DescriptionSamuel Surowitz (30) talks to new acquaintance Nicolas Cadena (26) about his military experience and current work as Director of Veteran Services at the University of Dayton. He talks about his understanding of effective leadership and mentorship, especially in assisting veterans in navigating higher education and civilian life.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Samuel Surowitz
- Nicolas Cadena
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00:00 All right, so, my name is at Nicolas Cadena. I am 26 years old today's date is Friday, August 2nd 2019. We are in Yellow Springs Ohio at the wyso off and I'm here with Sam surowicz who I will be interviewing today, and I'm Sam surowitz. I'm 30 years old. Today is Friday, August 2nd 2019, and we are at the wyso at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and I just meant Nikko to awesome. So it's great to meet you Sam.
00:36 I like to start off by asking a little bit about I'm so worried from where did you grow up and maybe a couple of memories was your childhood? Like I was originally from New Jersey throughout the New Jersey and join the military actually out of Fort Dix New Jersey was my military entrance processing station, but I grew up in the suburbs. So kind of suburbs of New York but in New Jersey and you know had a lot of you know friends and high school and middle school and stuff and we hung out a lot pretty much until you know, after graduation. And yeah, did you come from a military family or did anyone else before you and your family go to the military? No, not my not my father, but my my grandfather was drafted during World War II he served during World War II he was stationed at Fort Benning Georgia and he was in for about 18 months during that time. He what he called radio wire. He hung radio wire around.
01:36 Georgia which I think is probably what we just consider telephone wire now and his older brother was a Jag attorney in the Nuremberg trials and that's really my most recent family members who served in the military and could you tell us a little bit about why you decided to enlist and how that whole process was absolutely. So I I always felt like I was interested in joining the military and ever since I was a little kid my mom used to take our pictures in front of a tree in the front yard before the first day of school and sometime around the 3rd grade my 3rd grade pictures me wearing all camouflage clothes and then got a little camouflage backpack before my first day of school tomorrow between first and third grade I did that so I kind of was always interested in joining. I played with in a little soldier toys and cowboys and Indians in the sandbox and stuff like that. So I'll
02:36 It's always very interested in joining the military while my dad was in law enforcement. So I think there's some some crossover and kind of personality type and job type but my dad was a law enforcement agent. So and there was a little bit I think of Interest driven from that and so how did Saudi remember the day you enlisted. So I remember even before then I think when I was when I was when I was 15 years old, I took the train to to Red Bank New Jersey where the closest recruiting office was and I just went in and talked to the recruiters. I was only fifteen so they I couldn't join them, but they said yeah, you know come back, you know, I think they said like come back when you're like 16 cuz they could actually the exit a program where you can join the military at age 17, so
03:33 I did I went back the next year and I spoke to him again when I was 16 and I did this thing called split option. So I went to basic training the summer between my Junior and Senior year of high school. So when I came back for my senior year in high school, I was actually in the Army Reserve and I was only 17 but they'd so the day that I joined. I believe I was seventeen at the time and you go to the school the MEPS station the military entrance processing station to the recruiter picks you up. They drive you to the base and it's just a very long day you wait in lines, like you've never waited in before and you just wait around first to you know, do you know your medical your dental filling a lot of paperwork that you've already filled out but a lot of the time we're just waiting and then at the end of the day, they determine if you're qualified or not.
04:29 And then the trick is I think they want you to sign up right then and there and so and most people do cuz you've already if you spent all this time, you've already worked with a recruiter, you know, you want to join at this point, but they want you to join there at that MEPS station. So I did and you know, they tell you what jobs are available at the moment. So the Army is a little they're not every branches not the same but the Army allows you to choose what job you want when you join so you actually have it in your contract. And as long as you continue to meet the qualifications for that job you have that job is a slot on your slotted for it. So they kind of say this is what's available and it's due to your first second third pic or it was for me for some people it might not even be on the list and then they say like, you know, these are how many slots are available right now and they want you to to sign up and if it's your second or third.
05:26 And they say why we've got three slots left and they might tell you it. Well, you know, you might say I want to wait from for my number one job to pop up and then might say well you can wait but then maybe your number two and number three job. Would you like to which is available now might go away. So after a whole day of waiting most people go ahead and sign up for a job that day and so I did that's what I did. So my job is what's called a psychological operations or psyops which later also became known as on Military information support operations, but essentially it is the people in the military who are in charge of the trying to win hearts and minds and public relations and media campaigns in areas where the United States has some type of force deploy to or some type of national interest. Okay while I have a
06:21 Quick question before you leave for a little bit because it was something you were talking about earlier. You mentioned like in the from third grade feeling like I have a direction. This is like where I owe, you know, like I have an Android I wanted to ask at the time that you can look at the time that you approached the MEPS station when you were fifteen, do you recall kind of what that meant to you or what how you had that in mind? Like what like what you thought about when you thought about being in the military? Yeah. I just think that I wanted something exciting. I wanted to do something that would right away, you know, get me out of my hometown. Not that I dislike my hometown, but I wanted to travel I want to see other places and I wanted to be independent and I didn't see any any other route that was going to get me independent right away, you know, right off the bat out of high school. I didn't want to be dependent on my parents. I didn't want to have to live somewhere have to do something was interested in so that to me this like represented Independence.
07:21 And so and it actually was the they have different recruiting stations. So is actually like the map stations actually at the main base. This is like an outstation Recruiting Station the kind that you might see in a strip in like a little strip mall or something like that and actually later they move that to a location that was made. I don't really know why maybe it was less expensive for that location didn't become available anymore. But they move that place that I was able to take a train to two different location and had that Recruiting Station then moves in 5 years earlier. I don't know if I owe my life would have went the same way because I wouldn't have been able to hop on a train at 15 and again at 16 and take myself to the recruiting station because later they moved it to a location you kind of have to get to my car and I was going there before I have a car so had I not been able to go there at that young age would have done something else or join a different branch or whatever did your parents?
08:21 We were going to the substation when you were fifteen, like on a train. I don't think I hit it from them. Yeah, I wouldn't have hit it from them. I don't know if I would have told them beforehand. Hey, this is what I'm doing today, but they knew that sometimes my friends and I would take a train to Red Bank. There's a lot more to do is down and headed downtown area. There's a lot more to do in Red Bank and there was in the kind of them or Suburban town that I grew up in OK Google a tenant is only 10 in the train right away. So it wasn't really far pretty close by I have a couple of questions when is so you were 17. What year was this? I was 17 in 2006. And so you'd already done basic training by the time you joined ride to the summer like I joined and then did basic training. So how is basic training, you know basic training it was basic training so that you know the drill sergeant.
09:21 And send know when I went I went during a time when there was a lot of people who are actually the same age as me going between their summer in their Junior and Senior year of high school in that summer just because of the time frame a lot of us were in the same class tours actually Berry young class and I think that the drill sergeants for kind of frustrated by the age and then it's but it's funny cuz I'm still in now. I'm in the National Guard now, but this is 13 years ago. So looking back. I just remember thinking how you know old and how experienced than everything that my drill sergeants were and I was back in my pick my basic training graduation pictures and I see my drill sergeants and I'm like their kids there, you know, they're in their early twenties. Probably, you know, maybe mid twenties. So I will can I see these Babyface drill sergeant switch and me and I look like a child basically, but you know, it's tough though, you know that you get smokes a lot so you can a lot of push-ups sit-ups running around.
10:21 Basically a lot of group punishment for any kind of like a minor type of infractions and then some individual punishments. I remember one time. I don't even remember actually what it was about but I remember at one time they drill sergeant was smoking me in the center of the day that we slept in and I know this happens a lot of people at different points of time at this point times that this was an individual punishment. I was getting smokes and he was telling me that I was the platoon turd and I thought I was pretty decent. I thought it was okay at least at a minimum. So I thought that was interesting but I did something that was substandard and piss them off. So, do you have any other like maybe like fond memories funny memories interesting anecdotes from boot camp early on when will this thing is like I have a lot of boot camp-like experiences that aren't boot camp itself years later. I also went through officer candidate School in 2017.
11:21 I'm so much older. But I did the officer candidate School run through the National Guard which is kind of old school and not run the same as the the Federal Officer candidate school is there's a lot a lot of old school people in the guard who run officer candidate School in the National Guard like it's basic training. So it was like going to basic training again and in 2015 in between these two things. I I became a drill sergeant in the Army Reserve. So I got qualified as a drill sergeant 2015 and did time as a drill sergeant in 2016 training Soldier so I have have a very
11:53 Broad experience of basic training like experiences, but I was just remember at that kind of at that age. It was there's a lot of shocked at the age of 17 going to basic training and then later it was like here we go again type of thing where it's kind of old hat, you know, by the time I was 28 years old. I think I was 28 when I went to officer candidate school is kind of old hat. Like it's here we go. It's a game. You have to play the game and get through it and get to the next day and get through the next day. But I just remember thinking at basic training how these people know everything they know so much and then you know, 10 years later, you know, they know what they know. How long was it before you had? Let's say your first appointment and what were you doing in between during that time? I deployed for the first time in 2009 was a short.
12:52 Pointers is over 3 months to Iraq. So between 06 and 09. I feel like I had a lot of time to prepare even mentally. So the time I was deployed. I was pretty well prepared. I went to Airborne school going to foreign language school for French and I was actually assigned to a unit that goes to some African countries that are French speaking but I was going to be in the headquarters of that unit and not deploying so actually worked really hard to join a different unit. That was a Tactical Unit there was going to be the point. So I joined a ranger Detachment in psyops. I was in 9th Battalion psychological operations, and there was a Detachment of about 12 to 15 people and they were in charge of supporting their Ranger mission to Iraq and Afghanistan. And so I had to go through assessments to join that unit. So I tried out for that unit and got in so you wanted to be
13:52 Support I want to be deployed and I want to deploy tonight in a Tactical Unit. That was what I was interested in doing. Could you explain a little bit about what you want and I'm kind of like what your thought process was around that time. I joined in 06 so I owe 6 was in some ways the height I think of of two separate words that were going on at that time. I mean, I've said that the height of both of them were probably be invasions, but bye-bye 06 things were getting kind of bad and Iraq. I think that sings in Afghanistan we're still kind of dicey, so
14:34 I think anyone who joined during that time probably join knowing what they were getting into knowing that they were going to deploy or that they definitely could deploy so I just had it in my head. And so I rather I think control it and have some input and say hey I'm I'm just going to go ahead and do and do this. You know, I want to do it I expected to do it. So it's just going to make it happen and I wanted you to play with a good unit and I had a lot of good leaders to which is something I'm kind of interested in talking about cuz I think that people's experience in the military is he is either kind of made or broken based off of their leadership so more so than what branch they were in more so than what job that they had after I got out.
15:17 I went to college, I love working in the Veterans Affairs in military programs office at the University of Connecticut. I was the president of Veteran student organization there when I was an undergrad and I also worked in the office as an employee as I got older and why went to grad school. So I've worked with a lot of veterans in higher education and I know a lot of people that served just from my contact with them in the military and then also by serving in the garden Reserve where there's a lot of people who used to be active duty then join the guard or reserve and most people in my opinion their experience is not good or bad based off of their jobs are Branch or even if they deployed into Play It's really about the people that they served with and whether their supervisors had a positive impact or negative impact on them. And so I had really good. I had really good first line supervisors and in the military or first line supervisor is if your list is going to be your team leader and your team leader if they join when they are 19
16:17 Now they're 21, or if they join their 18 and now they're 20, give a 20 or 21 year old making all the decisions that are going to affect your daily life how you're going to train each day. I mean a lot of these things are set by Higher by the company Commander by the first sergeant platoon sergeant and platoon leaders, but when it really boils down to it your first line supervisor is training you everyday your team leader or your squad leaders is training you every single day. So are they making you do things that are meaningful and are they empowering you or are they teaching you things that are one if you're going to be in the unit that's going to deploy how to do your job how to survive how to be proficient in all of your tasks and drills or are they kind of just like jogging you all the time making you do layouts making you clean your room and making you show up early to formations for no reason kind of stand around or are they taking the time to train you doing drills to make you better at shooting to make you more physically fit to try
17:17 You and your specific job test whether you be a mechanic or whether you be in Military Intelligence, you have a job. If you have an actual job like you're in the Army you're in the Navy or the Marines whatever but you have a very specific job that you need to become proficient at in the some leaders spend a lot of time training people to be good at that job in teaching skills, they need and you know other leaders spend a lot of time kind of wasting people's time or treating them badly and that's what I think made people's experience and I was lucky enough to have good leaders then powered me to be better and as an individual and be better at the tasks that I had to complete about that baby. Could you give give me a can of an illustration or like a story you remember that you have of good leadership and when you made me realize I go this is somebody that I can trust that may be a leader that you had somebody in that. Yeah. I had a I had so my first unit that I was in as outside of training hacks.
18:17 In the unit was the unit that was going to go to to Africa and they weren't going to go for a while and was going to be the embassy bass Mission and I we were just doing things on a daily basis. That wasn't that interesting to me. We were inventorying. You know, I remember one time we did the first time I had to do it we inventory to arrange box to the box of things you take to the range has your plugs cleaning oils and lubricants for the weapons things like that paddles that have a red side and a white side to show other that lane is clear or dangerous. And so we were inventorying this box and they wanted to know it down to like at the number of Staples and it seems like a waste not like individual Staples but like the number of packs of Staples and it seems like kind of like a waste of time and I said, you know, when are we going to start training for this Mission? We're going at this time to see, you know, I don't really know a lot about the country were going to and I think I think that the mission was about eight months away. I don't remember exactly and I said, I was searching about four months out from that to your ready in like what what what are we doing now? This is what we're doing for the next 4 months.
19:17 Laying out what strain let's do this don't do that. And so my boss was a sergeant at the time said hey.
19:24 I think I know of a good unit for you. I think I know the unit where you will be happier actually than here. And that was the ranger Detachment said you should go try out there doing an assessment. I know a guy over there. So it put me in contact. I never would have known this unit even existed. So then when I went out to the Assassin to try out, the first thing they did was trying to prepare me for the assessment not hey, you're going to show up and you know, things are going to start happening. Hey, this is what you need to do. This is what you need to pack. This is what we're going to be doing there. You know Caesars things are review. That'll make you better. You know, when you do it, you know review Land Navigation stuff like that. And then when I got to it I went to the Assassin was very difficult, but I was only week-long and I made it through and then when I got to the unit
20:05 Immediately start talking about what the deployments are going to be like we're on a deployment cycle you be deployed for 4 months and home for 7 and so they meet at least are preparing me for the deployment. This is what we're going to be doing. This is what it's like an everyday we trained mean every single day. We train For an upcoming deployment and I gave me an idea of when it was going to be an idea where we're going to be going an idea of what unit would be working with what that unit was like and just everyday I felt like there was progress made that same original squad leader that I had at that unit after my first deployment. I was supposed to go to Ranger school and you don't have an opportunity to do you get to work out a lot during deployment in your off time, but you can always do the types of workouts that you want and I ended up on lifting more weight than running and I didn't do as much running. Mostly cuz of the climate I suppose I could have done more if I wanted to and so you had to be able to run a 5 Mile in 40 minutes to go to Ranger school.
21:01 And so when I got back I time myself on leave and I remember very specifically I ran my Five Mile in over 50 minutes. I think was almost is there 52 or 54 minutes and I was like that, you know, I could shave a couple minutes off, but I can't shave 12 to 14 minutes off my time and in just over two weeks. And so I talked to my squad leader and I said yeah Sergeant. This is my time just being honest with you. I don't think I can I don't think I can make it and I forgot to mention but one day during the deployment my squad leader showed up in person cuz we were at we were in different locations. I was in Baghdad.
21:40 And I'm he was a different location and he showed up on a helicopter one day came running up to me found me and told me I got I was being promoted pulled me out of the barracks and did a little promotion ceremony promoted me and then got back on a helicopter and left a lot of people sometimes find out if they got a promotion like that. They just kind of find out sometimes when they're pay changes. To be honest with you. You're supposed to have a ceremony and stuff like that. But a lot of times it doesn't happen it slip through the cracks a special needs appointment setting and you just see one day that you were even though they got promoted and he did that and I meant a lot so the same squad leader. He had me he just told me, you know, you're going to Ranger school. So shave the time off just get faster because and he had and he told me something and I still think it's true that this day which is it a lot of time in the military when people pass up an opportunity or trying to push back an opportunity, you know, it's hard to get the Stars to align to go to Ranger school. Your unit has to be willing to send you there has to be an open slot. There has to be funding you have to be at the top of the order of Merit list to go cuz
22:40 Other people that want to go and then you have to be physically able and you have to have all the checklist done and he just told me, you know look in my experience of people miss this opportunity and they don't go they never go because something else comes up later. They'll be something different. So you're just going to go and I did and I passed and so that was part of how I was prepared for my second appointment. I got promoted after I get pass Ranger school. I got promoted to Sergeant. So just after after being in the military for almost 2 years I made Sergeant. So a lot of people have that experience lot of people are totally qualified to be promoted and then they don't get supported by their leadership for promotion or there's no space available for their promotion. So I had this really good experience again with the good leader on who who does empower me to do that later get you know years later I had when I when I transfer to Connecticut, I wasn't living in New Jersey and I
23:40 Sending unit that was in Queens in Fort Totten and Reserve in it and I was transferring to Connecticut to go to the University of Connecticut.
23:50 My boss supported me transferring on my company Commander support in my transfer to a different unit. Even though I wanted to transfer out of I was in Military Intelligence at the time. I wanted to transfer out of it to go into to become a drill sergeant and a drill sergeant unit in a Trane unit. And he knew people in Military Intelligence units and he could have scored some points with someone by sending them a qualified staff sergeant to staff sergeant at the time because there was a slight open and I'm sure you had a friend over there that needed someone so it's just a lot of
24:19 Times people do things for their own interests so he could have totally not supporting you going to this unit that I wanted to go to to help out some other leader in his community that he knew by getting them a qualified staff sergeant in Military Intelligence. He knew what direction I want to go and that would take me out of the community that I was in and and basically canceled me on it and he said sure you know, that's what you want to do go for it. So he supported that and then later in the National Guard going officer candidate School. The company Commander is Officer candidate school and my unit supported me transferring from the Army Reserve to the National Guard to go to officer candidate school. So I just had a lot of support of leaders and that made my experience really really positive a lot of little negative experiences in their here and there but this made my overall experience positive so that just kind of a 10 so actually now what am I doing in Ohio? Right. So after I after I finished my time at the University of Connecticut
25:17 Did an undergraduate to graduate degree there and work in their Veterans Affairs office. I wanted to be able to kind of do even more and so I applied for a job as the Director of veteran services at the University of Dayton and I was selected and again going back to support of leaders. I was in the basic off basic officer leadership course at Fort Huachuca Arizona on active duty orders for 4 months while I was applying for jobs civilian jobs in higher education and my supervisors. They're supported me taking leave from an active-duty course to go to interviews, which is very difficult. Especially for a course that is this type. Of course so I can a job skills course. It's not an additional course that you get later on. This was like kind of foundation jobs do a job skills course, it was required for officers after they commission and they supported me taking a limited amount of leave to go to these interviews and I wouldn't have never got I would have never got this.
26:17 Job, I will have the opportunity even interview for it if my supervisors again hasn't been supportive. So at the University of Dayton, they're starting a new office. It's office of veteran services and we're going to build it from the ground up and that's going to really allow the University of Dayton to provide really more meaningful support to their veteran and Military of student population. And so I hope to bring to that position my experience of having positive leadership leaders to give that same type of positive leadership and supportive type of leadership to Veterans and Military filiated students at the University of Dayton and we're going to pursue academic programming we're going to improve access to benefits and prove that are in a military Community there by having not just us a space for students to get together but also some leadership and programming for it to support some meeting. Opportunities some social opportunities to help veterans that are not affiliated with University.
27:17 You're going through tough times there different service organizations and to build the community there at the University and some ways of operate kind of like a cultural center button and other ways it'll operate doing benefits some tie-in with financial aid office try and tie in with Athletics to have some military appreciation type of events, but it's also important we time with academics to so there's obviously that's what universities for and there's akademiks all cross University weather be in the history Department Anthropologie or harder harder Sciences where people have skills from the military that will transfer into those areas. We're going to try and tie in the benefit of having a veteran military population with the academic. So I had a couple of questions all the switches.
28:13 With the five minutes that we have so it sounds like you have also become one of those leader is leading not only in your new job. You about coming but also with your past like becoming that drill sergeant are really taking that role of a teacher as well until I was wondering so you've had a lot of contact with veterans people in military Community who have maybe talk to you about their own military experience their past military experience and this question of leadership has come up a lot. So from your relationships with past military personnel, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about what
28:52 Qualities in a leader you've heard from other people that just keep coming up and coming up and coming up like oh, I wish I had this though. This was I can read. This was really what led me to success just from what you encountered was within your job like like outside of your own experience that you've heard from others, right and what qualities they they wish they had no leader compassion empathy probably because people want leaders that will make them proficient in their specific jobs. And that's what I make them good at their jobs. Someone who really knows the job skills and has a way to transfer those skills to them through training and mentorship but to be a good Mentor or good trainer, you have to have compassion empathy. So you have to understand that if someone is going through something very difficult that that's probably not the day or the time to try and teach them a very new and difficult skill, you know, there's something else that can be achieved during that.
29:52 But that's probably not it unless that person's personality. Maybe that makes it a good time right maybe for them. That's the way to get their mind off of what's bothering them. But you have to have compassion and empathy to understand this kind of thinking to be able to help people and a lot of people, you know, somebody told me a story they worked on and they're in the Navy. I can't remember if he was on a ship or submarine, but he was on top of the other very hot pipe or some of the pipes were hot in the one that he was climbed up on was not currently hot, but they had to paint these pipes and he said he was at the top of a pipe they're painting the pipes or the other people at the top of pipes and his first line leader officer leader. So the Army would be able to and later. I'm not sure what the position was in the Navy came into the room and said hey,
30:37 Just want you all to know and he named one of the Soul one of the sailors said someone so killed himself, but
30:46 Just keep doing what you guys are doing cuz it has to get done and that's what he would have wanted and and this individual was like it's not what he would have wanted. He hated his life. He didn't like what he was doing and you wouldn't have wanted us to come in here and stay on top of these pipes painting is over this person who was like, you know, that leader lack such compassion and empathy that he thought that was an appropriate way to Annette to both announced it and then a meaningful thing to carry on doing after announcing just like there's a time and a place in this person understand and this particular sailor, you know, now that her and how that experience very closely. This person was someone meant something to them and then they were gone and that that was how it was handled then you know that small moment of that supervisor having no tact and no compassion or empathy. He's carried that moment with him over probably a lot of other mon so
31:43 All right. We have a imagine me up a couple of minutes left two minutes left and I did want to allow you to also like is there anything that you would like to talk about at least two minutes that you feel is important? We have not gotten to I know there's a lot, you know support a family is really important. And so that can also have a big impact on someone's experience how much Family Support there yet. But if there's also a lot of difficulty for families, you know, I was lucky in that while I was active duty. I wasn't married and have kids at the time and so now being married and having children, you know, my wife's a huge source of inspiration and support as are my two little girls, but at the same time it makes it much more difficult to pick up and go and do anything and you have to take your family into account to so if your service member you have to really be strategic and try and work your military career in a way that is good for your family and also good for you and good for the military and it's a lot more challenging than when you're single.
32:43 If you could give a message, let's say two young girls. That's from what you've told me. If you could give them a message for them to hear 30-40 years from now, maybe about your military experience. Maybe about it how that really isn't it your family and their support. What message would you give them? How did you say that? I love them. And when I any decision I make I make with them in mind and what's in their best interest, even if it doesn't always seem like it that's always my intention wonderful. So, thank you so much for your time, and thank you so much for sharing. I know we should probably have more than one for conversation from the degree of experience, but it was really wonderful. Thank you. Thank you.