College planning is much more than just a financial consideration. Deciding where to apply, when to fill out college applications, selecting the right senior classes while in high school, and deciding on the appropriate topic for an admissions essay are only a few of the tasks for students. While the Special Operations Warrior Foundation ensures full financial funding for each of its scholarship recipients, the college admissions and selection process can be overwhelming. Friends and family start asking, “Where are you going to college?” “What are you going to major in” and “What kind of career are you considering?” Those are just a few of the questions that teenagers face when getting ready to transition from high school student to college student. Because the Special Operations Warrior Foundation is committed to helping the children of fallen special operations personnel reach their full academic potential, the foundation hosts Operation EPIC (Educational, Planning, & Informational Conference), an annual college planning conference for its rising high school students.
This year’s Operation EPIC, held at the University of Tampa, was attended by 19 students (pictured below) from across the country. This intensive four-day conference featured a number of acclaimed guest speakers and presenters as well as the opportunity for students to experience campus life and living in a dorm room. Peter Van Buskirk, a 30-year expert of the selective college admissions process, provided the students with vital tools needed to navigate through the complexities of college admissions.
“Peter discussed many of the unknowns in the admissions process while also providing students with the confidence to navigate each part of the process, from the importance of the college application to what needs to be included in the written essay,” said Jake Healy Centeno, one of the mentors who volunteered to assist the students. Jake is the son of Navy SEAL Senior Chief Petty Officer Daniel Healy who lost his life in 2005 while deployed to Afghanistan. (Jake is pictured above last row, far left)
One of the mothers discussed the impact Operation EPIC had on her son, “Thank you for giving my son the insight into the world of college applications. He enjoyed learning about the ins and outs of college admissions and what is important and helpful to add to his college application.”
Other speakers included retired Army General Ann Dunwoody and her husband, retired Air Force Colonel Craig Brotchie. General Dunwoody is the first female four-star General in the Army and author of “A Higher Standard” which was recently selected as required reading for all incoming freshmen at the University of Florida. General Dunwoody and Colonel Brotchie discussed leadership and the importance the decisions made by the students. Each of the Operation EPIC students received a signed copy of the book courtesy of General Dunwoody.
Country music singer and motivational speaker Keni Thomas also talked with the students about leadership, accountability, and overcoming hardships. Keni Thomas, who was an Army Ranger in Somalia in 1993 during the infamous “Black Hawk Down” debacle talked to the students about when his sergeant was shot and injured by Somali militia and someone needed to take charge.
“My sergeant looked at me and said, ‘Thomas, you’re in charge,'” he recalled. “We find ourselves in those situations. You don’t always have to be happy about how it’s landing on your doorstep, and most the time it isn’t fair, but if you don’t take charge of it, then who’s going to?”
The significance of this program is best told by the students themselves. In the words of Drew Maholic, son of Army Master Sgt. Thomas Maholic, who lost his life in Afghanistan in 2006, “One thing I learned during Operation EPIC is that when an opportunity arises, I should take it. This conference was all about noticing untapped potential and to believe in ourselves. This week has helped me believe in myself and realize that my wildest dreams are achievable.” (Drew is pictured above 2nd row from front, far left)
Through Operation EPIC, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation is able to expand its commitment to the children of fallen special operators, by ensuring college-bound students are best prepared for their academic journey.