June 26, 2018

Sergeant Manuel Jose Vingua '18 Earns an AS; Goes to UCLA

An Interview with Combat Infantryman Vingua

Sergeant Manual Jose Vingua, foreground, at the Fort Drum, N.Y., commencement event


Persistence pays off. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Manual Jose Vingua '18 is one step closer to achieving his lifelong dream of becoming an officer. He earned an Associate of Science in Community and Human Services, with a concentration in criminal justice studies, from SUNY Empire State College and is transferring to UCLA this fall.

Accepted into the Army's Green to Gold Active Duty Option Program, a two-year program that provides eligible, active-duty enlisted soldiers an opportunity to complete a baccalaureate degree, or a two-year graduate degree, and earn a commission as an Army officer, Vingua will be on active duty while he participates in UCLA's ROTC program.

He completed his associate while serving with the Army's 10th Mountain Division.

Like Vingua, veterans of the armed forces, active-duty personnel and their families are supported by the college's Office of Veteran and Military Education.

The following is an interview of Vingua by Mindy Boenning, the college's site coordinator at Fort Drum, N.Y., home of the 10th Mountain Division.

What was your background before you came to the Army and to SUNY Empire State College?

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, Calif. I’ve always wanted to become an Army officer, especially through West Point, but I knew I wasn’t competitive enough for admissions, so I enlisted in the Army as an infantryman right after high school in the summer of 2008. After graduating infantry basic training, I was sent to my first duty station with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga. I decided to start my admissions packet to the United States Military Academy, hoping my one year of honorable service in the Army would help boost my chances. In March 2009, I received a letter of admissions to the service academy. I was a West Point cadet for a year and a half, until I dropped out academically. I re-enlisted in the Army as an infantryman and was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.

My dream of becoming an officer was still alive, but I told myself I needed to accomplish certain goals before heading in that direction again. They were to obtain the rank of sergeant, experience combat as an infantryman firsthand and receive the Combat Infantryman Badge, master my craft by earning the Expert Infantryman Badge and pursue my college education and achieve my associate degree.

In 2013, I received the Combat Infantryman Badge for actions in Logar Province, Afghanistan. In 2015, I obtained the rank of sergeant, and staff sergeant in 2017. I earned the Expert Infantryman Badge in 2017 and completed my associate degree with SUNY Empire State College in 2018. By accomplishing my certain goals, I now have the confidence to pursue a career in officership once again.

I applied for the Army’s Green to Gold program active-duty option and I was immediately accepted by the board of officers, with the conditions that I complete my associate degree by the summer of 2018 and that I meet all medical requirements. I am still waiting to complete the medical requirements.

What were some of your favorite courses at SUNY Empire?

Ironically, my favorite course at SUNY Empire State College was not a class that involved my major; it was Public Speaking. As an infantry squad leader, I talk to my nine-man squad on a daily basis, whether it is on issues about our orders, to rile them up for the upcoming missions, or to provide mentorship. Talking to an audience that you don’t know and that didn’t share hardships is a different kind of beast. I remember doing my first speech for a live audience and I had a couple of my soldiers sitting in with the audience. They were surprise to see their tough squad leader nervous on stage. It was a very humbling experience. In the course, I was able to express my innermost feelings about issues such as today’s societies and the most commendable person to me. For my commemorative speech, I used this opportunity to thank my wife, Robyn, for all of her hard work and dedication to our family and to the Army. Students usually choose past heroes to honor in their commemorative speech, such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa. My instructor told me it was the first time that one of her students chose their spouse as the person of interest, and Robyn really appreciated that.

What strategies did you use to succeed in your courses while juggling your Army duties and other responsibilities?

Compensation and sacrifice strategies are what I used to succeed in my courses while juggling my Army duties and other responsibilities. I had to sacrifice video games, date nights with Robyn and eight full hours of sleep, to say the least. I had to compensate for what I couldn’t sacrifice, such as using as much white space in my calendar as possible for my schoolwork. I was always told that if I really wanted it, I would make time for it. No excuses.

How did you encourage other soldiers to pursue their college education?

I encourage other soldiers to pursue their college education through leading by example. They don’t believe it is possible to be an active-duty infantry soldier, do field training exercises, Joint Readiness Training Center rotations, as well as deploy to Afghanistan while taking college classes, but I showed them firsthand. While we were in the field and soldiers were given the opportunity for downtime, I would do college work, while everyone else took a nap. While we were in Afghanistan and opportunity presented itself, I would do my homework while my soldiers would play video games, or get extra hours of sleep. Now that they see firsthand that it is possible, it is less daunting for them to attend college.

What are you going to be studying next and how did you choose UCLA as your next college?

I earned my associate degree in Criminal Justice, so it is fitting that I earn my bachelor’s in the same area of study. I chose UCLA as my next college because it is close to home and has an ROTC program. One of the prerequisites of doing the Green to Gold program was to choose a host college that offered ROTC. I figured I got into West Point, so gaining admission to any other school would be easier.
It’s my understanding that there are a couple of different kinds of Green to Gold programs (scholarship, non-scholarship, active duty).

Which one are you going to do?

I am doing the Green to Gold program active-duty option. This way, I keep my active-duty status, pay and benefits while attending college and doing ROTC.

What are your career goals?

My career goals are to become an Army officer and to be able to say that I held positions from the lowest duty assignment, such as rifleman, all the way to company commander.

Is there anything else you’d like to add, either for other soldiers or for your fellow SUNY Empire students?

It is possible to earn your college education while having a wife and three kids, while being in the Army as an infantry squad leader to your soldiers, still finding time to go to the gym, while deploying to Afghanistan, and while achieving other objectives. It is possible. You just have to be committed and obsessed with your goals, sacrifice a couple of hours of sleep and video games, and make time for college.

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