Student Shows Unflagging Dedication on Deployment
Army Captain Honored After Keeping Up With MBA Classes in Afghanistan
Aug. 27, 2010
When fellow Executive MBA students welcomed Jonathan Silk back to class recently, he was honored for dedication to more than one kind of duty.
The Army captain had not only returned safely from a tour of Afghanistan but also heroically managed to keep up with his School of Management class work on the six-month deployment. The achievement was the result of determination and support from back home – not to mention several triumphs over technological difficulties.
Silk thanked the University “for allowing me to stay” enrolled even after his unit shipped out to help French, German and Italian NATO forces train Afghan police.
He also thanked his wife, Staci, and his group project team for helping him stay plugged in to what was happening in his School of Management courses.
Silk, a career soldier for more than 20 years, said that after President Obama announced a 30,000-troop Afghanistan surge early this year, he recognized that he probably would be part of the call-up. “I knew I couldn’t defer,” Silk said.
Mulling his education alternatives, he consulted teammate and friend Pamela Foster Brady and asked: “How do I keep up with class?”
“If you commit to the program, the team and I will commit to you,” she recalled telling him.
She explained that the group consisted of “several of us that travel extensively for our jobs. We asked to be put in a team of kindred spirits because we knew logistics would be different.”
Backing from fellow students aside, Silk had the option to suspend his schoolwork, said Phil Sanchez III, director of the Executive MBA program. He recalled several serious discussions in which he had asked Silk: “Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure?”
Silk had firm resolve, e-mail access and a global cellphone that the Army provided. Nonetheless, technical difficulties crept in across the nearly 7,700 miles between Richardson and Kabul.
On the Internet, “because Jonathan had limited bandwidth in Afghanistan, it was very difficult for him to pull down professors’ presentations, handouts, agendas, etc.,” Brady said.
So after various experiments, “it came down to snail mail and DVDs,” Brady said. After each class, his team would send Silk a DVD of the lecture, scanned copies of each others’ notes, handouts, professors’ PowerPoint presentations and more. “We even sent him two reams of paper so that he could do his own printing,” Brady said.
Silk stayed in touch with his classmates several times a week via e-mail—“hundreds of e-mails,” according to Brady—and a few international phone calls.
A combat veteran who served in Iraq, he unknowingly was injured there in late 2003, when a rocket-propelled grenade bounced off his chest armor. The grenade failed to explode, but the force of impact caused a tear in his heart’s mitral valve. Later, he had surgery to replace the valve with a mechanical one.
Silk told his classmates that his latest tour of duty had been a worthwhile endeavor. Even though much work remains to be done, he said, “We made a lot of progress.”
Staci Silk (left) was a specially invited guest to the “Patriotism Day” festivities welcoming her husband, Capt. Jonathan Silk (right) back to the U.S. and honoring his service.
Management Student Has Strong
Dedication to his management studies may have helped Capt. Jonathan Silk reap another reward. Silk’s next Army assignment—after he graduates next spring—will be teaching leadership to the cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
It isn't the first recognition of his talents. Silk's wife, Staci, went to Washington, D.C., in April to accept a General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award on her husband’s behalf.
His command had nominated him for the recognition, for raising about $4,500 in one month for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping severely injured service members.