Carlos Tigreros was stationed aboard the USS Frank Cable for more than four years. During his time on the Guam-based ship, he accomplished many of his goals, including being accepted into the prestigious Summer Program at Harvard University, which will start June 24. In the fall, he will pursue his graduate studies at Dartmouth College.
Tigreros left Guam on May 20 and is now a civilian. But he says the military will always be a part of his life. He is currently mentoring two active-duty service members as they prepare their applications to an Ivy League school and has reached out to veteran organizations to offer his services in assisting veterans pursuing a higher education.
The 26-year-old has quite a story to tell. So Stripes Guam let him tell it.
Q: So, you were a sailor for five years and served on the USS Frank Cable. Why did you join the Navy?
I enlisted in the United States Navy in June of 2011. I was born in Chicago, but I spent the majority of my childhood in the South American country of Colombia. Before the Navy, I completed my Bachelor’s Degree and I enjoyed a lucrative career at Merrill Lynch, I was working in the firm's Financial Wealth Management Division. A year before heading out to boot camp, I attended a conference in Manhattan. I visited the September 11 Memorial in New York City. My life changed at that moment as the images I witnessed so many years ago became a tangible reality.
The attacks on September 11, became the Pearl Harbor of our generation. I knew I wanted to be part of the solution to the challenges we face as a nation. I felt a moral and patriotic obligation to serve a country that provided so much to me during my years as an immigrant. I felt that there was much more to my American experience than by constantly taking advantage of what we have in our society. That the words of John F. Kennedy still have a place in our consumerist society, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for you country." That there was room in my life to give back and do something for my country than to just take and consume the privileges from one's nation.
I felt that I owed a debt after so many years of taking the advantages and absorbing the privileges of our society. The hidden guilt I carried for so ong in taking from society as a citizen but not giving back was alleviated the moment I swore in. I was stationed aboard the USS Frank Cable. In that time period of 2012 to 2013, I was assigned to the Electrical Repair Division of R4 within 51A's Motor Rewind Division. In 2014 to 2015, I was posted to the USS Emory S. Land in order to support expeditionary repair efforts in the Persian Gulf. Through 2015 to 2016, I was hand-picked by my superiors for a special and yet demanding assignment in the Nuclear Repair Division of R5, which proved to be the highlight of my military experience. My service at the USS Frank Cable provided the unique opportunity to support crucial missions of national security by sustaining the repair objectives of the USS Frank Cable that is expended to sub-surface and surface assets.
Q: What motivated you to apply for the Harvard program?
My ambition and motivation to pursue an Ivy League university can be traced back to a strong enthusiasm for history. Specifically the great leaders our nation has produced and the bridge between their public service and military service. If we look back to our country's history we can see a great level of front line leadership in our nation's leaders. General George Washington knew all too well the struggles and sacrifices in defending one's country through the front lines of battle to the diplomatic realm of international politics.
The famous "Rough Riders" were led by Theodore Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War in Cuba. Eleven years later, he would preside over the oval office in the White House. The same concept can be applied to President Eisenhower and President Bush, in their active involvement in World War II.
As time progressed, we see a great chasm taking place in our society. Tom Brokaw described it best through the following statement, "Less than one percent of our population are in military uniform...That is manifestly immoral to ask less than one percent of the population to spill their blood on our behalf." This situation Tom Brokaw describes has directly spilled over into our leadership in Washington DC.
The divide between the military and our elected officials, has created a form of leadership in which military service and public office no longer share a symbiotic relationship, but are now estranged in an unhealthy manner. The number of veterans within our congressional leadership has dropped from 75% in World War II, to a low 20% in our current time. Our last three successive commanders in chief have never served more than year of active duty in the military. A political leadership in Washington DC and a mainstream American society that continues to distance itself from the military, will lead to the disconnection of the consequences of war from the American public.
Many of our nation's leaders possess an Ivy League education, but this should not be the only pre-requisite. I aspire to become a leader in the State Department, I hope that my life can be an example that can help bridge this divide that currently exists in our civilian leadership in Washington DC and the Veteran population. I aspire to follow in the examples of our histories great public leaders whose military service legitimized their genuine concern for their country as they progressed in their public careers. I like to close with the following idea, in order to answer your question. British General Sir William Butler once said, "The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards."
Q: What did you have to do to apply?
The first thing I had to overcome in order to apply were the negative stereotypes we face as members of the military. At times, the negative misconceptions certain sectors of society place upon us can hijack our thoughts of our abilities in the civilian sector. The military is seen by many in society as a last resort, a place of refuge when opportunities and options are low. This idea leads many in the civilian sector to think that the military attracts a lower class with limited capabilities.
My accomplishments in the military and the support of my family were daily reminders of the unlimited cap to my true potential. The Summer Program at Harvard University and the Graduate Studies at Dartmouth College are two programs at the nation’s oldest and most prestigious schools. The admissions process is rigorous, it continues to be a very selective undertaking. The application requires a close attention to detail, immaculate academic transcripts, high test scores, letters of recommendation, six essay questions, and personal interviews with academic directors.
It seems like an overwhelming objective at first, and at times I was certainly overwhelmed in the sixteen months I took to prepare. It is important to realize that our military experience and training is something we can convert to anything we want in life. We are trained to deal with difficult situations, as active duty servicemen we have inherited a unique capacity to stay committed despite the rigors we face. It was this exact skill set acquired in the Navy that I converted over to my mission in seeking a position within the Ivy League.
Q: Did you think something like this was possible before you joined the Navy?
I'll never forget the day I realized I was accepted. In the process of celebrating, I flipped my chair and threw other pieces of furniture in my room. I was left with a bill due to the damage created in my excitement, but it was certainly worth it. I was stunned, thrilled, and thankful for my mentors, friends, and family for their support. I always dreamed of attending an Ivy League, but for the longest time it seemed like such a distant dream.
I believe that my service in the Navy, serving our nation in an official capacity and getting directly involved with various missions provided me a front seat to promoting American interest abroad in a manner that most other candidates would not be able to experience. My dream of attending an Ivy League was always an ambitious idea before the Navy. It was only in moments in which I succeeded at the most arduous experiences of my military service that I began to have the confidence in believing that I have earned my seat to attend such an institution.
Q: What role did your chain of command play in this?
My time in the Nuclear Support Facility in the USS Frank Cable was the highlight of my military experience. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity in collaborating with Navy's nuclear community. Our unique culture and demanding work schedule is not for the faint of heart. I truly felt as if I found my tribe within the first week as I observed the Navy's nuclear culture and engaged with my fellow Nukes. Their intelligence and perseverance demanded upon them by the legacy of Admiral Rickover is truly admirable.
My chain of command provided a great amount of advice in helping me highlight the important accomplishments I was involved in that needed to be transferred to my application. Through daily discussions, they were able to connect my daily responsibilities to the broader picture of America's Pivot to Asia.
Q: What motivates you?
I feel fortunate to come from an immigrant background. The traditional American inherits the rights and privileges of our society at birth. From childhood to adulthood, they live in an existence that guarantees their rights and freedoms that has not been infringed upon. The freedom of expression, religion, the assurance of the rule of law, and the right to vote. My life before America was filled with a great deal of turmoil due to political, economic, and social instability in Colombia. This lack of national security affected my family in the form violent persecution.
As a Hispanic immigrant, a veteran, and as an American citizen, it is impossible for me to take for granted the rights and freedoms America continues to provide. My appreciation for the small things our society has provided, comes with a great level of appreciation than most can understand. Unlike many of my peers, I know all too well what it is like to live in a country plagued with violence, corruption, and poverty. The lead singer of U2, Bono, once said, "America is not just a country, it's an idea." That idea of democracy, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the pursuit of equality, the protection of human rights have had great influences upon the world and in my own life. The need to protect and serve those very ideas has been a continual source of motivation.
Q: What advice do you have for young enlisted like you who want achieve great things?
I would like to remind them of a fact that they have already achieved great things in their lives. Less than one percent in our nation's population is serving as active duty. Majority of the people they know back home, would not be able to embody the type strength, optimism, and discipline to accomplish what they are currently doing. Give yourself the credit in realizing you represent an extremely exclusive position in our society that is respected and admired.
Your ability to support the mission of your command is providing you a direct participation in grand organizational accomplishments. These great achievements that you have taken upon yourselves and in your respective commands is held together by one common characteristic, which is proper planning. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "A man without a plan, is not a man".
All great achievements must be combined with a grand plan of great detail. For many years I have made it an objective to update my long term goals and short term goals every six months. It is very easy for an individual to get caught up with the daily distractions of life. I have rectified this by writing it out in a piece of paper and placing it in a spot where I can look at it every single day. I carry a small planner with me at all times to in order to identify the small tasks required each day in order to reach the bigger goals. Always have a plan, and most importantly be brave enough to follow through with it.
Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!
Follow us on social media!