin is also available to help students choose a path. He said that many students of all areas of interest choose the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) — a program that allows college students to do basic training for the military during summers and throughout college to pay their tuition.

“ROTC gives students many opportunities in exchange for military service after graduation, so that’s a pretty common option among students,” he said. “A lot of students who consider becoming police officers, firefighters or different types of first responders also learn that preference is given to veterans because they’ve demonstrated that they can withstand the stress that first responder roles bring.”

Cote’s son and ‘17 Arlington Catholic graduate Nicolas Fernandez-Cote took the ROTC route. After completing several months of preliminary drills, he attended college at Massachusetts Maritime Academy while serving in the National Guard before enlisting as a field artillery officer.

“My main drivers were definitely to get my education, to still be in the military and have a civilian job and [to] graduate college,” he said. “It was something that I took a long time to think about, but the National Guard was definitely one of the things that allowed my multiple goals to be met.”

While military training can be a lot to handle for some, with hard work and a strong support system, Mitelman said that it is possible to succeed. 

“It was physically hard, but it was mentally more difficult because you get three hours of sleep sometimes or you’d be walking for miles, and if you start to feel or to think that this isn’t going to end or that any sort of negativity, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble,” he said.

“People will be there to support you, but you have to make sure that you have your goals set and that you know why you’re doing it so that when things get difficult, you don’t just despair and instead you end up learning a lot.”

Fernandez-Cote said that the values he embraced as a military officer have helped with his job at an oil trades company in Panama.

“While I may not use all the technical terms used in the military, I am using the core values that the military has built inside of me and then applying that to my profession, like with my clients and other traders,” he said.

Mitelman said that in addition to acquiring technical skills that will help him with future professions in engineering, being part of the military as a National Guard has allowed him to develop lifelong connections.

“I have friends that live in Korea, Germany, Hawaii [and] Florida, and your network of people that you encounter and their experiences is vast. It gives you a lot of personal experience, too,” he said.

Fernandez-Cote said that as the path to the military can be overwhelming as a high school student, it is vital to research options.

“Ask questions, not only from your recruiter, but ask questions from someone that you may know has been in or still is in the military. You want to get a full perspective on any kind of action before you take it by getting more information, especially,” he said. “Everyone has been in your shoes at one point.”