Tag Archives: US Military Academy

From Afghanistan, Sam Goodgame Inspires Staples

A few weeks ago, “0688o” posted a request from Sam Goodgame. The 2007 Staples grad — and West Point appointee — is now a platoon leader in Afghanistan. He hoped a couple of Westporters could send a few things to his troops.

Boy, did they.

The response — from individuals and organizations throughout town — was overwhelming.

And Sam’s high school alma mater led the charge.

Staples English teacher Dan Geraghty — a former Army Ranger and National Guardsman — took a special interest in Sam’s mission. Dan enlisted his entire department to help. (Members of the math, world language, physical education, library and culinary departments pitched in too.)

1st Lieutenant Sam Goodgame (right), with one of his soldiers in Afghanistan.

1st Lieutenant Sam Goodgame (right), with one of his soldiers in Afghanistan.

Last week, Sam emailed Dan. Sam’s deep gratitude shines an important light on many things: the amazing work our military men and women do, day in and day out. The importance of a community coming together, to do a tiny bit to help them. The fact that those tiny things mean so much.

And the role that a school like Staples played, in developing a leader like Sam.

Sam talked about every teacher when he said:

Thank you for the profound displays of support that you’ve shown my platoon. They communicate quite effectively to my men that they are valued and remembered by their American community.

After conducting missions in snowy remote provinces, Sam added, the Staples notes meant as much as the packages. “A flourish of personality connects with a soldier better than platitudes. Your letters struck chords with our men.”

Two of Sam Goodgame's men, reading letters from Staples students.

Two of Sam Goodgame’s men, reading letters from Staples students.

Sam attributed his “love of truthful, clear expression — in literature, writing, and in life generally” — to the Staples English department.

“Words are the only thing that last forever, and each of your lessons lives on in me daily.”

Next, Sam turned to the letters the English classes had written. They generated

a lasting sense of comfort (and laughter) with my guys. Perhaps they wouldn’t choose the same words that I do, but your notes do much to close the gap between the US civilian population and its military….The fact that none of you have met my soldiers, yet support them all the same, makes the message stronger.

Then he addressed certain students individually.

He told a girl in Staples Players, “put your whole heart into theater, if you’re passionate about it. It turned out so well for my friends who did the same.”

One boy wondered about weapons. Sam said, “I remember playing Counterstrike as a kid in middle school and thinking the same thing you do.” He described his M4 carbine with an ACOG 4x-power scope, infrared laser, magazine full of tracer rounds and bipod pistol grip.

But then, referring to night vision devices, Sam added, “the guys we fight can’t see anything in the infrared slice of the electromagnetic spectrum. In Afghanistan we actually use a lot of the concepts that you learn about in physics and chemistry to our advantage.”

Letters and packages from Westport have buoyed Sam Goodgame's platoon, thousands of miles away in snowy Afghanistan.

Letters and packages from Westport have buoyed Sam Goodgame’s platoon, thousands of miles away in snowy Afghanistan.

Switching gears, Sam described the importance of writing in his life. “It’s how I persuade people when I want them to do certain things; how I communicate with people I care about, and how I reflect on what’s happening around me and come to understand my own opinions more clearly.”

Sam tried to reach every teenager. To a boy dreaming of the Olympics, he wrote:

If you don’t give up, you have control over what happens to you. I failed Army Ranger school twice before I finally graduated. If I hadn’t passed, I’d be sitting behind a desk right now planning meetings about meetings. I wasn’t going to fail.

And to a boy who had described his upbringing in Asia, Sam wrote, “if I ever visit, I’ll keep your advice about Singapore girlfriends in mind.”

Dan Geraghty ran a half-marathon to support the Wounded Warriors Project. He wore combat boots, and carried his rucksack along the way.    Dan Geraghty ran a half-marathon to support the Wounded Warriors Project. He wore combat boots, and carried a rucksack.

Dan Geraghty ran a half-marathon to support the Wounded Warriors Project. He wore combat boots, and carried his rucksack along the way. 

Sam was thrilled that several students are involved in the Wounded Warriors Project (as is Dan Geraghty).

One is considering West Point. Sam offered help and advice:

Be a good dude. Help people with no expectation of reward. Work out every day, and run 5 miles frequently. Get good grades, but more importantly, pay attention to your best teachers and learn everything you can from them.

Sam’s experience at the Academy was powerful. It exposed him to gifted mentors and world travel, and allowed him to share “conversations, meals and drinks with foreign diplomats and generals, the most powerful CEOs and bankers, and academics whose names will live for centuries.”

More importantly, Sam said, his teachers at West Point helped him learn about academics, the military and life in general. Though “an extremely unpleasant place to live for 4 years,” he wrote, “I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything.”

Sam’s time at West Point was — like his time at Staples — extremely well spent.

And the time that Staples students spent corresponding with Sam Goodgame is time that he gave right back to them.

In ways that will resonate for years to come.

(Sam’s platoon can always use more cards, letters and care packages. Send to:
1LT Sam Goodgame
PSD  PLT,  HHC 1-187 IN, 3BCT, 101 ABN DIV (AASLT)
FOB Gardez, Afghanistan
APO AE 09339
)

Afghanistan Comes To Westport

With few exceptions, Westporters are far removed from the war in Afghanistan.  We don’t know anyone serving there, and because the news involves bombs and indecipherable local feuds — not the more familiar finance and entertainment — we easily ignore it.

LTC Tania Chacho

With few exceptions, Tania Chacho’s working life revolves around Afghanistan. A lieutenant colonel who served in peacekeeping and stabilization efforts all over the world, she now directs the comparative politics program at West Point.  Soon after graduating, many of her students end up in Afghanistan.

Westporters who have not thought much about Afghanistan can do so tonight (May 11) — from the comfort of the Westport Public Library.  At 7:30 p.m. LTC Chacho will speak about coalition and American strategies, and the factors that may help or hinder success.

As familiar as Chacho is with military affairs and defense policy, she is equally at home in Westport.  Her husband, LTC Jonathan Liba, is a Staples grad.  His parents still live here.

He has been in Kabul since July — giving Chacho a particularly keen interest in the country.

As a professor, she examines every issue through many angles.  As a military officer, though, she realizes “you see things through your perspective — your mission.  It’s not easy getting a sense of the larger picture.”

The result, she says, is “lots of different information, varying senses of what we’re trying to accomplish.  It’s not easy to assess.”

But there is one thing she’s certain of:  her students.

“My cadets are amazing,” she says.  “They have an awesome, incredible responsibility.  It’s inspiring to see their dedication.  Their eyes are wide open.

“I’m biased, but I invite anyone into my classes to see what we’re talking about, and how my cadets are responding.  You’ll be impressed.”

And if you can’t get to West Point to see Chacho — lieutenant colonel and professor — in action, do the next best thing.  Get to the library tonight.

The Military — And Westport?

Sam Goodgame — a graduate of the Staples Class of 2007 — is a 3rd-year cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point.  He serves as president of the Black and Gold Leadership Forum, and deputy editor of the Undergraduate Journal of Social Sciences.

After hearing him talk — with other alums — to Staples students about college experiences, “06880” asked Sam to share his insights with a broader audience.  Here’s what he wrote:

While walking through Staples in uniform, and speaking on behalf of the West Point admissions department, I feel the students’ respect and admiration for the institution that I represent.

Sam Goodgame with one of his superiors, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

But I also feel another vibe:  one of detachment.  Perhaps it’s best captured by a comment that my younger brother, a Staples junior, heard from a friend:  something along the lines of “Hey man, no disrespect to your brother, but… why would anyone ever do that?”

The comment is representative of the way some in Westport – and Washington, D.C., and the Westside of Los Angeles – regard armed service. My parents have heard friends in each of those communities say, “I am so proud of Sam and what he’s doing.  But I’m glad my kid isn’t doing that.”

We rarely hear that from a Texan or a Buckeye.  Stroll around the campus of Ole Miss any day, and it looks like every 10th male student is clad in Army fatigues with an ROTC unit patch.  Conversations with my classmates – who by law hail from every nook of the country – have revealed that students are more interested in service academies and the military generally (particularly anywhere that country music spans the airwaves).

Why is Fairfield County so different?

It doesn’t make sense to me.  The values and goals of the people I know in Westport seem to me very close to those of West Point.  Westport is a town of achievers and leaders, in fields from finance to the arts.  It also has a strong ethic of service.  Parents work long hours in the office, and still make time to coach youth sports, lead the PTA or operate a soup kitchen.

Staples is one of the best high schools in the country, preparing and inspiring hundreds of top students, leaders and athletes every year.  That’s the cadet profile — yet very few apply to one of the military academies.

Sam Goodgame took this photo while completing the German Proficiency Badge Test. The optional competition -- administered by a German colonel -- includes track and field events, a swim, a run, and an 18-mile foot march in combat gear (pictured).

After 3 trips to Fairfield County to visit schools, guidance counselors, coaches and civic clubs, I have seen and heard fragments of an answer.

Some students and parents don’t know much about service academies: the quality of the education (Forbes magazine ranked West Point the top U.S. university last year); the chance to jump out of airplanes and rappel out of helicopters; the opportunity to learn leadership before practicing it as a commissioned officer.  Some also don’t know how experience as an Army officer can help your civilian career.

I’m not ignoring the obvious: that joining the military has for the last decade entailed a trip or 3 to Iraq or Afghanistan.  Clearly, that’s not on the to-do lists of most Westport teenagers, partly because these have been controversial wars.

But I’m still stumped.

I’m grateful for the fine job that Westport teachers and parents do teaching young people that freedom isn’t free. While I’m surprised that we don’t have more applicants to the service academies and the armed forces generally, I’m also optimistic.  Several of my classmates (and faculty members) at Staples have recently served abroad, or are now serving.  As they come home and talk about their experiences, I’m hopeful that others will be inspired to follow their example.

In the meantime, if you want to know more about West Point, please drop me a line:  samuel.goodgame@usma.edu.

(The views presented in this piece are the author’s alone; they in no way reflect the stance or policy of the U.S. Military Academy, Army, or government.)

A small part of the handsome West Point campus. (Photo by Sam Goodgame)