The Master of Science in Foreign Service Program is delighted to announce the 2017 SoldierStrong Scholarship Recipient, Navy Lieutenant Mikel Rodriguez. Mikel, a Naval Academy graduate, has a warfare designation of Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Officer, and has over 3 years of international experience including deployments to Afghanistan.
Mikel is the third recipient of this endowed, partial-tuition scholarship designated for a U.S. veteran enrolled in the MSFS program. The scholarship was established in 2015 under the leadership of SoldierStrong cofounder and Chairman of the Board Chris Meek. We had the opportunity to speak with Mikel, and for him to share his journey that brought him to MSFS.
How did you learn about MSFS?
I first learned about MSFS when I was a midshipman at the Naval Academy. I was visiting Georgetown for the weekend to see some high school friends and ended up meeting my future wife. She was a senior finishing up her bachelor's in the School of Foreign Service. Through her and her diverse group of classmates I learned a great deal about Georgetown, SFS in general and MSFS. Since then, I have always wanted to attend the MSFS and have followed its initiatives and programs closely.
How has your experience in the military shaped your path to pursue a master's degree at Georgetown?
When I was a senior in high school, the war in Afghanistan had already been going on for three years and the invasion of Iraq was very recent. I wanted to go fight, but I wanted to lead as an officer so I decided to go to where I believed I could be trained to be the best officer I had the potential to become, the Naval Academy. During my time at the Academy, the number one killer of coalition forces was the Improvised Explosive Device (IED), so I decided to pursue a career as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer whose job is to disarm explosive hazards including IEDs. When I graduated I was lucky enough to be selected for the program and I spent the next few years training for that specialty.
When I arrived at my first unit after graduation, I was told the first week that I was going to do two back to back deployments to Afghanistan supporting the army as an EOD platoon commander. I had gotten my wish. During my first deployment, I realized that war is not what I thought when I was 17. Even though I and my guys put ourselves at risk virtually every day, I quickly realized that military action alone was not changing the trajectory of the war. That feeling only grew during my second tour when suddenly one day I had the unfortunate luck of having a recoilless rifle round land a few feet from me and causing significant damage to my back. A month later I was sent home early for surgery. When I arrived home, I underwent spinal surgery and about ten months of convalescence and rehabilitation for the extensive nerve damage to my back and right leg.
During this time, my thoughts were constantly with the guys on my team still serving abroad. I began to seriously question what I accomplished while serving overseas and how I would react if one of them was killed in action while I was at home. I came to the realization that, although fighting in a combat zone was and will always be one of the most exciting experiences of my life, I could only come to terms with the unjustifiable human cost of war while I was fighting alongside those that would sacrifice everything, and soon I would be in a position of leading while not putting myself at risk. Moreover, as a military officer, I would never have the ability to influence the policies that lead men and women to war. So, I began to think of a career outside of the military, one where I could have a voice in avoiding armed conflict and the horrors that accompany it.
After my recovery, I received orders to Spain where I lived for almost four years. During that time, I worked closely with foreign partners in Europe and Africa as well as with the Department of State. I learned a lot about international cooperation and the work that DoS and other organizations do to influence events abroad, as well as the weight that opinions of junior personnel in those organizations have to create policy. These experiences finally convinced me to make the transition to a career in the foreign policy arena. In order to make the transition, I decided, similarly to when I entered the military profession, that I wanted to receive the best training possible in order to contribute the most, so I applied to the best program in the country, MSFS.
What are you most excited about in joining the Georgetown community?
I am most excited about the exposure to high quality individuals from all walks of life and experiences with regards to both professors and classmates. The military has very high caliber individuals; however, its culture does not foster the free flow of differing ideas or the questioning of senior leadership. The result is a community that suffers from a great deal of group think and very narrow views of the world. The Georgetown community will allow me the opportunity to learn from practitioners from both the private and public sectors. Moreover, it offers the opportunity to honestly and maturely discuss issues of national policy with experienced people of differing backgrounds and opinions and the same passion for service to our respective countries and the global community as a whole.
What topics are you most interested in learning about during your program?
I am most interested in the myriad of coursework related to statecraft, international diplomacy and negotiation offered at MSFS. However, I am also looking forward to the all-encompassing curriculum that considers culture, finance, trade, information and the rest of the major factors that drive international policies and interactions.
What are your career goals?
My ultimate goal is to have a career in the foreign policy arena. Georgetown and Washington, D.C. offer great opportunities to learn about the multiple government entities and private sector organizations while I attend MSFS and I plan to take full advantage of all of them. A career in the Foreign Service is definitely an avenue that I plan on pursuing, but it is not the only one I plan on exploring.
Mikel’s desire for “exposure to high quality individuals from all walks of life” will be met through his engagement with the Georgetown faculty, the MSFS alumni, and his fellow MSFS classmates. United by a common purpose: to be of service to women and men in a time of rapid global change, MSFS is comprised of members of the global community whom yield personal and professional experiences that are a hallmark of the MSFS program. The SoldierStrong Scholarship helps further that purpose, through its dedication to improving the lives of U.S. veterans. The scholarship program represents a commitment to provide support for military heroes that evolves along with their needs. As soldiers return from service abroad, education offers some of the best opportunities for them to provide for themselves and their families, and thrive in civilian life. To learn more about SoldierStrong, visit their website at www.soldierstrong.org.