Mission driven: Brandeis undergrads prepare for military commissions after graduation

Sonor Sereeter ‘19 climbing a wooden stockade fence with help of a rope

Sonor Sereeter '19, during a training exercise with the Charles River Battalion

In May, three students expect to become the first Brandeis University graduates to commission as United States Army Officers in more than 15 years.

Kaleigh Ferguson ‘19 and Sonor Sereeter ‘19, who both entered Brandeis as midyears, are on track to receive not only their Brandeis diplomas, but their commissions as 2nd Lieutenants in the United States Army. Curt Lieber ‘18, a transfer student who is currently serving as a 1st Lieutenant in the United States Army Reserves, completed his graduation requirements in December and is on his way to a commission as a U.S. Army military intelligence officer. The last Brandeisian to graduate as a commissioned U.S. Army officer was Jeff Li ‘03, who is currently an Army military intelligence officer.

The Brandeis University Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program currently has four participating students: Ferguson, Sereeter, and first-years Susan Garcia ‘22, an Army ROTC cadet, and Zack Zhang ‘22, an Air Force ROTC cadet. ROTC-related training is provided by the Boston University ROTC cadre, which also provides training for ROTC cadets at 11 other Boston area schools.

Brandeis cadets train with the Charles River Battalion (CRB), commuting to BU’s campus at least three times a week during the academic school year. Lieber, having completed his ROTC commitments before he arrived at Brandeis through Army ROTC’s Early Commissioning Program, indirectly participated in CRB activities, occasionally grading physical training tests or field exercises.

Ferguson, Sereeter, and Lieber share a commitment to a liberal arts education alongside military service. For Ferguson and Sereeter, their cadet training in Boston and student life in Waltham are separate, though complimentary, pursuits.

Early wakeups

Sonor Sereeter ‘19 in a camouflage helmet and flack jacket

Sereeter in training.

Sereeter’s commitment to ROTC prompted him to overcome a significant transportation obstacle: the lack of a car and the need to get to training so early that there was no transportation into the city. “My commute was cycling over and back,” Sereeter explained. Two hours, roundtrip.

In addition to attending physical training at 5:40 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, he was required to take a military science course every Tuesday and attend a leadership lab every Thursday. For his first two semesters as a commuter cadet, Seereter woke up at 4 a.m., rode his bike to Boston for training, and rode back to Brandeis in time for his 9 a.m. class.

This dedication did not go unnoticed by the BU cadre. Kenneth Harris, the recruiting operations officer at BU’s Army ROTC program, said, “when someone who lives in the [BU] dorm next to the physical training field can’t get themselves up in time to make it out there, I [point to] someone like Cadet Sereeter. This guy’s already been on a bicycle in the weather for the past hour to get here. And you can’t stumble down the stairs in five minutes to get here.”

Although born in the U.S., Sereeter grew up in England and also spent a few years in Mongolia, where his family currently lives. A desire to better learn what it means to be an American citizen motivated Sereeter, who majors in Politics, to attend a U.S. university. Sereeter said that through ROTC, he has found camaraderie and inspiration through the other cadets.

Speaking to how ROTC affects his life as a student, Sereeter said, it has helped him, “not only being more disciplined, but also becoming a more effective communicator. Taking initiative or volunteering more often, for example.” This propensity towards serving others influenced Sereeter to become a community advisor, acting as a resource to other students in the residence halls.

Finding a passion

Sonor Sereter '19, left, and Kaleigh Ferguson ‘19 in dress uniform at an ROTC event

Sereeter with Kaleigh Ferguson ‘19 at an ROTC event

Initially, Ferguson decided to join ROTC as a way to pay for college after she completed her sophomore year at Brandeis. The summer before her junior year, Ferguson called Harris at BU to learn more about the program and sign up. After a week spent sorting logistics and paperwork, she boarded a plane headed to ROTC’s Basic Camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky from her home in Arizona.

“Somebody you don’t even know gets you a government-paid plane ticket, you go to Fort Knox from Arizona, and that’s your first experience with the Army. I admire [Ferguson] for what she’s done,” Harris said.

Ferguson is double-majoring in Linguistics and Education Studies. While financial concerns may have first prompted her to explore ROTC, she realized after Basic Camp that she had found a passion. “You have to care deeply about something,” she said. “And I do. Participating in ROTC aligns with what I believe in for this country–supporting and defending our rights that we take for granted.” She added that as a cadet, she has had to learn to consciously balance academics with ROTC activities.

Upon graduating from Basic Camp and returning to Brandeis, Ferguson connected with Sereeter, shipped her car from Arizona to Massachusetts, and began training with the CRB (thanks to her Sereeter now has a lift to get to training). In May, Sereeter will commission as a US Army ordnance officer, active service, while Ferguson will join the Massachusetts National Guard as a military intelligence officer.

Growing up in the military

Headshot of Curt Lieber ‘18, a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves

Curt Lieber '18

Curt Lieber, began his mission to serve as a U.S. Army civil affairs officer earlier in his academic career. Growing up with a mother who served in the Navy and a career Marine father, Lieber was a typical military brat, constantly on the move. Eventually, his family moved to the U.S. for good, settling in Massachusetts. Living near the Otis Air National Guard Base, Lieber grew up around men and women in uniform. “Everywhere I looked, I knew [the military] was probably something I should do,” he said.

After graduating high school, Lieber enlisted in the National Guard and applied to New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI), one of four U.S. military junior colleges. There, he earned his associate’s degree and in December 2016, commissioned into the U.S. Army Reserves as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Before leaving NMMI, Lieber received a full scholarship to enable him to complete his bachelor’s degree while fulfilling his military requirements.

Thanks to strong programs in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and the availability of the ROTC program, Brandeis was a perfect fit for him.

Lieber said that transitioning from a military junior college to a liberal arts college was challenging, but he believes that a liberal arts education such as Brandeis offers is important for those looking to join the military. Liberal arts schools, expose their students to a different “mentality and way of thinking – especially critical thinking,” he said.

Lieber will continue with the 84th Training Command in Rhode Island until he is commissioned; he has set aside the next year for training.

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